Like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie come to life, defense contractor AeroVironment announced its $120 million acquisition of Tomahawk Robotics, a leader in AI-enabled robotic control systems. AeroVironment plans to retain all of Tomahawk Robotics workforce and introduce its technology to 55 allied nations.
The companies’ joint press release touts, “This will ultimately enable warfighters to operate various connected robotic solutions in the battlefield and share information between multiple domains with one common controller.” This is enabled by Tomahawk’s “AI-enhanced and open architecture common control system that seamlessly integrates the network of battle-proven unmanned expeditionary vehicles, sensors, and third-party software onto a single pane of glass.”
Unmanned military aircraft have evolved to become commonplace in modern warfare. The United States and Britain pioneered the first unmanned vehicles during World War I, though the radio-controlled aircraft were not deployed on the battlefield. These “pilotless planes” came to be called “drones” during the 1930s when they were used for target practice. It was not until the Vietnam War that drones were used on a large scale, with the U.S. relying on them for reconnaissance. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. vastly expanded its use of unmanned aerial aircraft (UAV) and armed them with missiles and sophisticated weaponry. The modern UAVs are capable of flying up to 12,000 nautical miles at a height of up to 60,000, and remaining airborne for 34 hours as they delivery deadly payloads against enemy combatants in remote locations – all while U.S. troops operate from the safety of their bases.
UAVs of various sizes and levels of sophistication are used in conflicts across the world today. Following Russia’s invasion in 2022, Ukraine has used drones effectively to attack invading forces and even hit targets deep inside Russian territory. UAVs present an alternative to risking pilots in light of Russia’s air superiority. Militaries across the globe have taken note of technology’s effectiveness in projecting strength while also keeping friendly forces out of harm’s way.
AeroVironment and Tomahawk Robotics intend to further expand use of technology beyond such UAVs to both defend troops and enhance their effectiveness on the battlefield. “Our motto has always been warfighter first. Everything we’ve designed or made has been optimized to better equip and prepare soldiers.” Hopefully, Hollywood’s narrative of where this leads does not come to pass.
According to Matterhorn’s comprehensive M&A database, which harnesses AI for more mundane purposes than warfare (i.e. to track current and historical deals), AeroVironment is advised by Massumi + Consoli LLP, while Tomahawk Robotics is advised by DLA Piper.