Boeing Official Talks Up Aurora Acquisition, Still in MQ-25 Competition

A Boeing [BA] executive told reporters on Wednesday that he is “really excited about Aurora” Flight Sciences joining the company and confirmed the company is still in the MQ-25 unmanned carrier tanker program.

Chris Raymond, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s autonomous systems business unit, told reporters at the company’s Arlington, Va., office that “I think one of the reasons we’re excited about them [Aurora] joining us is they’ve got a rich research and technology portfolio” as well as good manufacturing and prototyping capabilities.

The 20-percent scale model of the Aurora LightningStrike Vertical Take-off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) undergoes a flight test in Maryland. Photo: Aurora Flight Sciences.

The 20-percent scale model of the Aurora LightningStrike Vertical Take-off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) undergoes a flight test in Maryland. Photo: Aurora Flight Sciences.

In contrast, Boeing has a strong research and technology portfolio as well as a set of products in the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) space, he said.

Last week, Boeing finished its acquisition of Aurora as a subsidiary under Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology. The company retains its name and independent operating model. Aurora has 550 employees and has worked on unmanned aircraft technology for the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), optionally piloted aircraft for potential short haul applications, electric propulsion technology for aircraft, and has worked with NASA on a commercial aircraft design to reduce fuel consumption (Defense Daily, Nov. 8).

Raymond noted Boeing kept Aurora under its engineering and technology organization by design so they can report directly to the company’s executive council and to maintain both its commercial and defense applications.

“I think our view is urban mobility is likely to change and happen. You know, it’s hard to predict when that will fully take root. But I think the view would be it’s a 'when' not an 'if' and when that day comes you don’t want to be behind.”

Raymond said this does not make it difficult for the defense business to access their capabilities.

“In fact, we’ve already had engagements together at leadership team to leadership team levels,” and he spent all day Tuesday at Aurora’s office.

“I think there’s already relationships in place that are only get stronger and easier now and I think there’s already examples where we’re jointly pursuing some opportunities,” Raymond added.

Raymond said the Boeing acquisition deal may have been closed relatively quickly or felt like it closed quickly because it is a private company and the relationships with leaders like Aurora chairman and CEO John Langford were good.

“His influence had a lot to do with it: Let’s get this done. This makes all the sense in the world where we can take our strengths and combine them with Boeing’s,” Raymond said.

The Navy's X-47B unmanned aircraft demonstrator (UCAS) designed for carrier operations and the precursor to UCLASS. Photo: U.S. Navy

The Navy's X-47B unmanned aircraft demonstrator (UCAS) designed for carrier operations and the precursor to UCLASS. Photo: U.S. Navy

Raymond also highlighted what nearly year-old acquisition Liquid Robotics has brought to Boeing, partially through its location.

“Just where they live, they’re out in Silicon Valley. They compete in that area of the country for talent”

“So I think that’s actually been helpful, to kind of get to see the outside world through their eyes a little bit for us,” he added.

Separately, Raymond noted Boeing is still competing on the MQ-25 unmanned tanker program.

He said Boeing knows this is a “hugely important” program for the Navy. Although reluctant to get into specific as one of the competitors, Raymond noted the Navy has done a good job explaining to Congress the importance of the program and having it supported in the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

 “And you know we haven’t always had that alignment. If you go back five or six years, I think we didn’t have that alignment in some cases. And so I think it looks like everything’s on track for them to proceed with an on-time selection and we’re really excited to compete for that and try to win it.”

The Navy released its final request for proposals (RFP) for the MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling tanker to four competitors in early October: Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin [LMT], and Northrop Grumman [NOC] (Defense Daily, Oct. 13).

However, within the month Northrop Grumman said in an earnings call that it will not bid on the program. Wes Bush, Northrop Grumman’s, chairman, president and CEO, said after assessing the final RFP the company decided it could not put forward an attractive offer that would represent  “a reasonable business proposition” for the company (Defense Daily, Oct. 25).

Raymond said even with Northrop Grumman dropping out, Boeing “can’t let up for a minute.” The company is also making sure they talk with the Navy so they have “absolute clarity on the requirements because we need to propose those in an affordable way.”





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