General Dynamics [GD] Mission Systems has acquired Bluefin Robotics, a Quincy, Mass.-based developer of autonomous undersea robots used for mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Carlo Zaffanella, vice president of GD’s maritime and strategic systems business, characterized the purchase of Bluefin as a “small, but strategic acquisition…and a good fit” based on the companies’ prior history of doing business together, but stopped short of predicting a big growth in the market for undersea robots.
Unmanned underwater vehicle technologies (UUVs) are “evolving at a pretty good clip. I think the technologies that make UUVS feasible and attractive are improving, and as a result the mission capability for UUVs I see it improving over time,” he told Defense Daily in an interview. “That generally speaks to a market that will expand. But how fast, how big? I can’t say.”
GD and Bluefin—which has been subsidiary of Battelle since 2005—have collaborated over the past five years on the Navy’s Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), a heavyweight submersible which is planned to deploy from Littoral Combat Ships to conduct minesweeping duties currently performed by trained dolphins. The robotics manufacturer is also known for its Bluefin-21 unmanned submarine, the basis for the Knifefish that was deployed during the search of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
General Dynamics has developed some “core undersea technologies” and has a long history of naval systems integration, including as the prime contractor on the Knifefish program, where it is the prime contractor, Zaffanella said. Acquiring Bluefin will allow it to design and manufacture UUVs without the need for a subcontractor, the GD release stated.
“We see this as an area where we can help the Navy to fulfill more and more missions in the future,” Zaffranella said, although he declined to comment on programs the company could bid on now that Bluefin is part of its portfolio.
Bluefin, which currently employs about 110 people, will become part of GDMS’ maritime and strategic systems business. GD declined to disclose the value of the transaction and whether it intends to grow the size of that workforce.
GD is not the only company seeking more access to the UUV market. Last year, Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] acquired the Engineering Solutions Division business from the professional services firm The Columbia Group, which developed a large UUV called Proteus with Battelle (Defense Daily, Feb. 5, 2015).