The Department of Defense has awarded technology startup Anduril a $99 million contract to provide a new automated counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) capability.
The Production Other Transaction (P-OT) Agreement was struck between the company and the Defense Innovation Unit, the DOD’s Silicon Valley outpost that uses non-traditional contracts to work with start ups. The agreement acts as a vehicle for any of the military branches to purchase the technology and services of Anduril to detect and deter against enemy drones using artificial intelligence. The agreement runs for five years and has the flexibility to allow Anduril to update its services and tech as threats change and software improves.
“This milestone for Anduril and DIU demonstrates that by running meritocratic test events and competitions that focus on capabilities, and rewarding the best systems, DOD can bring the country’s engineering resources to bear on critical national security issues,” Anduril Co-Founder and CEO Brian Schimpf said in a statement.
The tech itself is based on an AI-enabled system that takes in data from an array of sensors to detect incoming drones. Small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have proven difficult for older detection systems to detect because they are nimble and small. They have also proven to be a nuisance for both military and civilian operations, with non-state groups strapping explosives to commercial drones and commercial flights being grounded by drones near airports.
The deal represents a major milestone for both Anduril and other companies in the emerging markets of defense tech startups. The company’s Chief Revenue Officer Matt Steckman said it was an example of the company bridging the “valley of death,” or the gap in between small research grants that can be earned quickly from the DOD and major multi-million dollar contracts that can take years to pay out.
“This is a meaningful contract to the high tech start up community,” he said in an interview with FedScoop, adding later that “I am actually particularly excited and motivated not by this contact but the change in attitude.”
Attitudes towards contracting within the DOD are criticized by some as being risk-adverse and overly prescriptive. Steckman said also that DIU’s approach could be a model for the rest of the DOD to follow by making contract vehicles that allow for constant iteration.
DIU contracts with tech company by posting problem statements rather than the typical long requirement documents. That approach was one of the many things Steckman said was critical in having a flexible vehicle that will be able to support rapid changes as needed to the system.