General Atomics, the La Jolla-based military contractor perhaps best known for its Predator and Reaper aerial drones, announced this week that the company has landed a contract for a new type of unmanned vehicle – underwater spy drones.
The firm's electromagnetic systems department will be providing lithium-ion power cells to the Department of Defense for its "semi-autonomous hydrographic reconnaissance vehicles," useful for intelligence gathering and underwater mine detection in shallow waters.
The batteries are designed to resist cell failure, making them safe to carry aboard the Navy's ships – last week the Navy banned the use of e-cigarettes across its fleet due to safety concerns regarding the (much smaller) lithium-ion batteries that power the devices. In addition to the surveillance drones, General Atomics' cells could potentially find their way into other Navy vessels.
Of several defense industry publications touting the news, none placed a dollar value on the contract, but if comparable to previous unmanned vehicle work it could be quite lucrative. Last August, the Air Force committed $371 million for the purchase of another 30 Reaper drones, and just a few months later spent another $349 million for support services on the existing fleet.