Navy SEALs ink deal for anti-drone tech through DIUx acquisition

Navy SEALs with SEAL Team 17 drive a Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV) through a simulated city during mobility training. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eddie Harrison)

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The Navy SEALs will soon have their six covered when it comes to drones.

The Naval Special Warfare Command, working with the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, awarded a $1.5 million to San Diego-based startup SkySafe to use its counter-unmanned aerial systems technology in battle to stop weaponized drones.

“It’s become a big problem on the military side,” SkySafe CEO Grant Jordan told FedScoop. “ISIS and other terrorist groups have started really weaponizing drones and bringing them into battles in a way that really hasn’t happened before.”

SkySafe uses radio frequency technology for what Jordan called “air space enforcement.”

“It’s all about keeping malicious or reckless drones out of places they’re not supposed to be,” like critical air spaces at airports, prisons, stadiums, critical infrastructure, the border and so on, he said. Essentially, SkySafe can reverse-engineer command over questionable drones in the surrounding airspace.

The problem has been on the minds of leaders at the Pentagon for years, Jordan explained, “but just in the past six months, this is kind of the first time it’s become real in a way on the battlefield.”

Through this contract, the Navy SEALs will mount SkySafe technology to light tactical vehicles for mobile defense against drones. The plan is to test and demonstrate the capabilities before launching them into the field in 2018.

“For us, the real near term focus is to get systems out there in the field with the Navy SEALs to really validate that our system is the solution,” Jordan said. “As we do that, getting that kind of validation is huge for then being able to apply it to other contexts, apply it to other agencies and services.”

Simultaneously with its DIUx contract announcement, the company also announced a series A round of venture capital funding led by Silicon Valley firm Andreessen Horowitz.  The funding “is huge for us because the demand for these types of systems and threat has risen drastically just over the last year since we started,” he said.

DIUx partners with various Defense Department entities to help them contract for commercial, innovative national defense solutions in a fraction of the time of normal procurements — usually within 60 days of first contact — using what it calls commercial solutions openings.

Jordan, a former Air Force acquisitions officer who knows how long it can take to do business with the Pentagon and other federal entities, said the contract wouldn’t have been possible for his innovative startup if not for DIUx’s partnership.

“They are working really hard to bridge that divide between startups and the DOD, and doing everything they can to streamline that process, to use modern contract vehicles to get that going and to help kind of push along that connection with customer groups that want these solutions,” he said.

“They really understand just how critical time is to startups and what a difference it makes, the difference between being able to award a contract in 60 days through DIUx and then a traditional contract cycle of 12 or 18 months,” Jordan said. “To a startup, that makes all the difference.”

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DIUx, drones, Naval Special Warfare Command, Navy SEALs, SkySafe, Unmanned Aerial Systems