Drone boat manufacturer Saronic today announced a $55 million Series A funding round to accelerate research and development and expand in-house manufacturing capacity to produce autonomous drone boats at scale for the U.S. Navy. The founders believe that Saronic is uniquely positioned to produce a new generation of robotic boats and envision a future where thousands of unmanned ships serve as ‘loyal wingmen’ to Navy warships. Will work.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Drone boats, also known as naval drones or uncrewed surface vessels (USVs), have been around for some time but the Ukraine conflict has put them in the spotlight for the first time. Ukraine does not have a crewed navy, but has employed a variety of drone boats in spectacularly successful kamikaze attacks against Russian ships and the Kerch bridge. Ukraine’s drone fleet has kept the Russian fleet at bay and largely confined to the port of Crimea. But Saronic has been working on this technology for years, and it goes far beyond one-off kamikaze attacks. The company sees robot boats assisting ships for all types of missions.
“We’re building the platform for a family of systems that can integrate with payloads and sensors,” says co-founder Rob Lehman, a former US Marine. This includes anti-surface vessels, anti-submarine “Our platforms enable a diverse set of mission requirements in the maritime domain, from command and control, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISRT), etc. which enable the delivery of kinetic and non-kinetic effects.”
Lehman says they design specifically for missions relevant to the US Navy, ensuring that the boat is tailored to the mission rather than the other way around.
Saronic has so far unveiled two drone boats, the six-foot Spyglass and the thirteen-foot Cutlass, both equipped with advanced sensors and high levels of autonomy. These are not remote-controlled ships like those seen in Ukraine, piloted by a human operator via video, but robots capable of carrying out missions on their own.
“It’s not just autonomous navigation where a ship can travel on its own through multiple waypoints,” says Lehmann. “What we are building is true mission autonomy that will be relevant and compelling.”
This autonomy goes far beyond sensing and avoiding other vessels, but extends to the complex behavior associated with multiple boats. For example, a boat involved in an anti-submarine warfare mission picks up the signal, signaling other drone boats to move into a coordinated group to locate the source, as well as to get a better view of itself. Can perform the maneuver, as well as send details to a human. Observers This fits in with concepts like the Navy’s Super Swarm project, which also sees swarms of kamikaze boats attacking in conjunction with aerial drones and miniature robot submarines.
Lehman says their design process ensures their boats will be affordable rather than ‘exquisite’ (a term used for many older platforms like the famously expensive F-35) and everything is geared towards a product that Which can be produced rapidly and on a large scale. , Drone boats need to be attractive, which is not the same as being expendable. Unlike Ukraine’s remote-controlled kamikaze boats, they would be expected to survive and carry out multiple missions, but they would be inexpensive enough that they could be easily replaced and (unlike crewed boats) could be replaced by commanders whenever There should be no hesitation in abandoning them if it is expedient. , They will be deployed in thousands.
“We have our eyes open on price sensitivity,” says Lehman. “Our pricing is more like a munition than a ship.”
There are several other US companies in the drone boat business, ranging from defense majors to boat manufacturers. But Saronic can claim one unique advantage.
“We’re the only company in the market that started as a technology company with the goal of providing capability to the DOD through boats,” says Dino Mavrokas, the other co-founder and former Navy SEAL. “There are other boat companies trying to adopt new technology to provide capacity. We’ve already seen in the self-driving industry that when you try to adapt new software to older hardware it doesn’t scale.
Saronic develops software and hardware together to create an efficient integrated vessel.
This idea of a tech company trying to revolutionize a defense sector dominated by well-established giant contactors is gaining momentum. Saronic is pursuing a similar dream to billion-dollar-startup Anduril, another tech company that focuses on the opportunities offered by AI rather than specific platforms. Anduril’s latest purchase will build low-cost ‘loyal wingman’ drone jets to assist F-35 pilots and boost numbers. Saronic plans to do essentially the same at sea.
“We want to grow the surface fleet, which will remain relevant with smaller, attractive platforms,” Mavrokas says.
Mavrokas says the drone boats will provide ‘stand-off’ – that is, they will allow crewed ships to remain at a safe distance from the enemy, while uncrewed ships will act as their eyes and ears, and If necessary, will act as weapons-delivery platform. ,
Some drone boats, like their Ukrainian counterparts, may be specifically designed as munitions for a one-sided attack. But they may be accompanied by others equipped with sensors to identify targets and assess the effects of attacks, or electronic warfare ships to deceive, distract and jam enemy warships.
Others may be designed for opposite missions: to act as a defensive screen against swarms of incoming enemy attack boats. Lehman focuses specifically on competition with China and the Navy’s urgent need for solutions.
“We understand the time sensitivity,” says Mavrokas. “We are building on this momentum to create innovative solutions that provide capabilities that do not yet exist and are desperately needed.”
The Series A round of $55 million is led by Caffeinated Capital with participation from 8VC, Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Point72 Ventures, Silent Ventures, Overmatch Ventures, Ensemble VC, Qubit Capital, and US Innovative Technology Fund.