Defense prime tech investments hint at bigger picture

Two of the defense market's largest players make investments in commercial tech companies that are much smaller in size but whose products are seen as disruptive to the market and customer.

With an eye toward the future, two of the defense market’s largest players have made investments in other companies whose technologies represent key priority areas for the industry and government customers.

Huntington Ingalls Industries wants to be a leader in the unmanned maritime market in the same manner that it is for larger warships. The company has made another move in that push through an equity investment in Sea Machines Robotics, a Boston-based provider founded in 2015 that makes software for workboats and other surface vessels.

Terms of the investment were undisclosed, but Sea Machines said it came as part of a $15 million fundraising round with HII having "significant participation" in it.  Venture capital firm Accomplice led the round and other participants included Toyota AI Ventures, Brunswick Corp. (through investment partner TechNexus), Geekdom Fund, NextGen Venture Partners, Eniac VC and LaunchCapital.

Sea Machines designs its software products to support either remote-controlled or fully autonomous command of vessels. The software has been installed on vessels used by customers in government, commercial and recreational markets.

Four months ago, HII stood up an unmanned systems division within its technical solutions segment upon the acquisition of unmanned underwater vehicle maker Hydroid. The investment in Sea Machines aims to complement work HII has already performed in the unmanned surface domain.

Artificial intelligence is one of a handful of focus areas for Lockheed Martin Ventures -- the defense company’s arm for investing in commercial technology outfits whose products are seen as disruptive and transformative for both the industry and military.

In a release Wednesday, security and autonomy firm CalypsoAI said it closed a Series A fundraising round that netted $13 million. Paladin Capital Group led the round that saw Lockheed Martin Ventures contribute an undisclosed amount alongside 8VC, Frontline Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Manta Ray Ventures, Pallas Ventures and other unnamed financial and strategic investors.

CalypsoAI plans to push its strategy further in an area it calls Trusted AI, including accreditation and defenses against adversarial machine learning attacks.

This comes in the same year that the company announced the creation of its CalypsoAI Labs organization. Based in Washington, D.C., the Labs unit works with government agencies, universities, and private firms to develop tailored applications and other solutions that support AI security capabilities in the defense arena.