By Eric M. Johnson and Mike Stone
SEATTLE/WASHINGTON – Technology startup Epirus, which is competing with Boeing Co and others to supply drone-zapping weapons to the U.S. military, has raised $200 million in a private transaction that lifts its valuation to $1.35 billion, the company told Reuters.
The cash infusion comes as the United States scrambles to develop countermeasures against widely available commercial drones that military and law-enforcement officials say pose mounting tactical threats to everything from military bases and refineries to mass gatherings like Sunday’s NFL Super Bowl.
Militias and insurgent groups including Islamic State have rigged off-the-shelf drones with explosives to attack high-profile targets including commercial ships and armored combat vehicles.
Last month, Iraq’s air defenses shot down two explosive-laden drones as they approached the Ain al-Asad air base, which hosts U.S. forces, west of Baghdad.
“I am very concerned about it,” Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, told a congressional committee last year.
“Small, commercially available drones are one of the most persistent and dangerous threats that we see in the (Middle East),” McKenzie said.
The proliferation of cheap drones has raised the need to find an alternative to traditional aerial defenses, such as surface-to-air missiles, which can cost $3 million apiece.
Torrance, California-based Epirus joins a number of aerospace juggernauts developing so-called directed-energy weapons of varying size and cost that zap unmanned aerial vehicles using lasers or microwaves.
A 300-kilowatt, ground-based laser being developed by Boeing and General Atomics targets drones as well as missiles and aircraft.
Raytheon Technologies Corp and KBR Inc unit Kord Technologies last year won a $123 million contract to supply the U.S. Army with 50-kilowatt lasers mounted to eight-wheeled Stryker combat vehicles.
Epirus has partnered with General Dynamics Corp to install a microwave-pulsing weapon on the Stryker vehicles. Its portfolio includes a ground-based microwave cannon called Leonidas and a smaller Pod version that can be carried in a pack or mounted to a drone. It declined to discuss the kilowatt strength of its products.
Epirus raised $200 million in Series C funding from 8VC, Bedrock, Broom Ventures and General Dynamics Land Systems, among other investors, the company said. An announcement was expected later on Tuesday.
Deployment of the technology above U.S. air space has been held off by Federal Aviation Administration regulations that prohibit interfering with commercial aircraft, a category that so far includes commercial drones.
The Pentagon has given U.S. military bases the green light to shoot down private and commercial drones that could endanger aviation safety or pose other threats.