In an era of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, the demand for intuitive, multi-domain robotic systems is on the rise.
AeroVironment, a global leader in the sector, is at the forefront of this revolution. They specialize in the development, manufacturing, and design of unmanned tactical systems and vehicles, pseudo-satellites, and advanced artificial intelligence applications for defense, government, and private enterprises. These systems operate in various environments and perform a wide range of tasks to serve a diverse customer base spanning multiple sectors.
Agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense and allied international governments are among their primary customers. These agencies utilize AeroVironment’s systems for security, surveillance, or sensing operations, often providing “eyes in the sky” to enhance operational efficiency and safety. By maintaining close relationships with key customers and leveraging an advisory group of former DoD experts for insights and advice, AeroVironment specialized focus allows them to tailor their products and strategies to meet the unique demands of the defense sector.
Besides serving the defense and government sectors, the company also produces products for commercial industries, such as drones for environmental monitoring and scientific research.
After more than half a century of innovation, AeroVironment continues to be in a strong phase of growth and aims to solidify its position by focusing on several strategic areas. In the midst of favorable geopolitical trends championing unmanned platforms, the company is not only capitalizing on the evolving global landscape but also strategically enhancing its reach through key acquisitions that are bolstering its existing products and opening doors to entirely new markets.
Founded in 1971 by Paul MacCready, an aeronautical engineer known for pioneering human-powered flight, AeroVironment initially focused on alternative energy and transportation solutions. Before long, the company turned its attention to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), developing one of the world’s first operational drones in the 1980s.
A key turning point came in the early 2000s when AeroVironment secured contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). By this time, the company had expanded its product range to include not only small and medium unmanned aerial systems (SUAS and MUAS) but also tactical missile systems (TMS) and, eventually, unmanned ground vehicles (UGV).
The company went public in 2007, fueling ambitious growth plans. AeroVironment sought to diversify its portfolio, exploring other markets, including commercial industries and allied international governments. Around 2015, the company also began investing heavily in R&D aimed to meet the emerging demands for more intelligent, multi-domain robotic systems.
AeroVironment is led by Wahid Nawabi, who has served as the company’s president and chief executive officer since 2016 after joining the business in 2011. During his tenure, he has reshaped business strategy and processes, launched several award-winning, innovative new products, and significantly improved AeroVironment’s position in the market.
Prior to AeroVironment, Nawabi spent 16 years at American Power Conversion Corporation in multiple leadership roles, where he was a crucial part of launching a successful entry into the data center critical power and cooling infrastructure business. He also played a key role in growing the company from $50 million to more than $2.4 billion in annual revenue and its eventual sale to Schneider Electric for $6.1 billion, the largest acquisition in Schneider’s history.
AeroVironment specializes in delivering cutting-edge robotic systems that enhance operational efficiency and safety. The company’s offerings mainly fall under three categories – Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS), Medium Unmanned Aircraft Systems (MUAS), and Tactical Missile Systems (TMS), along with a diversified ‘Other’ category.
Making up 43% of the company’s revenue, SUAS are small drones primarily used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. They provide real-time imagery and data, enabling swift and accurate decision-making. SUAS are typically deployed for short-range missions and are highly portable, making them ideal for quick launches. While MUAS, which account for a further 13% of revenue, have broader capabilities and ranges than their smaller counterparts. These systems can carry more sophisticated sensors and cameras, and they are often employed in longer-term, more complex missions.
Contributing to 23% of revenue, TMS offers precision strike capabilities. These are essentially smart munitions designed to take out specific targets with minimal collateral damage, often deployed in highly sensitive operations.
Comprising the remaining 21% of revenue, Other offerings include Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) and High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites (HAPS), among others. UGVs are used for ground-based reconnaissance and payload delivery, while HAPS systems, which are still in early development, can fly for months at a time to provide continuous remote sensing and telecommunications services.
Beginning in FY24, the company consolidated these businesses into three reporting segments – Unmanned Systems, Loitering Munitions, and MacCready Works going forward.
MacCready Works includes a group of select visionary scientists and engineers partnering with customers to explore innovative breakthrough solutions to complex challenges. Primarily focused on customer-funded R&D in the areas of robotics, sensors, software analytics, and connectivity, the segment seeks to identify new products, services, and businesses for AeroVironment. While the revenue generated from these customer-funded projects sustains this unit, it is likely that new businesses incubated here could significantly contribute to the growth of the company.
Agencies like the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force use AeroVironment’s UAS for a variety of purposes. For example, the U.S. Army employs SUAS for scouting ahead of troop movements to identify potential threats. AeroVironment’s products are also in service with allied nations that use them for similar defense and security applications. TMS, for instance, may be deployed for targeted strikes during counter-terrorism operations.
The majority of AeroVironment’s offerings serve the DoD and allied governments, but they also have a growing footprint in commercial and other government sectors. The company’s UGVs have found a niche in public safety, aiding in bomb disposal and hazardous material identification. In the commercial sector, drones are used for environmental monitoring and scientific research. While in collaboration with NASA, AeroVironment is exploring the frontiers of space through its technologically advanced systems.
As a technology solutions provider, AeroVironment’s strategy focuses on expanding the business through the delivery of innovative, safe, and reliable solutions that offer unique capabilities to its customers. By introducing new solutions or acquiring differentiated ones developed by others, the company is continuously seeking to deliver compelling value, which allows for profitable growth in both new and existing markets.
The broader geopolitical environment and trends toward greater use of unmanned platforms on the battlefield are boosting AeroVironment’s confidence in the future, particularly given the broad support for its systems and services. The company expects the current U.S. administration to continue prioritizing and budgeting for the mission-critical unmanned systems it supplies, especially for operations in contested environments. Additionally, the DoD is investing more in areas like Loitering Munitions and small unmanned systems, where the company is well-positioned to serve.
The defense market for SUAS and MUAS has grown significantly since the early 2000s, primarily driven by the demands associated with the global threat environment and resulting procurement by military customers, the early adopters of this technology. SUAS and MUAS now represent accepted and enduring capabilities for military forces around the world. Additionally, as airspace regulations in the U.S. and other nations evolve to accommodate the commercial use of SUAS and HAPS, significant growth in the number of private entities requiring solutions is taking place.
In particular, AeroVironment sees a significant market opportunity for HAPS UAS that can fly for extended periods in an affordable manner over large coverage areas for both commercial and defense applications. Existing solutions, such as terrestrial cellular towers and communications satellites, all suffer from various trade-offs. However, AeroVironment’s solutions are capable of maintaining geosynchronous orbits for extended periods, operating over large areas of interest, while providing low latency communications directly to available handheld mobile devices. As a result, it is expected they will become a critical bridge between terrestrial infrastructure and satellites.
In the tactical missile space, the development of weapons capable of rapid deployment and precision strikes that also minimize the risk to surrounding civilians, property, and operators has accelerated due to advances in enabling technologies. At the same time, AeroVironment’s solutions provide a valuable and more cost-effective alternative to existing munition and missile systems. Likewise, benefits for UGVs to help responders remove, contain, or neutralize explosive, chemical, and biological hazards without putting people in harm’s way are expanding the market potential for non-defense applications such as facility security, infrastructure inspection, delivery of goods, and many others.
To sustain growth, AeroVironment plans to maintain a leadership position in its core markets, while also creating or acquiring new solutions and capabilities. Consistent with this strategy, the company recently acquired Tomahawk Robotics for $120 million. Tomahawk is a leader in AI-enabled robotic control systems and open standard communication technologies. This acquisition is expected to allow AeroVironment to provide a more seamless integration between its own unmanned systems and others, simplifying operations for customers in the field. The technology from Tomahawk will streamline the operation of AeroVironment’s family of unmanned systems, enabling users to complete their missions more efficiently and simply. The company expects this transaction to result in incremental revenues, create growth opportunities in adjacent markets, and generate synergies in product performance, ultimately driving increased shareholder value.
AeroVironment had a strong finish to FY23 to close out the company’s best year ever, exceeding half a billion dollars for the first time and continuing a six-year-long streak of year-over-year revenue growth. Thanks to increases across its suite of UAS, TMS, and UGV products, revenue for FY23 increased 21% to $540.5 million. The positive trend has continued into FY24 as revenue for the first quarter surged 40% year-over-year to $152.3 million, again driven by strong double-digit growth in sales across all product segments.
While operating income improved dramatically from a loss of $8.9 million in FY22 to a profit of $24.5 million in FY23, the company’s net loss was significantly impacted by goodwill impairments of $156.0 million and accelerated amortization of $34.1 million in the last quarter of the year. Fortunately, income from operations coming into FY24 also improved to $26.4 million as compared to a loss of $3.3 million in the prior year comparative.
AeroVironment’s funded backlog of firm orders under a customer contract has also surged to a record $539.7 million. Coupled with its record revenue, management believes it is well-positioned for another strong growth year in 2024. Consequently, it expects revenue of between $645 million and $675 million, modestly below consensus expectations of $678 million, which represents year-over-year growth of over 25%. Both management and analysts are also forecasting earnings per share to jump by more than double to $2.55, up from $1.26 in FY23.
The competitive landscape for AeroVironment is complex and evolving, with ever-changing technologies, shifting customer needs and expectations, and the potential introduction of new products.
Across the various UAS, TMS, and UGV markets, AeroVironment faces competition from an extensive list of well-established companies, including Elbit Systems, Quantum Systems, Textron, Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin, L3Harris Technologies, and Boston Dynamics. It also faces potential competition from consumer and commercial drone manufacturers like Skydio and Shield AI, whose increasing capabilities and lower costs are catching the attention of military buyers.
Despite this comprehensive list, AeroVironment believes that its differentiated solutions position it to compete effectively against larger, established competitors, who may have advantages in scope, scale, resources, and relationships.
The past year served as a turning point in AeroVironment’s long-term strategic vision to become the world’s premier provider of unmanned robotic solutions. Given a robust pipeline, a record backlog, and global trends that favor its wide range of robotic solutions, AeroVironment is well-placed for a new growth phase.