AeroVironment Lands a Deal

There's a lot going on in the defense world this week, folks. The following developments caught my eye yesterday:

  • Spartan Motors (Nasdaq: SPAR  ) received a $49 million contract to build mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) chassis for General Dynamics (NYSE: GD  ) .
  • General Dynamics also won a protest filed with the U.S. Government Accountability Office against a $3 billion IT award the Navy had tried to give to rival Raytheon (NYSE: RTN  ) .
  • Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) was awarded an $85 million contract to perform maintenance work on nuclear submarines for the Navy.
  • AeroVironment (Nasdaq: AVAV  ) landed a $19.3 million order from the U.S. Marine Corps.

Which was the biggest news? Arguably, by dollar value, the smallest announcement: AeroVironment's deal to sell its tiny Wasp III unmanned aircraft systems to the Marines. As a percentage of revenues, you see, all of these awards work out to roughly 10% (or thereabouts) of the respective companies' annual revenues, except Northrop.

But AeroVironment's sale is also part of a bigger "Air Force BATMAV contract, which was awarded to AV in December 2006," just prior to AeroVironment's initial public offering. BATMAV stands for battlefield air targeting micro air vehicle.

Weighing only one pound, with a wingspan of just 29 inches, AeroVironment bills the Wasp III as its "smallest UAS" -- unmanned aircraft system. BATMAV can be hand-launched (just toss it up and watch it go!) and once airborne, can fly for 45 minutes before it must land and be recharged.

Speaking of "recharged" -- it was that press release that gave Yours Fool-y his "Aha!" moment about AeroVironment. Before Tuesday's release, I "got" that AeroVironment's PosiCharge rapid battery charging system had the potential to make sales as GM (NYSE: GM  ) introduces the world to its Volt electric car, and as Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) ultimately yields to consumer demand for a plug-in hybrid Prius. What I didn't get was why AeroVironment's two key products -- quick battery chargers and unmanned mini-spy planes -- were part of the same company.

Now I get it
One product line complements the other. Soldiers in the field don't have the luxury of plugging their mini-spy planes into an electrical outlet overnight. They have to bring their chargers with them, and need to get their planes "refueled" PDQ to get those eyes back in the air.

Hence, AeroVironment brings its battery-charging expertise to bear on the UAS problem with an advanced battery charger, which the Marines are buying to use with the Wasp.

And so, this growth story begins to come together now -- in more ways than one.

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