Shield AI on Tuesday said it has raised another $200 million in venture capital for scaling and deploying the company's new autonomous piloting software aboard the company’s V-BAT unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to enable the drones to fly in teams.
The new Series F funding will also accelerate the integration of the artificial intelligence-based Hivemind autonomous piloting software with third-party uncrewed platforms, Shield AI said.
In June, the company said it has worked with Kratos Defense & Security Solutions to integrate Hivemind into Kratos’ XQ-58 Valkyrie stealthy drone to team crewed and uncrewed jets (Defense Daily, June 15). Hivemind has maneuvered an F-16 in air combat scenarios.
Flight testing of Hivemind in fighters continues, the company said, adding that it “has more autonomous maneuver flight hours of fighter jets than any company in the world.”
Shield AI has not disclosed the aircraft it is targeting for Hivemind installation, “but I will say that we are looking to integrate our AI pilot on all aircraft OEMs in the group 5 space and other select aerial platforms,” Brandon Tseng, co-founder and president of Shield AI, told Defense Daily in an email response to questions.
Shield AI VBAT unmanned aerial systems aboard a ship at sea. Shield AI photo
Group 5 UAS weigh more than 1,320 pounds and operate above 18,000 feet. V-BAT is a group 3 drone, weighing 125 pounds.
Earlier in October, Shield AI said it had recently completed testing and demonstrations of its artificial intelligence piloting software for drone swarms to permit V-BAT to operate and execute missions autonomously in GPS and communications-denied environments (Defense Daily, Oct. 9). The new software will first be used by teams of four V-BATs with the goal of doubling the number of drones annually.
V-BAT Teams will be on the battlefield in 2024, the company said.
“Except for lethal decision-making, V-BAT Teams can complete missions from start to finish without the need for an operator or pilot,” Shield AI said.
Tseng told Defense Daily that in simple terms the new funding will enable his company to “Scale, fly, sell. To add clarity to the first two steps. We are using Series F funds to scale V-BAT production to meet the increased aircraft demand required by large B-BAT Teams. In parallel, we are continuing to mature our flight testing of V-BAT Teams and optimize autonomous behaviors through our fly-fix-fly process.”
V-BAT is a program of record and Shield AI has said the UAS are deployed in 14 time zones and operate around-the-clock. The drones take off and land vertically but fly horizontally.
Marine Corps Rotational Forces, both Southeast Asia and Darwin, experiment with V-BAT systems along with other drones, communication gear, and other systems frequently as part of their testing of distributed operations, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith said on a podcast with War on the Rocks that was published on October 25.
“So, they're all doing those experimentations and they're doing command and control,” Smith said. “How does that small command element sense [and] make sense of the battlefield—the COP, the common operating picture, and then pass that data in time that matters? Meaning seconds or milliseconds to the rest of the joint force and our partner force.”
The $200 million funding raise brings Shield AI’s valuation to $2.7 billion, the startup company said. U.S. Innovative Technology Fund led the funding round.
The infusion of funding comes as the Defense Department has said it wants to increase the use of low-cost, attritable unmanned systems significantly to help counter China’s military buildup in the Western Pacific region. The Replicator Initiative seeks to buy thousands of these systems starting as soon as 16 months from now.
“The increasing number of military conflicts we have seen over the last 18 months, unfortunately, paints a sobering view of our future defense technology needs and the important role AI will play,” Thomas Tull, technology investor and chairman of USIT, said in a statement. “Shield AI continues to be a pioneer in this sector, driving much-needed innovation by developing state-of-the-art AI pilots.”
USIT previously invested in Shield AI in a Series E funding round late last year.
The new Series F round included co-leader Riot Ventures, returning participants Disruptive, and Snowpoint, and contributions from new investors that include Cathie Wood’s ARK Invest.
A version of this story initially appeared in affiliate publication Defense Daily.