Trio of DOD leaders poised to visit kamikaze drone-maker’s California plant

The meeting comes as the U.S. military experiments with AeroVironment’s capabilities — and considers supplying some to Israel.
An AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial system (UAS) team assigned to the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, conduct training at Jaworze, Poland on November 22, 2023. Ravens UAS are used to provide day or night aerial intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance missions to support Operation European Assure Deter and Reinforce. (Photo by U.S. Army Maj. Arturo Rodriguez)

At least three senior Pentagon officials are preparing to visit drone manufacturer and military contractor AeroVironment’s plant in Simi Valley, California, later this week, sources familiar with their plans told DefenseScoop on Tuesday.

The Defense Department’s Chief Technology Officer and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Doug Bush are set to meet with experts from AeroVironment at the facility while they are in California for the annual Reagan National Defense Forum.

AeroVironment produces a variety of uncrewed platforms, including small- and medium-sized unmanned aerial systems, robotic ground vehicles and loitering munitions like the Switchblade family of kamikaze drones.

U.S. Army units have been training with and employing AeroVironment UAS, and the service has purchased multiple variants of Switchblade systems, which are one-way attack drones that are designed to destroy their targets by crashing directly into them.


The Biden administration has also committed to arming Ukraine with hundreds of Switchblades to deploy against Russian forces, and it’s been considering a recent capabilities request that Israel submitted for assistance to defeat Hamas that includes 200 Switchblade 600s.

While sources confirmed to DefenseScoop on Tuesday that the three senior Pentagon officials would be engaging with AeroVironment staff at the Simi Valley plant, they would not speak to the nature of this visit — or verify what’s on the discussion agenda. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Shyu, LaPlante and Bush are expected to meet with other DOD technology providers while on the West Coast, as well.

“We have no details to provide regarding possible senior leader engagements at this time,” a Pentagon spokesperson told DefenseScoop.

Brandi Vincent

Written by Brandi Vincent

Brandi Vincent is DefenseScoop's Pentagon correspondent. She reports on emerging and disruptive technologies, and associated policies, impacting the Defense Department and its personnel. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Brandi produced a long-form documentary and worked as a journalist at Nextgov, Snapchat and NBC Network. She was named a 2021 Paul Miller Washington Fellow by the National Press Foundation and was awarded SIIA’s 2020 Jesse H. Neal Award for Best News Coverage. Brandi grew up in Louisiana and received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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