The landscape of military aviation is about to undergo a dramatic shift. Boston-based Merlin, a leader in autonomous flight technology, has made a series of strategic moves that position them at the forefront of this revolution.

A recent acquisition and a substantial government contract paint a clear picture that the company is soaring toward a future dominated by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and intelligent autonomous systems.

EpiSci Acquisition Creates a One-Stop Shop for Next-Gen Autonomy

On June 13th, Merlin announced its acquisition of EpiSci (EpiSys Science, Inc.), a California-based software firm specializing in cutting-edge tactical autonomy solutions known as TacticalAI. This move is a significant force multiplier.

EpiSci’s software complements Merlin’s hardware expertise, creating a one-stop shop for next-generation autonomous systems.

This combined entity will be able to support over 23 different aircraft platforms, ranging from the workhorse C-130 Hercules cargo plane to agile fighter jets and even unmanned surface vessels.

“With the acquisition of EpiSci, we are uniquely positioned to lead the charge in autonomous aviation, which demands adaptable solutions that work across multiple platforms,” said Matt George, CEO and co-founder of Merlin.

“By merging with Merlin, we are choosing to deliver our TacticalAI autonomy software suite to the marketplace at significantly accelerated timelines and with greater impact,” added “Bo Ryu, Founder and CEO of EpiSci.”

USSOCOM Taps Merlin for C-130J Super Hercules Automation

Just two days prior to the acquisition news, Merlin announced another major development.

The company secured a $105 million contract with the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to develop autonomous flight systems for the C-130J Super Hercules.

This iconic aircraft forms the backbone of military cargo transport, and Merlin’s technology aims to revolutionize its operation.

The project will focus on reducing crew requirements, ultimately leading to safer and more scalable air operations.

“The contract award marks a milestone in the collaboration between USSOCOM and Merlin, accelerating our ability to bring high levels of autonomy to a variety of fixed-wing platforms to support the warfighter,” George said in a separate statement. “The forward-thinking approach to autonomy that USSOCOM has shown throughout the process of vetting Merlin for award is essential to a scalable industry and safe future.”

C-130J Super Hercules
C-130J Super Hercules flies over Yokota Air Base, Japan, February 19, 2021. (Image source: DVIDS)

The Broader Impact of Autonomous Flight: Potential and Challenges

Defense analysts are calling these developments a potential game-changer for military operations.

The combined capabilities of Merlin and EpiSci promise to transform how air assets are employed, offering a multitude of advantages:

Reduced Crew Risk: Autonomous systems can take on high-risk missions, particularly those involving potential enemy fire, safeguarding the lives of human pilots.

Enhanced Mission Effectiveness: Increased operational reach and flexibility will be achieved through 24/7 autonomous operations, allowing for faster response times and continuous surveillance.

Cost Savings: Reduced manpower requirements and improved efficiency in logistics and transport missions will translate to significant cost reductions.

The implications extend beyond immediate battlefield applications. Merlin’s technology has the potential to revolutionize humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, enabling autonomous delivery of critical supplies to remote areas or those ravaged by natural disasters.

However, the path toward widespread adoption of autonomous militaries is not without challenges. Regulatory hurdles and ethical considerations regarding the use of lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) need to be addressed. Ensuring robust cybersecurity measures to prevent these systems from falling into the wrong hands is also paramount.

Closing Thoughts

Despite these challenges, Merlin’s recent moves signal a clear direction for the future of military aviation. By combining cutting-edge software with proven hardware expertise, Merlin is well on its way to delivering the promise of safe, secure, and autonomous flight. This strategic acquisition and government contract solidifies Merlin’s position as a dominant force in reshaping the skies above the battlefield, paving the way for a new era of unmanned dominance.