Growing Demand for Rocket Motor Prompts Pentagon to Buy Tiny Ursa Major

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Desperate to address growing demand for solid fuel rocket engines, the Pentagon is close to awarding a contract for new motors to untested, privately held startup Ursa Major, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

While the rocket motors themselves are relatively inexpensive, they play a vital role in powering billions of dollars worth of missiles and rockets to supply the war efforts in Ukraine and Israel and re-stock depleted US stockpiles.

The contract — expected to be small and fall under Pentagon development programs — would be a major vote of confidence in the upstart defense contractor as officials look for more suppliers in addition to the two major rocket engine makers — Northrop Grumman and L3 Harris Technologies. Are. There are other recent entrants including X-Bow Systems.

It also reflects the Defense Department's growing willingness to take risks to solve what officials call a "major crisis."

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"As soon as I get the budget for fiscal year (fiscal year) '24, I'm going to drop it on a small company that is going to do additive manufacturing of a solid rocket motor," said Heidi Shew, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. Said, told Congress last week.

He did not name the company or reveal the size of the contract during his testimony, but he said the company is working closely with the Navy, adding, "We can't wait to get them on the contract."

A congressional aide and an industry executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Xu was referring to Ursa Major, a privately held company that uses 3-D printing to make rocket motors.

A representative for Ursa Major declined to comment. The Pentagon declined to comment further on the potential award.

Ursa Major is headquartered in Berthoud, Colorado, and is backed by investors including RTX Ventures, BlackRock, and Eclipse.

Ursa Major's website details the launch of the Javelin anti-tank missile, a weapon heavily used in Ukraine's efforts to repel Russian aggression over the past two years. Ursa Major says it can make rocket motors between 2 and 22 inches in diameter.

An industry executive at a large defense prime contractor said Ursa Major's motors could be used in any small diameter weapon such as the new Boeing and SAAB products Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), RTX's SM-6 rocket and Lockheed Martin's guided multiple launch rocket. System (GMLRS) which is heavily used in Ukraine.

Lockheed Martin was making about 4,600 GMLRS per year, but has ramped up production from 2022. According to Reuters analysis, more than 5,000 GMLRS have been shipped to Ukraine so far. GMLRS production is projected to increase from 10,000 deliveries in 2024 to 14,000 deliveries in 2025 due to increased demand.

President Joe Biden's 2024 budget request was the first to purchase missiles and other weapons with multi-year contracts, something that is routine for planes and ships, as the Pentagon signals permanent demand to top munitions makers. That 2024 budget, which has still not come through Congress, earmarked $11 billion to "deliver a mix of highly lethal precision weapons" including hypersonic prototypes and the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASM). , and included long-range multi-year purchases. Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), and Standard Missile 6 (SM-6).

Ursa Major has raised $274 million from investors and is valued at $750 million, according to PitchBook data.

(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters,

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