WASHINGTON – Aerojet Rocketdyne today announced the acquisition of Coleman Aerospace, a subsidiary of L-3, in a move executives believe will position the rocket motor company to grow into the commercial launch and, perhaps, offensive-weapons market.

The acquisition, which was signed Wednesday and will be finalized by Friday, was for $15 million in cash. Aerojet does not plan any major changes to Coleman in the near term, including job cuts.

Coleman's main business has been producing targets – essentially, small vehicles which look and act like enemy weapons -- that can be used by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to test its systems against. In November 2013, Coleman won a contract to produce medium-range ballistic missile targets for MDA, a contract that goes through Sept. 2018.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the announcement, Tyler Evans, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s vice president of Rocket Shop

and Defense Advanced Programs, expressed his belief that the acquisition will give Aerojet a major foothold not just in the test vehicle market but the commercial sector as well.

"We believe that there is tremendous synergy in combining the capability and system engineering vehicle integration with the rocket motor capability that we bring, so that we can provide affordable tip-to-tail solutions, if you will, for the Missile Defense Agency, for the services, and potentially for commercial launch providers as we look to grow this capability beyond just suborbital launch to potentially commercial launch," Evans said.

In a statement, Aerojet predicted Coleman will provide $40 million in revenue in 2017. Evans declined to go into details about where that figure comes from, but indicated it would be a mix of keeping up the existing MDA contract, finding new customers for Coleman’s targets, and synergies from the merger of the two companies.

As an example, Evans pointed out that Coleman currently gets government-furnished rocket motors for their designs, something Aerojet Rocketdyne would now obviously be able to provide directly for their new subsidiary.

"Now we can integrate that rocket motor into a full-up target system and provide that to the end user, which makes us a prime contractor to Missile Defense Agency, where we can provide the full system solution they need," he said, before expressing a belief that this puts the company more on par with traditional adversary Orbital ATK.

One area that Aerojet wants to grow through Coleman is commercial launch capabilities for small and medium-sized satellites. Coleman’s targets use many of the same technologies as launch vehicles, and in theory Aerojet could combine that with their rocket engines to create a system capable of getting lightweight systems into space.

"We have a lot of companies in the world building smalls satellites and we don’t have a lot of companies in the world who can launch small satellites. So that’s part of the strategy in this acquisition, that’s a market we’re looking to address," Evans said. Asked when such launches could begin, Evans said "the market would say the sooner the better.

Another potential avenue, though one Evans clarified as more "hypothetical" than anything, is the potential to transform Coleman’s air-launch test vehicles into offensive weapons. Those systems are capable of being launched from a C-17.

"To address a lot of emerging threats in the world, air-launched offensive and defensive applications are a big opportunity area," he said. "So there are many different potential markets we can address."

Since Aerojet and Rocketdyne merged in 2013, the combined company has not been shy about attempting to grow through acquisitions. The most notable case was a 2015 bid to purchase the United Launch Alliance for a reported $2 billion, something that was ultimately rebuffed by ULA's parent companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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