Poway Drone Maker General Atomics Cuts Workforce by 6 Percent

Aug. 28, 2020

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the Poway-based maker of Predator military drones, is cutting its workforce by 6 percent in the wake of reduced demand.

The privately held company announced the layoffs Wednesday without revealing a specific number of job losses. But Defense News reported that 630 workers were being let go, which is similar to the number told to the Union Tribune by employees who wished to remain unnamed.

Workers losing their jobs will stay on payroll for 60 days and receive severance. The required mass-layoff notice under California's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act has not been received yet by local employment development officials.

"General Atomics Aeronautical Systems can confirm a reduction in force involving 6 percent of its workforce," said a company spokeswoman in an email. "This reduction was made to balance resources with customer requirements."

General Atomics has been the global leader in military unmanned aircraft for a generation with its popular Predator platform, said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a defense industry think tank.

Now, however, more competitors are building military drones, and the U.S. Air Force is eager to upgrade its arsenal to the next generation of unmanned aircraft.

"They have been making the Predator and Reaper, the attack version of the Predator, for some time," said Thompson. "The Air Force has been looking at reducing its current generation of drones in order to move on to new generations, and there are many more players now in that space than there used to be."

Earlier this year, the Air Force announced it would stop buying General Atomics' MQ-9 Reaper after fiscal year 2021, which is an earlier phase-out than expected. The Reaper has been used extensively by the Air Force in the Middle East and elsewhere. But Defense News reported that service leaders believe it is too easily shot down in conflicts against sophisticated combatants.

General Atomics is in the mix for developing next-generation military drones. The Air Force issued a request for information on a replacement drone in June.

General Atomics also is one of four aerospace outfits selected to participate in Air Force's $400 million Skyborg Vanguard program, which aims to integrate a family of jet-powered combat drones alongside manned fighter aircraft on critical missions.

San Diego's Kratos Defense, along with the unmanned systems unit of Northrop Grumman in Rancho Bernardo, also were selected for Skyborg. The initial next-generation drones are expected to begin flying alongside piloted jet aircraft by 2023.

According to Defense News, the Trump administration recently eased restrictions on sales of unmanned aircraft to other countries, which is expected to benefit General Atomics in the near term. And Congress also has proposed as much as $344 million for Predator/Reaper drone purchases in fiscal 2021.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has a handful of facilities in Poway and around San Diego, as well as in the Mojave Desert. In addition to manufacturing drones, the company makes digital ground control stations and sensor/radar payloads. It also provides pilot training and support in the field.


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