Oklahoma traces its place in the aviation world to 1933, when resident Wiley Post made the first solo, round-the-world flight.
Post had his day in the sun, and now San Diego-based Kratos Defense & Security Solutions Inc. is putting down roots in Oklahoma.
Kratos employees have spent more than a year readying a new factory to produce target and combat drones in Oklahoma City. On April 17, the company publicly celebrated the milestone of turning out its first Oklahoma-made drones, specifically MQM-178 Firejet target drones. The party drew at least two members of the state’s congressional delegation and local leaders, as well as congratulatory statements from the governor and other federal officials.
The Oklahoman reported on April 18 that Kratos (Nasdaq: KTOS) had produced six Firejets in Oklahoma City. The company’s new, 101,000 square-foot factory has 20 employees for now. Kratos plans to ramp up to 350 to 550 employees over the next three to five years.
The company said it plans to build a new combat drone, the XQ-58A Valkyrie, in Oklahoma City. The aircraft is a joint project between Kratos and the Air Force Research Laboratory. The Air Force said it wants to produce unmanned aircraft that are inexpensive to buy and operate.
A Valkyrie demonstrator made its first test flight in Arizona in early March. The Valkyrie can attain speeds approaching the speed of sound.
Kratos works in many fields of defense electronics. All told, it brought in total revenue of $618 million last year, up from $603 million the previous year. The business has offices and factories in a number of states.
By locating in Oklahoma, Kratos is in line for state tax credits as well as cash payments, a governor’s office representative told the Business Journal in 2018.
Kratos Defense got into the drone business in 2012, when it bought Composite Engineering Inc. of suburban Sacramento. The recent account in the Oklahoman said Kratos plans to produce aircraft parts in California and then assemble them in the Midwest.
Several public officials said Kratos was a welcome addition to the state’s existing aerospace sector. Oklahoma’s biggest single-site employer is Tinker Air Force Base, a major maintenance and jet repair facility.
In other news, Kratos said April 29 that it received a $12.6 million contract from an unnamed national security-related customer. Kratos will produce systems supporting Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance operations for its customer. The area is called C5ISR for short.