By Mike Freeman – The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — The next frontier for unmanned military drones may not be solely in the skies. It could be undersea.

The U.S. Navy and defense contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and others are increasingly focusing on ocean drones as the next big market for unmanned technology.

Lockheed Martin Ventures in September month invested an undisclosed amount in San Diego-based Ocean Aero, a 25-employee startup that is developing the Submaran — a solar and wind powered ocean drone capable of operating above and below the surface.

“The ability to be environmentally powered allows us to maneuver at great persistence because it’s renewable,” said Eric Patten, chief executive of Ocean Aero and a former Navy officer. “And then to be able to transition that vehicle from the surface to a sub-surface vehicle that has significant capability under water, that is truly unique.”

Lockheed Martin Ventures typically invests $1 million to $5 million in young companies. “Ocean Aero represents the next generation of environmentally powered autonomous systems,” said Chris Moran, executive director of Lockheed Martin Ventures, in a statement. “Our investment will allow us to better respond to customers’ maritime needs with technology solutions for a diverse set of missions.”

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