Lockheed Martin [LMT] is investing significant resources into modular open-architecture systems so that it can integrate new technologies into the platforms it already builds for the U.S. military.

In a world where weapons and other military systems are increasingly software-defined and in which commercial technology is advancing at exponential rates, taking a modular, open-systems engineering approach is critical for defense contractors to remain relevant, according to Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson.

“It’s a way of framing the challenge that we have as we continue to modernize for this great-power competition that we have,” Hewson said March 5 during her annual “state-of-the-company” address to reporters at the company’s Global Innovation Center outside Washington, D.C.

That’s been an area we’ve been focused on for many years,” she said. “Open architecture systems are critically important for the future, basically to bring in that speed of technology insertion.”

Rob Smith, vice president of C4ISR and unmanned systems at Lockheed Rotary and Mission Systems, said open-systems architectures allows defense-specific contractors like Lockheed Martin to focus on military technologies while benefiting from commercial technical and scientific advancements.

Commercial technology is progressing rapidly and “the cycles are going to continue to move expeditiously,” Smith said. “We … want to invest in and develop technology which isn’t going to be developed naturally by commercial enterprise. … We are investing money in techniques and capabilities that are specific to our customers that generally aren’t going to be done in the commercial world, and partnering with the commercial world to leverage commercial investment.”

“Open systems architectures allows us to move forward in a plug-and-play manner and continue to integrate new, whether they’re sensors or algorithms and bring the best from both commercial and the typical defense industry to solve problems for our customers,” Smith said.

The same architectures that allow insertion or integration of commercial technologies allow Lockheed Martin to internally develop upgraded capabilities for the platforms and systems it already is on contract to build.

Lockheed Martin has been introducing much of its own internally developed technologies into the platforms the Defense Department already buys, including aircraft, Clark said. Modular, open architecture engineering approaches allow the integration of those emerging technologies without having to “break into” legacy systems,” he said.

Through open mission system demonstrations, the company is regularly “attacking that open architecture question while also introducing a lot of these machine-to-machine communications and underlying decision-making algorithms to facilitate a more-rapid decision-making process,” Clark said.

“As part of this underlying philosophy, we’ve been able to advance the ability for us to integrate these technologies into our platforms,” Clark said. “Having the open architectures is enabling us and facilitating that ability to put this new technology into a system without having to break into an entire system and having to touch a lot of the legacy portions of a platform or mission systems component.”

“By improving the rate of technology integration, we’re able to make our systems more relevant to the fight,” he said. “This multi-domain capability is actually going to manifest through a hardware implementation even though it’s underpinned by this distributed architecture,” Clark said. “We’re looking at … the collective portfolio we have as a significant opportunity, because we can talk amongst each other and look at the opportunities that exist to integrate these different nodes and facilitate these type of cross-domain decision processes and facilitate that into the platforms and systems that we already sell.”