Recent successful demonstrations of data sharing between different types of weapon systems and a contract win to develop a new space-based tactical communications system that will eventually help tie together troops and weapons systems in the sea, air and land domains show how fifth generation wireless technology is coming to the battlespace for network-centric warfare, Lockheed Martin [LMT] President and CEO James Taiclet said on Tuesday.
In July, shortly after taking the helm at Lockheed Martin, Taiclet broadly discussed his visions for partnering more with the commercial technology industry and bringing 5G capabilities to the company’s military customers more rapidly. On Tuesday, during the company’s third quarter earnings call, he provided a bit more detail around the concept of 5G.mil.
“So, we’re really talking more about how do you go to war on a battlefield and bring with you, and have available to you, the throughput of data, the latency benefit and the ability to do software defined networks and manage spectrum dynamically on a battlefield,” Taiclet said in response to one analyst’s question about a new Defense Department initiative to add 5G data capabilities to its bases.
Having 5G at military bases and ranges isn’t Taiclet’s vision of 5G.mil, he said.
“At a base level, [it’s] not going to deliver what we’re looking for,” Taiclet said. “We need a global 5G connectivity platform and that’s why space is so important an element of this.”
A key ingredient to the space element is the company’s recent win in August, along with competitor York Space Systems, of a Space Development Agency contract for the first generation of the National Defense Space Architecture’s transport layer (Defense Daily, Sept. 1). Under the contracts, each company will build 10 low-earth orbiting satellites for the initial space transport sensor and communication layer.
“The award represents an important step toward building an interoperable, connected and secure mesh network of satellites that links ground, sea and air capabilities to sensors in space,” Taiclet said in his opening comments during Tuesday’s earnings call. He added that the contract is “an opportunity to bring together an array of high-tech platforms into one cohesive network that spans every domain for unmatched situational awareness, powered with 5G technology.”
While the space architecture is the core capability for the global 5G.mil network, recent weapon systems demonstrations displayed other key nodes of the future network-centric battlespace, Taiclet said.
This fall, Lockheed Martin successfully conducted a test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in which the company’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement interceptor intercepted a target using location data provided by the company’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon system network.
“This demonstrated a critical capability to expand a defended area through integration of existing systems,” Taiclet said.
In July, the company and its Air Force and Army partners built on successful demonstrations in summer 2019 and again in December 2019 that featured the integration of track data from an F-35 fighter with the Army’s Integrated Battle Command System.
The more recent demonstration showed “the value of utilizing data from the F-35 to enable enhanced integrated air and missile defense such as PAC-3 engagements,” Taiclet said. “This accomplishment is one of the first instances of demonstrating our 5G.mil concept with the F-35’s computer and data storage capabilities enabling that that F-35 to serve as an edge node of a network centric operational architecture.”
Taiclet added that “Networking every sensor with every shooter across the services and across domains will provide real-time data to maximize the effectiveness of our total force.”
Whether it’s the F-35, Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Combat System, the Army’s Future Vertical Lift platforms or even other company’s systems, Taiclet said these will be the “edge computing nodes of the future and the processing systems that act as the core network to tie it all together.”
Lockheed Martin is “extremely well positioned” with its own platforms to “implement the sort of 5G.mil theory that…we’re pursuing,” he said.
Taiclet also outlined the pillars to the company’s strategy, the 21st Century Warfighter concept, which begins with leading the “acceleration of 21st Century technologies into the national defense space.” This includes partnering with the commercial sector in areas such as artificial intelligence, 5G, edge computing, autonomy, additive manufacturing and others, he said.
The second pillar is internal investments around directed energy, hypersonics, and networking to add capabilities to the company’s and competitors’ platforms, he said. The third pillar is also focused internally and is on improving performance for better margins, returns on investment, and lower life-cycle costs to benefit customers.
Taiclet said for the military customers “to be able to afford what they need in the future our industry has to get more efficient at the same time.”
The final pillar of the strategy is around how the company allocates its capital, which will continue to include dividends, research and development, and acquisitions and joint ventures “to deepen capabilities in mission systems and add technological firepower,” Taiclet said. The company will be “active” but “still, very, very prudent” in its acquisition activities, he said.