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October 27, 2020 | International, Aerospace, C4ISR

Lockheed Seeks Commercial Tie-Ups to Chase 5G Work

CEO Taiclet wants a leading role as U.S. and allied militaries build out their next-gen mobile networks.

Marcus Weisgerber

Commercial partnerships will be key as Lockheed Martin seeks to help U.S. and allied militaries move to 5G networking — and diversify its offerings beyond fighter jets and missiles, its CEO said in an interview this week.

“I think, an imperative that we Lockheed Martin, and frankly the defense industrial base, partner with [the] commercial industry to accelerate the benefits of what I call 21st-century technologies into the defense [industrial] base, and into our national defense,” Jim Taiclet said in an Oct. 20 interview after his company’s 3rd-quarter earnings call. 

A former telecom executive, Taiclet took the reins at the world’s largest defense contractor in June amid an increased push by the Pentagon leaders to better connect the military’s weapons, regardless of manufacturer, so they can more quickly share information on the battlefield. The Air Force alone plans to spend at least $9 billion over the next five years connecting its weapons through an initiative known as Combined Joint All Domain Command and Control.

The Pentagon is conducting increasingly ambitious experiments with 5G wireless technology, which promises to link weapons with such high data-transfer rates that military commanders will be able to make decisions faster and with more information.

“We're interested in operationalizing the technical capabilities of 5G waveforms and technology software and hardware to improve our defense products and our defense products' performance in an interrelated way,” Taiclet said Tuesday on the company’s third-quarter earning call with Wall Street analysts.

The Pentagon has been increasingly embracing commercial firms like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft as the military shifts to the cloud. It’s also been on a half-decade push to get more commercial tech firms to embrace defense work, which has been a bumpy relationship at times.

Taiclet said the company would pursue partnerships not just in 5G, but also artificial intelligence, edge computing, autonomy, and additive manufacturing.

“I think there's some incredible runway or open space there for us to be a leader in bringing some of those companies and some of those technology leaders in partnership with us,” Taiclet said in the interview. 

He raised the prospect of forming alliances or licensing commercial technology from telecom firms like Qualcomm, NextCom or Nokia. He also said the company could form joint ventures with commercial tech firms. It could include buying companies too. 

“We're just gonna open our aperture wider,” Taiclet said. “And we also want to get more active and mission systems too. So, we'll see what's available in that space as well ... closer to the home base here. I think there's a lot of optionality for us going forward.”

On the earnings call, Taiclet also suggested Lockheed could offer “networking as a service, more of a subscription model” to the military.

“Then we do the upgrades and the comm layer and make sure we tie it all together, just like you experience on your cellphone subscription,” he said. You don't know all the pieces that go into it. So every morning when you turn it on, it works and it works with the latest applications, and it works with the latest technology. 

“Those are the kinds of things we're going to explore,” he said. “It will take a little bit longer to get there, but we're positioning ourselves to do that as well.”

https://www.defenseone.com/business/2020/10/lockheed-seeks-commercial-tie-ups-chase-5g-work/169566/

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