Defense Business Brief: Lockheed exec talks global supply chains and F-35s in Europe; Lawmakers back L3Harris-Aerojet deal for their districts; Anduril buys a rocket company; and more.
When the pandemic basically shut down weapons manufacturing overnight, the fragility of global supply chains became evident across industrial sectors. Now, we’re seeing actions being taken to remove chokepoints and rely less on overseas firms.
“We're looking at: Are we resilient enough?,” Greg Ulmer, executive vice president of Lockheed’s Aeronautics business, said in an interview with me last week at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, France.
Over the decades, many companies became increasingly reliant on single suppliers. Then the pandemic hit. Production lines ground to a halt when a supplier had to close amid an outbreak of sick workers or local regulations prevented them from going to work. The F-35, manufactured with parts from 48 states and 10 countries, was not exempt. In 2020, Lockheed delivered more than 20 fewer jets than planned.
“There were major subassemblies that stopped for six, eight weeks, because of COVID,” Ulmer said.
Now the company is looking at increasing the number of suppliers for critical, specialized parts. Ulmer pointed to Lockheed’s recently announced partnership with New York-based semiconductor maker GlobalFoundries.
“We're really trying to re-emphasize the U.S. ability to … have sovereign capability in microelectronics [that are] not dependent upon Southeast Asia in particular,” he said. “I think that's very important.”
Having additional suppliers will likely cost more money, but is the U.S. government on board?
“They are,” Ulmer said, and for the first time in his 34 years of experience. “Especially if you, kind of, look at the microcosm of weapon consumption, and weapon manufacturers. We need to be more resilient and robust if we're going to meet the demand required, especially if there is significant conflict.” Ulmer predicts that the government might stockpile critical, specialized materials.
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More than 30 lawmakers are calling for the U.S. to approve L3Harris Technologies’ acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne. In a June 16 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the bipartisan group of lawmakers, all of whom represent states where Aerojet or L3Harris operate, argued the deal is good for national security and taxpayers.
“We believe that L3Harris Technologies’ acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne will result in a more efficient, flexible, and innovative supplier of solid rocket motors, liquid rocket engines, and other propulsion solutions,” the lawmakers wrote. “A stronger Aerojet Rocketdyne helps to ensure that the U.S. maintains a competitive advantage over our adversaries.”
Flashback to last week when top executives from RTX (formerly Raytheon Technologies, more on the name change here) and Lockheed Martin, who previously tried to buy Aerojet, raised questions about the deal.
While we wait to see if the government approves that deal, defense software startup Anduril has acquired solid-rocket maker Adranos. “Through this acquisition, Anduril will become a merchant supplier of solid rocket motors to prime contractors delivering missiles, hypersonics and other propulsion systems for some of the Department of Defense’s most important programs,” the company said in a statement.
Five years ago, Lockheed Martin executive Greg Ulmer was one of our first guests on the Defense One Radio podcast. Back then, during our chat at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show outside of London, he ran the F-35 program. Today, Ulmer is the executive vice president of Lockheed’s Aeronautics business. In this role he oversees all aircraft programs as well as the famed Skunk Works research-and-development unit in Palmdale, California. (Side note, Skunk Works turns 80 this year.) Here’s a quick rundown of more from our discussion in Le Bourget:
Lockheed is getting close to delivering its 1,000th F-35 stealth fighter. Some 920 F-35 have been built so far and the company and its suppliers can build 156 jets per year. There would be more, but the U.S. banned Turkey from the F-35 program over its buying Russian-made S400 air defense interceptors. That penalty cut the annual production capacity by 24 jets per year, Ulmer said. Now Lockheed is talking to Germany’s Rheinmetall about building center fuselages that were previously manufactured by Turkey. That will allow Lockheed to build up to 165 jets per year, if needed, Ulmer said. “We'll produce 156, I think between now and the early 2030s, based on the contract work we have and the demand that I see,” he said. “Then with that additional Rheinmetall capability, we could flex up to 165-ish over a period of two, three, four years, something like that.”
The Air Force and Navy are currently testing new F-35 hardware that will allow new tech to be installed on the jet. The company is delaying deliveries of new F-35s so the jets can have the new tech. “We'll get the certifications underwritten, certified by the government and then you'll see us resume deliveries,” Ulmer said.
There are more than 200 F-35s in Europe right now, but by the early 2030s, there are expected to be more than 550 F-35s on the continent, with only 50 of those jets belonging to the U.S. Air Force, Ulmer said. Also, Greece and the Czech Republic are interested in buying the F-35, he said.
On the F-16 front, Lockheed has finished building the first two F-16s for Bahrain at its relatively new factory in Greenville, South Carolina. The factory is expected to deliver six to eight F-16s this year before ramping up to building four per month in 2025.
The company is also working with Red 6 to put the startup’s Advanced Tactical Augmented Reality System into the T-50 pilot training jet. Lockheed and KAI jointly developed the T-50. “You'll see us getting a lot more serious about putting Red 6 embedded training in the T-50 offering,” Ulmer siad. Flashback, last year Boeing announced it was working with Red 6 to install its technology on the T-7 pilot trainer. Lockheed is also pitching the T-50 to replace the U.S. Navy’s T-45 trainer.
Austria, Sweden, and Greece are all interested in buying C-130s, Ulmer said.
Last week there was a very public spat in Paris over what future engine engine might power the F-35. Now, Defense One air and space reporter Audrey Decker has a response from the F-35 joint program office. “The F-35 JPO stands behind our in-depth business case analysis, conducted in partnership with industry, that helped inform DoD’s decision to move forward with the F135 Engine Core Upgrade and Power & Thermal Management System upgrade for the F-35,” JPO spokesperson Russ Goemaere said in a statement Friday.
Former Lockheed Martin government relations boss Christian Marrone has been named a senior advisor at the consulting firm Westexec Advisors.
Draper has named Amy Hart, previously of Northrop Grumman, vice president of contracts.
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