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Lockheed Martin Air 6500 image. (Lockheed Martin Australia)
SYDNEY — In a major contract award that could lead to a global franchise, Australia has awarded Lockheed Martin $765 million AUD ($487 million US) for the first phase of building what it calls Air6500.
Lockheed beat Northrop Grumman for the right to produce an Australian project that comes with an export market the defense giant estimates to be worth $83 billion AUD ($55 billion US) A statement from the Australian Defense Ministry says the system is expected to grow to become “a multibillion dollar program.”
Lockheed started working on a version of Air6500 seven years ago, before it was known by that name, and has invested roughly $100 million of its own money developing it. That includes doubling the size of its Australian workforce to 200 to develop the project. The project started with 10 Americans and 10 Australians.
One of the most intriguing capabilities that Lockheed is building into its system is what the company is claiming as a world-first passive radar system by an Australian company called Silentium.
The passive radar works by tracking reflections of objects from FM radio waves. Multiples of the relatively low-cost system can be deployed around the world to track a wide array of objects from Low Earth Orbit to the surface of the sea. It won’t replace active scanning radar, which is crucial for targeting, but would provide an important cueing capability to active radar. Of course, passive radar will not attract enemy fire since it does not emit.
The Australian company Consunet provides Lockheed’s Air6500 with an electromagnetic battle management subsystem which allows pilots and weapons to find ways through radar and other detection nets to avoid detection. It includes a visual system to help plan missions.
Lockheed and Australian defense officials have been keenly aware that if they can develop an ITAR-free system — one that is not burdened by any US export restrictions — they could sell the system to a myriad of countries eager to use a system used by a Five Eyes country, one that thus meets US security and other requirements.
While Australia doesn’t use the term All Domain Operations, more than a dozen industry and government officials have acknowledged in background conversations that Air6500 would provide many of the capabilities expected by the US of an All Domain system, one able to connect sensors and communications from space to air to ground to the sea and below and across to the cyber domain. Lockheed’s system is based on an open architecture.
“Australia’s AIR6500-1 program is truly transformational. It will set the blueprint for future military Joint All-Domain Operations across the globe.” Stephanie Hill, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems, said in a company statement. “This critical capability will allow the ADF to leverage information from across all domains at greater speeds, with better accuracy and at a greater scale than it is capable of today.”
Lockheed was the first US defense prime to make a company-wide commitment to All Domain Operations and has been pursuing capabilities relevant to it across the enterprise. To get some idea of how important Air6500 has been seen by Lockheed Martin, note that the company flew its chief operations officer, Frank St. John, here for the final oral presentations to the Australian Department of Defense.
“The project is likely to generate up to 230 jobs, including for subcontractors, in high-tech areas including software development, systems engineering, project management and logistics. Around 150 jobs will be in South Australia, 60 in the NSW Hunter region, with others in Brisbane and Canberra,” a Defense Department statement released just after midnight local time said.
“This first-of-its-kind system will provide greater situational awareness and defence against increasingly advanced air and missile threats, as well as give the ADF increased levels of interoperability with the United States and allied partners,” the statement says.
Lockheed Martin Australia has already awarded contracts to more than 10 leading-edge companies such as Leidos Australia, Consunet, Consilium, C4I, Silentium, Penten, Lucid Consulting Engineering, and engaged with US prime contractors Raytheon and Boeing during the risk reduction phase to develop their AIR6500 offering.
Topics: Air 6500, arms exports, C4I, Consilium, Consunet, Indo-Pacific, Leidos Australia, Lockheed Martin Australia, Penten, Silentium Defence
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