Lockheed CEO Pitches Pentagon on Subscription Software

October 4, 2023 4:08 PM
Marine Sgt. Usbaldo Miranda, Jr., systems configuration coordinator, Marine Air Control Squadron 1, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), monitors his computer inside an expeditionary command and control (C2) node during a training exercise at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, Feb. 7, 2023. US Marine Corps Photo

A parallel acquisition system – buying needed apps by monthly or yearly subscription to meet changing mission requirements – could improve deterrence by complicating an enemy’s war planning, Lockheed Martin’s top executive suggested Wednesday.

Jim Taiclet, Lockheed’s CEO, said the idea behind this approach is similar to allowing a customer to buy a 5G phone in Seoul and have it operate with new applications as needed in Washington.

Although “digital insertion” in this manner “hasn’t caught on yet” inside the Pentagon, across the tech industry or the broad industrial base, Taiclet said it has the potential “to move that deterrence goal post every three to six months.”

Traditionally, the Defense Department and defense industry think in big contracts for platforms that take years to design, build and manufacture and service. Taiclet, however, sees large defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin as a bridge from the subscription-based tech sector to the big-contract Pentagon acquisition process.

“We have to get our expertise together.” He added this approach “is starting to get some traction” among large investors in the tech sector.

Building these “mission roadmaps,” Taiclet said, must “be done with everybody in the room” from the services – “pilots, line commanders, admirals” – to the tech sector and defense industry. They would be working with a common architecture on existing platforms – “5G, AI, autonomy, how do we do that”– in moving vast amounts of data while not remaining undetected.

Taiclet emphasized “this is not the commercial 5G” that consumers have. “We call this 5G.mil, [that it] has to [work] in contested environments” a given.

The data link challenge “is not easily solved,” Taiclet said, but with common architecture, once in place, it can be continuously upgraded. Taiclet added that in this “big tent” approach to Pentagon buying services for a specified time means the commercial side needs to move away from “vendor lock” – holding exclusive rights to proprietary information.

“We’ve got to start with what we have.”

He added Lockheed Martin is working with Northrop Grumman to merge their data. “We want to migrate as much commercial development technology to defense” as possible.

When asked about surge capacity in the defense industry today, Taiclet said “we must keep it resilient.” He pointed to the problems that exist around single-year appropriations, which are exacerbated by continuing resolutions (CRs), basically holding spending to previous years levels for existing programs.

The U.S. government currently is operating under a CR set to expire before Thanksgiving.

To achieve the resiliency critical to overcoming the effects of a pandemic or blockade, he pointed to multiyear contracts that suppliers of large defense contractors use to gauge their own workloads. In many cases, “defense work is not the driver” of a suppliers’ business. Taiclet said 80 percent of contractor revenue comes from the commercial industry, and they direct their businesses that way.

He added that the defense industry “should have regional sustainment and production” as another way to build resiliency into its operations. “We want a Blackhawk sustainment facility in the South China Sea.”

Industry experiments with direct contractors have been met with mixed success. In particular, the Navy is moving away from the contractor-led maintenance model that prevents sailors from servicing equipment on ships. In particular, Lockheed Martin’s Freedom-class littoral combat ship design relied on contractor maintenance.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.

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