Rockets, missiles and robots at the ‘other’ Lockheed

Posted Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Breaking down Lockheed Martin Lockheed’s Grand Prairie-based Missiles and Fire Control division generated the second-highest profit among the corporation’s five business units in 2012, behind the Fort Worth-based aeronautics division. Net sales • Aeronautics: $14.95 billion • Information Systems & Global Solutions: $8.9 billion • Space Systems: $8.3 billion • Mission Systems and Training: $7.6 billion • Missiles and Fire Control: $7.5 billion Operating profits • Aeronautics: $1.7 billion • Missiles and Fire Control: $1.3 billion • Space Systems: $1.1 billion • Information Systems & Global Solutions: $808 million • Mission Systems and Training: $737 million Source: Lockheed Martin

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Systems engineer Adam Sharkasi had a wide grin on his face as he used a joystick to control a mobile robot across a test track of sand and rock piles.

“I think a lot of people would probably say they have the best job here, but I think have the best job,” Sharkasi said on a clear November afternoon.

Sharkasi works with a 4,300-pound robot that is under development at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. Known in North Texas as the “other Lockheed” — operating in the shadow of the better-known Fort Worth-based Lockheed Martin Aeronautics — MFC employs about 2,700 workers in Grand Prairie, mostly in engineering and research and development.

“Although most of our actual [North Texas] footprint is in Dallas, the vast majority of our employees live in Tarrant [County],” said Richard “Rick” H. Edwards, a Lockheed executive vice president who runs the division.

Lockheed’s MFC unit is the brains behind the company’s 21st-century combat rockets, missiles and robots. Missiles and Fire Control posted the best third-quarter earnings, in terms of growth in sales and profits, of any of the Bethesda, Md.-based aerospace giant’s five divisions. The unit’s third-quarter profits stood at $356 million, compared with $300 million in the same period of 2012, the company reported.

Another well-kept secret: MFC has the broadest program portfolio of any Lockheed division, with 16,000 employees in 300 locations all over the globe. This year, MFC estimates that 40 percent of its business will come from international sales.

“I have made many trips to certain parts of the world where I fly for 20 hours and drink tea for half an hour or 45 minutes and answer questions,” said Edwards, 57. “We’re everywhere and doing all kinds of support. It’s an exciting part of the business to create a huge footprint.”

MFC specializes in armored cars, robots, hit-to-kill-missiles and other target and weapons systems.

Customers in the Middle East want to buy weapons systems such as the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile. Germany and Italy also have joined with Lockheed to create a 360-coverage missile system ( Medium Extended Air Defense System or MEADS) that can pulverize planes, rockets and cruise and ballistic missiles.

Other countries, including China, are interested in the company’s safety and control systems. China, for example, wants to build an estimated 100 nuclear power plants, Edwards said. The country is talking to Edwards, a 30-year Lockheed employee, about his unit’s expertise.

In addition, Lockheed engineers, mechanics and field technicians work on the targeting system for the Apache helicopter that is used by the nation’s special operations forces.

And just this summer, the Lockheed unit shipped nearly two dozen next-generation HMMWV vehicles to the military for a test drive. By 2015, the military expects to buy as many as 55,000 of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicles to replace its 1980s-era Humvee models. Lockheed is one of three companies in the competition to produce the vehicles.

Edwards is hopeful that his business unit will be able to innovate in other areas. One example is a contract under development with Chinese companies to develop design and safety control systems for the proposed nuclear power plants, he said.

“It’s about: How can we expand that and support what will eventually be the renaissance of nuclear power? That’s not just occurring over there [in China] but in the rest of the world,” Edwards said.

After hopping on a truck for a quick ride to a test track at the southwest corner of the 20-acre MCF complex, Edwards is greeted by a team of engineers observing the test robot on the track of slopes, hills, rocks and sand. Lockheed hopes to build the autonomous combat robot for Army soldiers to help troops transport up to 1,200 pounds of equipment and materials.

“We’re trying to simulate a very rough terrain that the vehicle will have to operate over, a combat environment,” Sharkasi said. “It’s quite capable. … It’ll get up and over a lot of things that most vehicles will probably not get over.”

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard

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