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IN DETAIL: Eyes on the Prize: Lockheed Martin Australia focusses on AIR6500

A schematic illustration of Lockheed Martin Australia’s AIR6500 solution. Understandably, it lacks detail. Photo: Lockheed Martin Australia

Lockheed Martin Australia (LMA) is approaching the end of a long path leading, it hopes, to prime contractorship on Defence’s Project AIR6500 Phase 1. 

Gregor Ferguson, EX2

This project is the ADF’s Joint Air Battle Management System (JABMS), valued at $1.8-2.8 billion in the 2020 Force Structure Plan .After shortlisting two companies in August 2021, LMA and Northrop Grumman Australia, Defence now plans to release a tender this calendar year and aims to have selected a prime contractor and be in contract by the end of 2023. In the run-up to the 2022 Federal election nobody was willing to say more than that about the timing and value of the project.

The JABMS will be a 5th generation C2 system forming the core of an overarching ADF Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) capability. The JABMS will need to integrate no less than 40 legacy systems, including JORN, the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail, Lockheed Martin Australia’s own Tactical Air Defence Radar System (TADRS) based on the AN/TPS-77, and a host of other air surveillance and response capabilities, both ground-based and airborne. One of its aims is to create an Australian networked and integrated joint capability, albeit one acquired and mainly managed by the RAAF.

The RAAF is seeking an ambitious mix of capabilities in its JABMS. In the C2 domain it seeks automation, decision aids, Air Battle Management (ABM), Mission Planning and Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities; these will be protected by a multi-level and cross-domain cyber security system.

Lockheed Martin Australia announced in early March it had signed its second teaming agreement related to AIR6500 Ph1. Last year it announced a teaming agreement with Leidos; this year it announced another, this time with Canberra-based QinetiQ Australia, who will be responsible for Test and Evaluation, Verification and Validation, certification and assurance services and will work with LMA to develop the test and evaluation and governance framework to support risk reduction in the development and delivery of the JABMS.

Defence wants data fusion and data analytics, meaning lots of AI; its legacy and future sensor array includes everything from HF Over The Horizon Radar to ship and fighter radars. It also includes passive sensors: EW, Signals, Electronic and Communications Intelligence (SIGINT, ELINT and COMINT) as well as ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) using passive optical and thermal sensors. It needs communications right across the sensor-effector network, meaning that it needs everything from tactical datalinks to IP networks to robust tactical comms; it needs ICT infrastructure, including servers, storage and cyber security; and it needs training and simulation capabilities. This all needs to be established, commissioned and tested.

The LMA AIR6500 Program Executive, Steve Froelich, said in a media release: “Lockheed Martin Australia’s proven expertise in building, integrating and sustaining advanced technology systems across complex joint all-domain platforms combined with QinetiQ Australia’s unrivalled expertise in integrated air and missile defence test, evaluation, certification and systems assurance, means we are the trusted partner of choice to deliver an unmatched integrated air battle management capability edge to Australia.”

One of the keys to success in AIR6500 will be understanding the customer’s needs correctly, according to Froelich. The company has been positioning itself for Project AIR6500 for seven years, he told EX2: back then, he was running Lockheed Martin’s C2 business in San Diego, California, and was intrigued by the complexity and ambition of Australia’s project. Now he’s actually in Australia, running the company’s AIR6500 bid.

Importantly, Froelich told EX2, there was nothing available on the shelf then or now which can meet the ADF’s needs: Lockheed Martin and LMA might have skills and capabilities they can bring to bear that have been validated on other customers’ programs, but they don’t have product which they can simply adapt for a new customer. The same goes for its rival, Northrop Grumman Australia. The RAAF realised this early, hence its careful search for a prime contractor in what will be much more than a simple transactional contract.

The competition in AIR6500 Ph1 is to be a strategic partner of the RAAF and provide an architecture into which these legacy systems, and others to be acquired in the future, can be integrated. The current Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP) is in Stage 2, which is all about risk reduction and demonstrating constructive behaviours.

LMA has leveraged its capabilities in projects of record in the USA and elsewhere, says Froelich, but with nothing available off the shelf it hasn’t been hard to build an Australian supply chain that delivers out to the leading edge of sensor and C2 capability.

Much of the AIR6500 solution will be software; both Leidos and Qinetiq understand Lockheed Martin’s Agile software development process; the former will help develop the software architecture and the code itself while QinetiQ Australia will be an objective and rigorous Test and Evaluation (T&E) contractor, says its managing director, Greg Barsby. He told EX2 that, while LMA does have its own in-house T&E expertise, QinetiQ can undertake objective assessments as a comparative outsider and provide results and evidence to the customer. QinetiQ’s stock in trade is T&E: spun-off from the UK’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) in 2001, it now employs 7,000 people worldwide and 650 in Australia alone, where it started operations in 2008.

The opportunity here is to be collaborative with the Commonwealth – ‘insight, not oversight’ is Defence’s goal, he told EX2. This marks an interesting evolution in the way Defence manages software-heavy projects. There have been many in the past where the Commonwealth has got the contracting or technical model wrong, sometimes badly so, and Defence’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) has become a great deal more sophisticated in the way it acquires complex systems, say Barsby and Froelich. Among other things, both it and the RAAF have assigned staff to the program on a permanent basis to ensure continuity and retention of corporate skills and knowledge.

“I commend the Air Force’s approach to this program,” Barsby told EX2.

Meanwhile, LMA, like its Canberra-based rival Northrop Grumman, continues to develop a JABMS capability that it will be able to demonstrate as part of the risk mitigation process in CEP Stage 2. The company has examined more than 130 potential suppliers and has so far named eight sub-contractors, among them Penten, who are cyber security specialists; Consilium Technology, whose AI is intended to reduce operator fatigue; Silentium, which has become Australia’s leading exponent of passive radar; secure software developer Consunet; C4I; Ultra; and Shoal Group.

For LMA, the AIR6500 Ph1 project team is headquartered in Adelaide. Why? Because, says Steve Froelich, the company already has significant software and architectural development capabilities in the city: it has spent five years developing an Australian version of the AN/BYG-1 submarine combat system for the RAN’s future submarines; it is developing in Adelaide a slightly modified version of the AEGIS air warfare system for the RAN’s Hunter-class frigates; and this is also the home of the LMA’s JORN team. The company has good relationships with all three major universities in Adelaide, adds Froelich, and the project’s Chief Engineer is there, also.

Supporting all this is the company’s long-term investment in Australian R&D: In 2010 it established the STELaRLAB in Melbourne as its point of focus for low-TRL advanced R&D. This is the company’s first multi-disciplinary R&D centre outside the United States and its principal focus is on information processing, distribution and presentation. It was followed, first, by a strategic LMA investment in the University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute of Machine Learning (AIML), which is now located in Adelaide high-tech and defence R&D centre, Lot Fourteen.

The next strategic investment was LMA’s Endeavour Centre in Canberra, established in 2018, which Froelich describes as a “very significant capability” where a lot of C2 integration is carried out and which is set up to both provide customer demonstrations and undertake operational analysis.

If the company wins AIR6500 the aim is to export this capability, says Froelich. Obviously, he says, it would be impossible to provide a conveniently packaged solution for some other customer’s sovereign needs (and Australia’s own sovereign capabilities need protecting as well). But LMA will be adding to an existing in-house capability and providing a pathway to export for Australian members of its supply chain as well. Importantly, he told EX2, the ADF is conceptually ahead of many of its peers around the world: it’s a joint force and so is able to look across the ADF as a whole. This is where other allied defence forces want to go, and Australia, he makes clear, is showing the way both in how it’s organised and how it is equipping itself.

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