ORLANDO, Fla. — Lockheed Martin recently won two contracts from the Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center to continue developing an open-architecture controller, marking the first time the company has successfully marketed its new processor as a stand-alone product.
The open-architecture controller is being developed for the Army's Modular Active Protection System (MAPS) program and will process information from multiple sensor and self-defense systems that can be used to protect the vehicle, enabling "autonomous or semi-autonomous detection and defeat of a variety of inbound threats," a company statement reads.
What started as a concept to develop an open processor for Lockheed's own internal programs has turned into a product that can be sold separately where it is needed, Rita Flaherty, a business development vice president for the company's Fire Control line of business, told Defense News Monday.
"One of our programs every year, when we were making investment decisions, would come forward with a discrete individual stove-piped processor investment request and after a period of time, we said, 'This is crazy. There's got to be a way that we can get everybody on the same page' and so this open-architecture concept was born," Flaherty said.
The processor was designed to support Lockheed's sensors in the airborne fixed-wing market, the rotary-wing market and on the ground, and it was intended directly to feed its existing product lines, she said.
However, "what we've come to realize though is there is a market separate and distinct for the processor as a stand-alone product and so we are thrilled about that as it was an unintended but very pleasant consequence," Flaherty added.
The company, once the contracts are signed, will take approximately a year to deliver hardware and software to the Army. There will be a soft-kill demonstration for the customer in the fourth quarter of 2017.
The processor will also serve as a way ahead for what have been troubled attempts to bring active protection systems to vehicles.
The US Army also had a couple of attempts to develop active protection systems, most notably the now-defunct Future Combat System where Raytheon was the prime contractor to build the "quick-kill" system, Flaherty said.
What is different about MAPS, she added, is that it is "truly modular," which means it needs a core processor robust enough to add and subtract sensors and counter-measures as the threat changes.
Also, the processor can be upgraded quickly and inexpensively, Flaherty noted.
Lockheed has incorporated the processor into its own Infirno precision-targeting and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) system that packs the ability to identify and laser-designate targets and capture high-definition infrared and color video at extended ranges in a 15-inch turret.
The processor will also be integrated into upgrades for the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, Flaherty said. "I think it will also play a significant role in Apache, adding in a degraded visual environment capability," she said, "because the sensors are collecting more data whether its [electro-optical/infrared] or through [radio frequency] or through [light detection and ranging], processing is going to be needed in order to integrate all of that information together and be useful for the user."
Lockheed is also making investments in upgrading the processing power in its Joint Strike Fighter [Electro-Optical] Targeting Sensor. "Because the sensor is being improved for the Joint Strike Fighter, it's going to require additional processing power as well and so this will feed into that," Flaherty said.
Processors "might not be glamorous," she added, "but it's really crucial to everything and it will only be more so in the future."
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.