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ocean business Lockheed Martin is looking at it
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ocean business Lockheed Martin is looking at it



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Military slump sends Lockheed Martin fishing



Doug Cameron
The Wall Street Journal
November 15, 2014 12:00AM

WHAT do a truck-sized nuclear reactor, remote-controlled fish farms, and an ultrathin membrane used for desalinating water have in common?

They’re all projects that Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defence company with some $US45.4 billion ($52.2bn) in revenue, is pursuing in search of expansion against the backdrop of sharp cuts in the Pentagon’s weapons budget.

The Bethesda company has been the most aggressive defence contractor expanding into energy and other civilian businesses — unnerving investors who say past military spending slumps led to costly detours into railcars and satellite communications.

Lockheed now gets about 1 per cent of its sales from US commercial customers, compared with 61 per cent from the Pentagon and 21 per cent from other parts of the US government. The balance is sales to overseas customers, mainly for defence products.

Some of its rivals are seeking shelter from military budget cuts. Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries this year acquired two energy engineering-services companies. Huntington aims to grab deals with the US Department of Energy and oil and gas companies, reducing reliance on building nuclear-powered air carriers and submarines. 

These companies long have sought to hedge against downturns in military spending, but stepping outside government-related work rarely turns out well.

Boeing’s military helicopter unit detoured into building railcars for urban transit lines in the 1970s, as the Vietnam War wound down. It won orders in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco before leaving the business in the early 1980s. Grumman, now part of Northrop Grumman, built buses for five years before selling the loss-making business in 1983, and its development of what could have been the first mini-van in the early 1970s flopped because it lacked commercial distribution systems.

Lockheed dove into the telecom market in the late 1990s, spending around $US3bn to buy three communications satellite operators before exiting the sector in 2001 and taking a $US1.7 bn charge to earnings.

“There are few examples of success for commercial diversification in defence and many examples of failure,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Doug Harned said in a recent note, urging Lockheed to stick to its core business.

Lockheed says it has learned its lesson and is sticking to smaller deals, seeking partners and targeting products that leverage global macroeconomic themes such as energy and food security and population growth.

Bruce Tanner, Lockheed’s finance chief, said many of its commercial projects have military applications or may help support defence sales efforts in specific regions. For example, it expects its new water-filtration system to appeal to countries around the Persian Gulf that use large-scale desalination, and are also among the world’s largest arms buyers.

For other projects, the military applications are less clear. Lockheed is working with closely-held Kampachi Farms and the Illinois Soybean Association to develop open-ocean fish pens, intended to enable fish farming without the environmental and other drawbacks of inland or coastal farms. Lockheed developed the communications and control system for the pens, which operators on land can use to feed the fish and clean the pens floating on ocean currents.

Energy projects are especially attractive to Lockheed and its rivals because the US and other militaries hope to cut their energy spending. The Pentagon’s power bill in fiscal 2013 was $US20bn.

That enormous thirst for energy was one factor behind a deal in 2013 between Lockheed and Beijing-based Reignwood Group to develop a 10-megawatt power plant in the Pacific Ocean to generate electricity from the temperature difference between deep and shallow waters. Lockheed has invested $US15 million in the technology.

Lockheed also in October secured US patents for its design of a compact nuclear-fusion reactor. Its secretive Skunk Works research arm, which has been developing the project for four years, is seeking partners among utilities and universities — an unusual move for a developer of spy planes and hypersonic rockets that seldom acknowledges what it is working on.

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www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/military-slump-sends-lockheed-martin-fishing/story-fnay3ubk-1227123556730

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