TOP 100: Inside L3Harris’ plan to disrupt the defense market
Since opening nearly three years ago, L3Harris Technologies’ message to the defense market has essentially been that “business as usual” will not suffice in tomorrow’s competitive environment or even today’s. .
Just look at all the ways L3Harris has marketed itself as the industry’s “sixth non-traditional premier” – a tagline making clear both its size relative to America’s five largest defense equipment companies and how the company wants to do things differently.
Two announcements from L3Harris this year further illustrate this point: a partnership with venture capital investment firm Shield Capital to work and invest in promising technology start-ups, and the official unveiling of an Agile development group to accelerate the new systems.
The company is ranked 10th in Washington’s Top 100 Technologies in 2022 with more than $4 billion in prime contracts.
While chatting with L3Harris executive Sean Stackley about the big idea behind these moves, he pointed to a second identity the company touts – the “Trusted Disruptor” for the U.S. military and its adoption allies. and technological advancement.
Acting as a “trust disruptor” means, in some cases, looking at the issues facing industry and business with a clean sheet of paper to begin with.
“You have to embrace things like digital engineering, open systems architecture,” said Stackley, president of the Integrated Mission Systems segment.
“Open systems is not only a technical framework, it is also a business relationship with the customer,” added the former assistant secretary of the navy for research, development and acquisition.
Systems development is certainly a joint effort between companies like L3Harris and their Department of Defense client, but the companies also need to work on the next big thing.
L3Harris spends about 4% of its annual revenue on independent research and development projects, Stackley told me. The ADG entity has revenue of about $1 billion, but has dotted lines for each of the company’s businesses, he added.
The Shield partnership and Agile Development Group both have priority key technology areas, but these will inevitably expand into other areas and overlap between these initiatives, as Stackley said.
Stackley said the first four key areas of the L3Harris-Shield collaboration are cybersecurity, space, artificial intelligence and autonomy. This partnership emphasizes dual-use technologies, or those that have proven successful in commercial markets and can be adapted for defense programs.
Even with all the talk and advancements in AI over the past few years, Stackley described this technological capability as “one area that I think we’re all growing in: we’re the defense industry.”
“It’s a bit of a blank slate, but it’s an area where the nation needs to move quickly to be able to face the Chinese threat head-on,” Stackley said.
Stackley called the ADG team’s priorities as including both kinetic and non-kinetic advanced weapons systems, digital aperture technology, autonomy and unmanned for all potential areas of conflict.
Autonomy and unmanned is a clear area of overlap between L3Harris’ work with Shield to find tech start-ups in this space and what ADG is working on in AI.
Stackley said the end goal is not just autonomous ships, but the ability of those platforms to complete a mission on their own.
The ambition he described is reflected in the Navy’s ongoing work to develop a concept of operations for unmanned surface ships, which the branch wants to have a wide range of capabilities, including sustaining at sea.
“But that’s not why you have unmanned surface ships, it’s the mission that it needs to be able to accomplish while supporting itself,” Stackley said.
L3Harris believes that part of the answer to making these platforms work on their own may come from ADG’s work on open systems architecture and digital engineering, both of which point to a desire to exchange Augmentation technologies inside and outside a ship as needed.
While L3Harris talks about being the “trust disrupter,” it also seems like the company trusts others to disrupt itself.
“If the Department of Defense and the defense industry continue as usual, addressing China’s national security challenges, we will stop talking about them as a near peer.
“We’re going to wish we were a near-peer, so we need to pick up the pace, and that requires an approach to these issues (that is to say) a disruptive approach.”
(A future episode of our Project 38 podcast will feature my full conversation with Stackley which begins by telling him the story of how L3Harris’ agile development group was founded, then discusses what the company is learning from its work with Shield Capital and his perspective on the growing market discussion of “dual-use” technologies)