Farnborough Air Show

L-3 rises in the ranks of defense technology

 - July 16, 2010, 1:43 AM

L-3 Communications is here at the Farnborough airshow highlighting some of the technology with which it has been able to assert itself as a leader in systems developed to greater capability to existing military aircraft. The U.S. group has long prided itself on having the versatility to contribute to a wide variety of platforms and, according to its chairman, president and CEO Michael Strianese, this has served it well in difficult market conditions.

Along with many other aerospace and defense companies, in 2009 L-3 saw a steep dip in business when its sales declined by between 20 and 25 percent. So far this year it has turned that around to achieve growth of around 3 or 4 percent and Strianese told AIN that this single-digit increase is sign of a sustainable, albeit slow, recovery.

“We have no reservations about the mix of business we have and we performed well in a challenging market,” he said. In fact, financial analysts Moody’s actually upgraded L-3’s stock to investment grade during the turbulent year that was 2009, and has since upgraded it again.

Rising geopolitical threats have prompted a fresh wave of interest from countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia and India in the sort of capability upgrades that
L-3’s niche technologies, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors can deliver to existing platforms.

In recent years L-3 has been able to bolster its reputation as a prime systems contractor, a level of responsibility that now accounts for about 70 percent of its business, including the contribution it is making to the RC-135-based replacement for the UK Royal Air Force’s Nimrod signals intelligence aircraft.

“More and more platforms are now being expected to perform for longer periods, but they need updating with new equipment to replace obsolete features or meet new threats,” commented Strianese.

The contract for the UK version of the Rivet Joint program was signed only in March and the L-3 team has begun its systems integration task on this complex ISR platform. In a program now dubbed Air Seeker, it is working with UK partners including Farnborough-based Qinetiq.

Here this week, L-3 (Hall 4 Stand F14) is demonstrating a new addition to its Wescam family of electro-optical, infrared sensors. The new sensor is designed for a variety of ISR tasks with a high-definition imaging gimble. It can be connected to the hand-held Video Scout and Rover receivers to give ground-based personnel greater situational awareness.

The latest Wescam sensors feature a camera, range-finder and target designator. According to L-3, they can operate at a “robust” standoff range, and deliver a high degree of stabilization and a superior view, operating from various rotary or fixed-wing aircraft. “They also have a high degree of interoperability and can be integrated into other systems,” explained Strianese. “The ISR mission is becoming more and more important to international customers and there is a trend toward changing out sensors.”

Developing UAV
Meanwhile, L-3 is continuing to make progress with the development of its Mobius unmanned air vehicle. Strianese explained that getting into the UAV sector has been a long-term strategic goal but L-3 opted against achieving this through an acquisition because it felt the prices being paid for established UAV players had become inflated. “So rather than spend $1 billion, we put about $20 million into our own research and development and this lead to Mobius and the Viking 400 program, which we believe represent disruptive technology at least in terms of the sensor packages these carry,” he stated.

“We are just as clear on where we want to go, and current events in the market have confirmed this for us,” Strianese told AIN. “We slowed down our mergers and acquisitions activity at the right time and have no problems with finances, while making some adjustments in terms of what we are willing to invest in.”