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High stakes in the JLTV competition

Lockheed Martin would like you to know that just because it's an aerospace titan that moonlights as a shipbuilder, that doesn't mean it can't also build a new fleet of ground vehicles for the Army and Marine Corps.

The company's media day outside Washington this week provided a reminder of just how huge the world's largest defense contractor really is -- it makes Air Force fighters; Air Force cargo aircraft; Navy littoral combat ships; Navy Aegis equipment; satellites; bombs; missiles; radars -- nearly $50 billion worth last year alone.

But it wants more, ever more, and that means breaking into the green services as well as the blue ones. Lockheed is one of six competitors trying to build the Army and Marines' Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, but unlike most of the others, it's never been a big vehicle company.

AM General; Oshkosh; BAE Systems; Navistar and General Dynamics -- these are ground vehicle companies, and they're also competing on JLTV. But Lockheed? Even with a division of BAE on its team, this is still the same vendor that its critics say is stuck in quicksand with the F-35 Lightning II -- just the kind of program that's supposed to be its core competency. It's the same company that got out of shipbuilding, then got back in, and produced what congressional critics and public watchdogs have argued is a lemon of the seas.

You will not be surprised to hear that Scott Greene, Lockheed's vice president of vehicle systems, sees it differently.

"From a capability and technology standpoint, ground vehicles seem to be a natural evolution from a Lockheed Martin perspective," he said. "The major reason is this: If you go back 20, 30 years ago, there was a clear demarcation of the good guys one side of the line and the bad guys on the other side of the line. Things have been devolved over the last 20 years or so and I guess the phrase we’re coining now is asymmetric warfare ... a vehicle can be in harm’s way at any time. So the vehicle has evolved, from a capability standpoint, and at any point in time could be in harm's way. This is not just something that’s running bread and milk around. For the most part, in this asymmetric environment, now you’re in a complex environment."

That, Greene argued, is Lockheed's forte.

"Now you’re in a complex environment where you have some requirements that, to some, would look somewhat orthogonal: We want you to be very survivable, but we want you to be very lightweight. We want you to be very agile, and we want you to have great gas mileage. We want to have low total ownership cost. Those requirements don’t all line up nicely, so that’s the perfect opportunity for someone like Lockheed Martin, who’s got the whole systems-type thinking, to take a look at this problem and then, from a prioritization standpoint, say, 'How do we be innovative; how do we get a design that meets these different demanding requirements in an affordable package.' So from that perspective, it seems to make a natural progression for us."

It is what it is -- company officials weren't going to say, "Y'know, yeah, we'd better stick to cranking out C-130s and not try to grow our profits with this potential business opportunity." With most of its income coming from federal contracts, Lockheed wants the broadest possible range of work as a hedge against the coming plateau -- or precipice -- in the defense budget.

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