James Taiclet, CEO of Lockheed Martin, says “21st Century Security” means that large defense contractors can quickly deliver mission-focused defense capabilities to complex problems outside the traditional defense sphere. Taiclet is focusing on wildland fire, addressing the tough challenges recently highlighted by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Lockheed Martin has considerable expertise as an integrator of complex technologies, but the company is oriented toward selling big things to a small number of big federal customers. Lockheed’s now shifting to focus on developing systems for big markets like F-35 Lightning II fighter jets or naval combat systems, while firefighting represents the civil component of the 21st Century Security initiative. But as Forbes recently reported, the wildfire marketplace offers no simple route to a big sale.
“Wildfire is one of the toughest national challenges in America,” wrote Craig Hooper, senior contributor at Forbes. “Chronically underfunded, subjected to brutal operating conditions and operating under the constant specter of death, wildfire fighters have little time for gimmicks, ineffective gear, and wasted funds. It is a no-nonsense business, with buyers scattered throughout local, state, and federal governments. If something doesn’t work or is too costly, America’s wildland firefighters won’t buy it.”
On February 13 wildfiretoday.com detailed the federal Wildland Fire Commission’s first report to Congress, which focused on the aviation sector after the federal legislation creating the commission prioritized aerial firefighting as key.
“We’re sitting at a point now where we can actually predict where fires might start, and start moving assets there,” said Taiclet. In a joint project with NVIDIA, Lockheed is working with the USFS and the Colorado Division of Fire to use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict and simulate fire behavior. Lockheed’s Cognitive Mission Manager system will integrate a range of sensor- and AI-informed inputs to recommend courses of action. Ultimately, says Taiclet, these would feed into “things that we make that actually do fight fires today.” Those things include the Sikorsky FIREHAWK® helicopter and C-130 airtankers.
“The Department of Defense is only beginning to engage America’s wildfire fighting community,” wrote Hooper for Forbes. “Lockheed has sufficient access to Pentagon decision-makers that the company could, essentially, write up the Defense Department’s strategy for supporting civil authorities during wildfire season, setting the foundation for a national-level NORAD-like early wildfire detection and response capability.”