Lockheed Martin interview: Charles W. Moore

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Supersonic business jets are small craft that are intended to travel at speeds above Mach 1.0, or over 1,470 km/h. The most recent supersonic aircraft, the now-retired Concorde, travelled at Mach 2.04 or 2,179 km/h at cruise altitude.

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division, the nickname for the company’s Advanced Development Programmes (ADP), has been working on a Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST) system for the last six years. Designed to fly at around Mach 1.6, the plane is being designed to travel without a resulting loud sonic boom.

Moore says demand for such an aircraft already existed in the region from wealthy Arab jet owners who are eager to fly faster and quieter. “I would say that initially a business jet would be a good way to start with that and we have actually talked to people about the prospect of that in this region.”

While reports have claimed the aircraft could be brought to market in 2014 and will cost around $80m, when pushed for a timeframe, Moore says the commercial roll-out of such technology is some years away.

“It would be measured in years but this isn’t a front burner project. We are on the verge, we think, of some technology but we are not sure it has great use on the military side but maybe it has better use on the commercial [side].”

Another aircraft on the Gulf’s radar is Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which had its first test flight in 2006, and which is a single-seat, single-engine aircraft with stealth capability. While stealth aircraft are currently not available for sale in the Gulf, Moore says there is demand from regional governments and it is only a matter of time before such sales are cleared by US authorities.

“When it comes to stealth, the US government is the one that will decide what countries and when they will be authorised to possess that technology. We anticipate that those days will come, I wouldn’t know when; you’d have to go ask the US government, but I suspect they will come and those airplanes will be released out here and our customers will be able to have them,” he believes. “Every customer that is flying the F-16 [aircraft] has a potential as a future F-35 customer.”

Stealth aircraft may not be available yet but the next generation of warships will be coming soon, Moore says. “In our portfolio we have the one I love the most, our new ship —  the Littoral Combat Ship — which we have produced. It is magnificent and, in my opinion, as former commander of all maritime forces in the region for four years and arguably more experienced in this domain than almost anyone who has served out here, it is a ship that has been designed for this region.

“It is a smaller ship… it is 118 metres and only draws about twelve feet of water. The Gulf is relatively shallow; the average depth is about 150 feet. In this region, where our partners don’t have a lot of manpower, they can’t afford to have hundreds of people on a vessel; they would prefer to have tens.

“The speed can go up to 50 knots so there [is the] ability for a small number of these ships to respond to a variety of challenges… You can get under way in Abu Dhabi and be in the Strait of Hormuz dealing with whatever situation there [very quickly]… Our partners in the region are talking to us about that ship and various configurations of it.”

The US Navy plans to send Lockheed Martin’s first Littoral Combat Ship, or LCS-1, to Singapore in mid-April and Australia and Denmark are already buying the vessel.

The world’s largest defence contractor, Lockheed Martin is will be hoping sales of its latest technological breakthroughs will help it boost sales in the coming years after it predicted 2013 sales will decline “at a low single-digit rate from 2012 levels”, Bloomberg reports. The company’s aeronautics unit also reported its third-quarter revenue decreased 7.5 percent to $3.7bn and operating profit was down seven percent to $415m.

Foreign arms sales have become increasingly important to weapons makers as the Pentagon’s budget flattens because of US deficit-reduction requirements. Despite this commercial constraint, Moore says he would prefer his customers never have to use the arms they are currently stockpiling. “We want our partners to be strong but the primary objective is to not have to go to war.”

As the aforementioned captain Kirk famously said: “Our missions are peaceful...not for conquest. When we do battle, it is only because we have no choice.”

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