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2017 AFA: Harris is More Than Radios

2017 Air, Space and Cyber Conference 19 September 2017 (Day 2) Report

MONS Correspondent Marty Kauchak files this end-of-the-day report from the Air Force Association-sponsored Air, Space and Cyber Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

Some defence companies never cease to interest and amaze me. You take your eye off their quarterly reports for too long and some businesses have been “gobbled up” by hungry, larger competitors in acquisitions. Conversely, some companies grow and expand by entering adjacent sectors or even buying another entity.

Maureen Koerwer,Director of Strategy and Business Development at Harris, didn’t disappoint the author when we sat to gain an update on her portfolio. The industry veteran provided insights on a wide range of issues, from the imperative for open architecture to its expanding role as a tier-2 supplier. The company’s avionics unit’s business model includes a wide range of projects from supporting the Lockheed Martin F-35 LIGHTNING II as part of the Technology Refresh #3 (TR3) programme, to supplying carriage and release systems to support air-to-ground precision strike missiles.

The Harris team’s F-35 workload increased with Lockheed Martin’s award to Harris this summer, to upgrade mission system avionics for the F-35 LIGHTNING II as part of the TR3 programme, significantly boosting the aircraft’s data storage, display processing and throughput capabilities. Harris will provide the Aircraft Memory System and Panoramic Cockpit Display Electronic Unit, which are based on open architecture and commercial-off-the-shelf technology. “These are all based upon our open systems architecture,” Mrs. Koerwer emphasised and added, “which allows us to take what the customer’s requirements are, and using our uniquely skilled and engineering team to come up with a solution that embodies open architecture, tailored to that solution needs, and using what we have developed to provide a customized solution which fits within open architecture and requirements for the platform.”

Beyond supporting the burgeoning F-35 programme, “we also work with Boeing on mission processors for both fixed-wing and unmanned, and rotary-wing aircraft. Our ‘sweet spot’ with regard to mission processors and memory system is for tactical aircraft – where the environment is a little more difficult to survive in,” Mrs. Koerwer remarked. Indeed, the Harris-Boeing efforts are part of a broader mission to develop next-generation avionics technology for current and future military aircraft to improve and protect aviators’ missions. The Harris director called attention to a corporate press release which noted Harris and Boeing are collaborating to create advanced core mission processing architectures.The document read in part, “The mission processor manages many of an aircraft’s critical capabilities, including communication, sensors, navigation and displays. Harris will produce the collaborative design for this common processing hardware that, when integrated with Boeing Secure Computing Solution hardware, Boeing Phantom Fusion mission software and a state-of-the-art multi-level communication network, will help set the standard in modern mission computing. Harris will apply its expertise in custom designed high-speed interfaces, advanced security, commercial-off-the-shelf processors, and advanced military quality packaging to deliver high-performance, scalable mission processing hardware based on an open-systems architecture.”

Harris is taking open-systems architecture to a higher plane, well beyond its work activities with Lockheed Martin and Boeing, through active involvement in the Open Group FACE Consortium. The entity is a government and industry partnership to define an open avionics environment for all military. “We see it, and we have for a while, is the way of the future. It’s the way to get the warfighter the most capability at the most efficient cost. We have been investing heavily in the last five-to-ten years in open systems solution that give our customers better opportunity to provide new capability to the warfighter without having to rebuild hardware,” Mrs. Koerwer concluded.

The Harris portfolio is also increasingly gaining overseas contract work. Shortly before this conference, the company was awarded a development contract by MBDA to provide carriage and release systems to support the UK MoD’s SPEAR precision strike missile future air combat capability requirements – including the that department’s F-35.

Marty Kauchak


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