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Lockheed building up UAV capabilities of District-based unit

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The District becomes home to one of the five business groups of contracting giant Lockheed Martin as of Monday, when a split of the company’s electronic systems business goes into effect.

The move establishes Mission Systems and Training, which is based near the Navy Yard, as a more than 18,000-employee business that is rapidly growing its capabilities in unmanned systems after making three acquisitions this year.

The establishment of MST — as the mission systems business is called — is a result of the company’s division of its electronic systems business, which was based in Bethesda, into MST and Missiles and Fire Control, which will be based in Dallas.

The District-based unit provides systems engineering, electronics and training systems for customers such as the Navy and Air Force. Its major programs include the Littoral Combat Ship and a naval defense system known as the Aegis Combat System.

Dale P. Bennett, who started with Lockheed as a systems engineer in 1981, has been named to head the MST business. He declined to be interviewed for this article but said in a statement that the company’s recent acquisitions demonstrate Lockheed’s strategy “to expand into closely related markets that build on our core capabilities and expand our customer base.”

The MST unit picked up its most recent acquisition late this month, with the purchase of virtually all of the assets of CDL Systems, which has offices in Calgary and Huntsville, Ala.

CDL, which produces open, off-the-shelf software used in unmanned aerial vehicles, will be combined with previous buys Chandler/May and Procerus Technologies, Lockheed said in its announcement.

Procerus, which Lockheed picked up in January, specializes in auto­pilot and other avionics for micro unmanned aerial systems. The Orem, Utah-based company is known for technologies that add surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to small UAVs.

In November, Lockheed’s MST unit announced its acquisition of Chandler/May, which has facilities in Huntsville and San Luis Obispo, Calif. and specializes in ground control stations for unmanned systems.

Bennett said in his statement that the military role of unmanned systems has expanded in recent years, and the company sees growth in civil applications as well.

“Five to 10 years ago, the companies making the UAVs were what everyone wanted,” said Michael S. Lewis, managing director of consulting firm the Silverline Group. “Now ... the goal at the [Defense Department] is to move all these systems into standardized ground control systems ... The play Lockheed is making is to be one of the primary providers of this technology.”

Still, Rick Whittington, an analyst at Drexel Hamilton, said he’s skeptical that unmanned vehicle budgets will be able to grow, given the constrained budget environment ahead.

“This has been a huge growth segment for contractors,” he said. “I frankly think this area’s going to get tightened up and money’s going to flow away — or at least not [do] better than run flat.”

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