Defense giant diversifies


With U.S. defense spending in decline, at least as a percentage of GDP, the world's largest defense company is pursuing projects with civilian applications in an effort to shore up its future. More than 60 percent of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s US$45 billion in 2013 sales came through Pentagon contracts.

Several of Lockheed's current research projects, like the patented Perforene membrane, could generate commercial interest around the world. It's a one-atom thick sheet of graphene that can be used to desalinate seawater. The product could interest Persian Gulf nations, who might also order some of the organization's weapons systems. More surprisingly, Lockheed Martin has partnered with Kampachi Farms LLC and the Illinois Soybean Association to develop fish farm pens that will drift on open-ocean currents and be tracked by satellites.

Lockheed Martin is also developing a compact nuclear fusion reactor that might initially power naval ships but could be expanded for commercial use by cities. “Should the [technology] develop, that can result in a very large commercial market,” Ray Johnson, Lockheed Martin's chief technology officer, told The Wall Street Journal.

This isn't the first time Lockheed Martin has tried to diversify its project portfolio to hedge against military cuts. In the 1990s, the organization stepped into the telecommunications market by buying three satellite operators. It sold them at a steep loss in 2001. The company says its focus on global issues like energy, food and water this time around will act as a safeguard.

—Brittany Nims





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