CT’s defense industry targets new technologies as global threats evolve

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HARTFORD – Executives from the state’s Big 3 defense and aerospace companies said Friday they are facing an unprecedented onslaught of next-generation technology to stay domestically competitive and enable the U.S. military to do its to maintain strategic advantages abroad.

New machines that Connecticut-affiliated companies are looking for include light aircraft engines that can travel longer distances, nuclear submarines that never need refueling, and faster reconnaissance helicopters.

Representatives from Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky and Electric Boat said Friday the need for such advanced technology will be fueled by a reorientation of the US military from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to “equal opponents” as Russia and China. Company executives spoke at a global security forum in Hartford hosted by the World Affairs Council of Connecticut and continuing on Saturday.


In particular, competition with China has put US companies under pressure to produce new technologies at breakneck speed, said Thomas Prete, vice president of technology at Pratt & Whitney, in front of an online and in-person audience.

“The timeline they are on is much more advanced than ever thought and their path to catching up is unprecedented,” said Prete. For companies like Pratt, a division of Raytheon Technologies, he added, “It’s about going faster.”

“We can’t take eight years to develop a new hunting engine. We have to do it in half the time and half the budget. “

The historic Connecticut submarine and helicopter manufacturers have described facing similar needs.

Electric Boat, for example, was once instructed to build one submarine per year at its Groton shipyard, or even less than one per year, the company’s chief information officer, Ken Jeanos, said Friday. Now the company is mandated to produce two Virginia-class attack submarines each year and recently started production of its Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, replaces the old Trident submarines.

That brings the annual production of three ships at EB, a unit of General Dynamics.

At Sikorsky, Mike Ambrose, vice president of enterprise business transformation, said the company, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, has invested over $ 1 billion in development Future aircraft with vertical lift technology for the US Army. This includes the X2 helicopter as a possible replacement for the Black Hawk, the workhorse of the defense fleet.

“If you look at how the mission has developed, planes have to fly faster, they have to fly further, they have to be better supported, they also have to be better connected,” Ambrose said of distant bases.

The performance of Connecticut’s three largest defense companies and a network of more than 700 suppliers across the state make Connecticut the sixth largest recipient of defense spending in 2019, according to the Department of Defense.

This year, the total number of arms contracts awarded to state companies reached its highest level in decades. according to a report by the State Office for Military Affairs.

The contracts worth 37.1 billion Joint Strike Fighters and for Sikorsky to build dozens of helicopters, including the new, heavyweight CH-53K King stallion.

Outside experts said this week this week that defense spending would likely remain robust going forward as the military look for new hardware.

“There’s a shift away from the kind of conflict we’ve seen or preparing for the kind of conflict we’ve experienced in the past few decades,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group in Virginia. “Hunting guerrillas, basically a warfare to counterinsurgency and back to real big, peer-to-peer conflict. It is a completely different equipment, a completely different procurement. “

Another development that experts said could have an impact on Connecticut was the controversial agreement between the United States, Britain and Australia to share nuclear submarine technology, which ended the country’s deal to buy it sunk by diesel submarines from France.

Electric Boat’s CIO, Jeanos, was asked on Friday about the development known as AUKUS but said it was too early for the company to say what its commitment will be.

“We will offer to be a participant who helps,” said Jeanos. “But right now our focus is really on what the US Navy has asked us to do.”

Richard Pettibone, senior government and industry analyst at Forecast International, said agreements such as the Australian submarine deal reflected a larger shift towards “conventional” defense strategies that would likely be a boon for contractors in Connecticut.

“They will keep buzzing because the need for defense is still at the forefront of our politics,” said Pettibone. “I don’t see any change because it looks like the world is getting more and more warlike.”


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