Since its merger in 2019, L3Harris Technologies’ intent has been to make it more of a commercial technology company than a traditional defense contractor.
However, one definition of the word “traditional” is that L3Harris’ view of what the word means can be seen from how it describes itself as a “non-traditional sixth quality” and more recently as a “trusted disruptor” in the defense market to infer.
In an interview Monday at the U.S. Army Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., I asked L3Harris CEO Chris Kubasik to explain what drives the company’s adoption of a “trusted disruptor” status and break down the two terms.
“Compared to many other industries, this industry seems to be lagging behind in terms of speed and innovation,” Kubasik said. “Some companies may be more focused on software, and they’re starting to make progress in disrupting the industry.”
L3Harris hopes to sit between the big defense platform and systems makers and what Kubasik describes as a second category of more software-centric companies.
(For more on L3Harris’ recent high-profile contract win, check out my DefenseOne colleague Marcus Weisgerber’s September chat with Kubasik)
The first word of the new identity – trusted – was designed to understand L3Harris’ understanding of the mission and requirements, while Disruptor is more about the company’s tools and methods to meet customer needs.
“I say trust us because we understand your mission, let’s disrupt the industry so we can be faster, be more innovative and take a different approach,” Kubasik told me.
One way is through L3Harris’ partnership with venture capital firm Shield Capital to identify and financially support the creation of emerging technology companies with potential for defense applications.
All the work done to find these companies also illustrates how, as Kubasik describes it, the venture capital field has become “a complex and unique segment of the market.”
Two L3Harris employees joined the Shield team as their liaison with employers as they both help evaluate the technology.
Kubasik estimates that Shield has looked at 300 different companies this year and decided to invest in four of them. He added that L3Harris opted to jointly invest “several million dollars” in two of the four.
L3Harris decided early on that Shield would be at the forefront of the partnership, in part given to the latter’s leadership team, which includes former Defense Innovations managing partner Raj Shah.
Partnering with Shield, Kubasik told me, is one way for L3Harris to effectively outsource the search and identification aspects of partnering and investing with startups.
With this part of L3Harris’ investment engine running, the company also intends to buy a secure communications products business from satellite network operator Viasat for nearly $2 billion.
L3Harris expects to close the acquisition in the first half of 2023. For L3Harris, the Link 16 tactical data link product business also helps buyers better help the U.S. military build a network of connected platforms and systems under joint all-domain command and control, Kubasik said.
“If there is a need to modernize Link 16 or add other resiliency (communication) capabilities, we basically have the footprint or room to accelerate and facilitate the transition,” Kubasik told me.
Speed and acceleration could characterize the U.S. defense industrial base’s support for Ukraine in the country’s defense against Russia over the past eight months.
At the AUSA conference, L3Harris demonstrated its “Vampire” anti-drone system, which includes three systems already used by the U.S. Army: jammers, infrared cameras and rocket launchers.
This attribute of Vampire, which is on its way to Ukraine in August, helps explain the responsiveness: The system is “vehicle-agnostic” and can be installed in the bed and interior of any pickup truck.
“There is an example as fast as possible,” Kubasik said.
But when brainstorming vampires and the company first started putting the system together, L3Harris encountered an unexpected difficulty.
“Honestly, finding the truck was the hardest part of the demo,” Kubasik said while applauding the recent global supply chain crisis affecting the auto market.
“We ended up renting a truck for the demo,” he said. “We laughed and found the off-the-shelf trucks took a little longer than we thought, which is funny.”
Another starting point for the industry’s response was the Defense Department’s call for a white paper in the first days and weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The question is simple: what products and systems does the company have available to Ukraine?
Kubasik estimates that the call for the white paper will take two weeks to get a response, and L3Harris has 41 written documents, which he has read.
“It’s impressive to see how they put these things together and makes me proud of the team,” Kubasik said.