After 40 years in the RAN, Vince Di Pietro has recently taken over as Chief Executive  of Lockheed Martin Australia at a time when the company is targeting some of Defence’s biggest programs.

ADM: The business has gone through a lot of change in the last 12 months with the sale of the IS&GS business to Leidos and the purchase of Sikorsky plus your own appointment. How is it all bedding down?

Di Pietro: Very nicely and we have been incredibly busy. We’ve had a good number of successes in my short time here, and arrived at some good conclusions to a very high level of activity.

IS&GS occurred three days before I joined LMA, so to me it’s very much in the rear view mirror. Most folks here don’t actually give it a second thought now. We’ve got so much more on our radar to look forward to.

We’ve had a terrific month, seeing the first two F-35s with RAAF roundels arrive and debut in the southern hemisphere. Both of those aeroplanes came all the way from Luke Air Force Base via 22 in-flight refuellings to Australia, performed and appeared at Avalon, and then returned back to Luke Air Force Base with not a single unserviceability between them. In my 5,000 military hours of flying experience I don’t think I’ve ever flown an aircraft with that sort of serviceability, readiness and availability.

Also clear in our minds is how we’re going to approach the Future Submarine program. The combat system integration is a huge undertaking and LMA is certainly not daunted by that. We’re really looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting started together with our customer and industry partners.

Profile | Vince Di Pietro

1976 Joined RAN as a trainee pilot
1994 Promoted to Commander and served in the Australian High Commission, UK
1997 Deputy Commander Australian Naval Aviation Force and Commander Aviation Operations at Naval Air Station Nowra
2000 Command of HMAS Stirling
2002 Chief of Staff to the Commander Australian Navy Aviation
2003 Awarded the Commander Australian Defence College Medallion
2007 Awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross, Australia Day Honours List for outstanding achievement as Director General Navy Certification
2007 Promoted to Commodore and appointed as Australia’s Naval Attaché to the US
2010 Director General Navy Capability Plans and Engagement
2013 Commander Fleet Air Arm
2016 Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin Australia

We’ve continued a terrific output with JORN through Project Coorong. Obviously we’re in competition for the next phase and I can’t comment much about that, but our relationship with JORN represents 25 years of investment for LMA and we’re looking forward to partnering with Defence to keep that moving ahead.

We’ve also had quite a bit to do with the very recent successes of the Air Warfare Destroyer. The Aegis combat data system is the heart of those ships and that’s a particularly pleasing thing for me personally because I enjoyed the privilege of bringing the first Aegis equipment for the RAN to life on the very first set in 2008 in Moorestown in New Jersey when I was the Naval Attaché in Washington DC. So to see that now in a ship on the water, working and producing great results has been terrifically rewarding.

The Romeo continues to be a success and I think the customer is very happy with the product – I mention the Romeo insofar as it’s going to now prove its value and worth as a capability.

The Science, Technology, Engineering Leadership and Research Laboratory (STELaRLab)- a really exciting project from an announcement to establish it in September last year to full operation in December. It is Lockheed Martin investing $13 million into growing Australian innovation and talent using Australian people, embedded in an Australian university campus with a number of strong relationships and cooperative programs with other universities around the country. It’s really terrific.

There’s a lot on the radar and into the future. Not all of it is based, I’m happy to say, solely on products to sell. A lot of it is on product, there’s no question, but where I see the future is in how we bring the intelligence, as in the smarts of making the systems of systems work, and the real challenge for us coming into the immediate future is how does it work together? How does a ship talk to a helicopter, talk to a submarine, talk to JORN, talk to Aegis?

There’s a great deal of things that need to be brought together so that the investment by the customer, in this case the Australian Government and its people, are able to make the most use out of digital technology rather than just buying individual parcels of stuff and then working out how to make it all connect.

So there’s a heck of a lot on through the lens of the future without worrying about or looking too far in the rear view mirror.

ADM: How are you looking to engage Australian industry in the CSI role for the Future Submarine?

Di Pietro: There’s already quite a bit of work going on in that regard and I’ve got a number of companies which have directly been involved. We are currently in a design and mobilization phase of the 30-year program, understanding the requirements and focus of capability required.

This will see investment in engineering, project management and other high-technology industries right here in Australia. It’s the largest single capital investment by the Australian people in Australia’s history and so we’re very, very keen to engage Australian companies, Australian workforce and base the work here for the benefit of Australia for the life of the project.

LMA does a lot of partnering in all sorts of projects. We don’t do all the work ourselves; quite the converse, we actually look for opportunities to partner and parcel out the work and the opportunities, particularly with SMEs, so that we’re getting as many people engaged as we possibly can.

We’ve got to remember that it takes the average Aussie a lifetime of work to generate a million dollars’ worth of taxation revenue through their salary, their income, GST, and so on. When you look at the numbers we’re talking about in Defence, that’s an awful lot of Australians’ lifetime work involved in making sure this is going to be successful. We’re very conscious of that and we need to achieve that through partnering with smaller entities.

We’ve learned a lot along the way in all the projects that we’ve been delivering to date, and we have generally been very well positioned to search out and to seek the enthusiasm of companies that want to be involved.

We are asking industry to register their capabilities and interest with us on our website – so we have all the details of local companies, what their capabilities are –so we can partner and work with industry at the right time in the development of the program.

If it makes sense to do that and they have the right skill sets and they’re available to provide a really positive contribution to the project, then they’ll generally be successful. We’re also very active in the global supply chain business across a number of domains and technologies.

ADM: JORN, it’s a 25-year time horizon under the Phase 6 competition. Winning is great, losing obviously is not great. What happens if you lose to the capability that you’ve built up?

Di Pietro: We’ve invested a quarter of a century already in our contribution to managing JORN as it is now. I’m not going to try and speculate or comment on victory or loss. We will wait for the customer to make its selection and then from there we are ready to move forward. But there’s no secret that we’re very keen on being successful because of 25 years investment and our success to date. We also see it very much as a part of the future strategic solution and information domain, and I gave an example a short time ago where I believe all these things must be able to talk to each other.

We’re involved in the thinking behind things like the Aegis Combat Data System, the BYG Combat Data System in the submarine and the F-35, we’d like to think that we’ve got a part to play into the future through a key part of that sensor array which JORN represents.

ADM: Speaking about some of those C2 structures you’ve just mentioned, obviously Aegis is in the running for Sea 5000 in one way or another. Is it the right path forward for an OPV as well?

Di Pietro: The secret to the future is the ability to use systems that have growth, have some level of familiarity to those working in the system that you’re already running and have the potential to be scalable, and I believe Aegis offers all of those things. It’s already in the AWD. If we wanted to see how we might be able to apply it in other platforms in the future, it becomes a question of how much of it can you apply and what can you put with it to make the most use of it.

The system has to be able to fit into the platform, not the other way around. If you’ve got a system that you can grow, that you’re familiar with, which means training, logistics, maintenance overhead that goes with the system (because it takes a long time to build experience in operating equipment), if you can make the whole transition more effective because people aren’t seeing it for the first time as they move from ship to ship, and that system has the opportunity to grow and be more effective in wherever you want to use it. Why wouldn’t you plug into that?

Aegis has got some amazing applications, afloat and ashore. It’s a very flexible system. It’s got a lot of potential and it’s nowhere near its full capacity. It continues to evolve. Aegis started 30 years ago plus, and we’ve gone from analogue to digital technology. Evolving into the digital domain you get lots of savings through life. As you then evolve that even further and you start ironing out any bugs, those savings turn into reduced costs for the same piece of kit.

The father of Aegis was a fellow called Wayne E. Meyer. He said build little, test often and learn a lot. And if you stick to that philosophy, which is still very much the case in how we construct that equipment, it gets more effective, it gets cheaper per unit. If you’re making a lot of them it gets cheaper again. So in my mind it’s a pretty logical choice.

ADM: From your perspective, what are the risks ahead for F-35?

Di Pietro: I don’t see anything which I would define as a risk outside what is ostensibly a very large acquisition program with milestones to achieve to get to IOC in 2020 and beyond.

By deliberately sequencing the arrival of the first RAAF F-35 aircraft in late 2018 and IOC in 2020, the Australian F-35 program capability milestones follow on with considerable schedule margin after the completion of the F-35 System Design and Development Phase and the attainment of F-35 IOC by the US services, Royal Air Force and other international users.

By the time the RAAF F-35s are introduced into service, the aircraft systems, support systems such as ALIS and the sustainment system will all be more mature than it is today. We (being Australia) aren’t leading the push; we’re a very big part of the program, we have contributed significantly to the making of certain components for the aircraft and we saw that at Avalon in the F-35 industry partner expo, but we’re not at the cutting edge of ongoing development work.

We are very much in the thick of all the international customers and the partnering nations and moving at a pace where we can keep ahead of where we need to be. We can take advantage of the economies of scale and some of the products and the research that has gone into the development of the machine to date, because it is technology that does not stand still; it will continue to evolve. Each particular tranche of aircraft being manufactured will be growing as the project continues to roll out. But we’re sticking very much to our IOC and the first delivery dates – 2018 for the first delivery and the IOC of 2020.

The two aircraft that came out to Avalon proved it’s not an experimental aircraft, the machine has flown over 80,000 hours, there’s 209 in the air. We’ve got a great number of machines on the production line which I’ve seen personally, some of them Australian. And we’ve got a very clear plan of how that production cycle is going in terms of how and when we deliver.

So I don’t use the word risk in the context of F-35 because I don’t believe it’s the risky program that some commentary would make it sound.

ADM: Can you give us an update on how pilot training under 5428 is progressing?

Di Pietro: The RAAF’s first two PC-21s have arrived, were on show at Avalon and we had a good look over them. We’ve got more than 300 of the contract requirements associated with that program now complete. We’ve got an intention to commence flying operations and delivery of the first flight training device (the simulator in East Sale) in about the middle of this year, and we’re going to have a good delivery schedule, aiming for an IOC by 31 December 2018.

The program is on track. The programs, planning and training that comes with the system has been designed to be a completely integrated package with the machine, the flight training devices and the procedural trainers. I think it’s a pretty impressive package. And having been an instructor on PC-9s, I wish I could have a go in the PC-21.

ADM: What has the feedback been from users now that all 24 Romeos are in country?

Di Pietro: I think it’s been a brilliant experience for all concerned. As the former Commander Fleet Air Arm, I can say with some confidence that this has been a fantastic outcome. On schedule and budget, with the helicopters being delivered early. It’s been at sea since December 2015. The training throughput is going well. The consumer feedback is good.

The maintenance facility that we run and manage at Nowra, in MHSCo (Maritime Helicopter Support Company) is successful, and a testament to the relationship between LMA and our customer.

ADM: What do you want to do in your first 12 months? What boxes do you want to tick?

Di Pietro: I want to see three things. The first is the very clear understanding that we’ve had a presence here for over 70 years and we’re here to stay. Our new headquarters building at 8 Brisbane Avenue will help with that (when we move in later this year.). We’re getting a terrific facility there. We’re going to have all of our business areas and support together plus a terrific customer demonstration area. That’s about us being able to help in the business of understanding what the art of the possible is, what’s left and right of arc.

The second is I’d like to see the STELaRLab reach its full potential as soon as possible because the more minds we get into that environment, working and integrating as fast as they can into the various challenges ahead of them, to solve a number of our customer’s most complex problems, the better will be LMA’s progress with the challenges on the horizon.

The third thing I’d like to do is just be a part of promoting LMA in the hearts and minds of the Australian community – we are directly engaged in a range of activities to support the community. We’re very proud of initiatives such as our partnering with the National Youth Science Forum and the Australian War Memorial.

We are supporting initiatives that encourage youth into STEM careers, as well as honouring those who have served – and we do quite a bit in the middle as well. We want to be the company of choice for all our stakeholders.

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