Success in winning the US Air Force's Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) contract is likely to be vital to Lockheed Martin's continued future in the forward-looking infra-red (FLIR) market for fighter aircraft, according to a report published yesterday.

In his "Airborne FLIR Systems Forecast 2001-2010," Dr David Rockwell suggests that the US market for airborne FLIRs will virtually double, from $500 million to $950 million annually, over the decade.

Rockwell, senior military electronics analyst with Virginia-based forecasting organisation Teal Group, notes that the market for fighter-aircraft FLIRs "settled out somewhat" when Raytheon¹s Terminator was chosen for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and then the earlier C/D models. This, says Rockwell, "raised Raytheon to the premier - but not yet dominant - position in the market, above traditional leader and LANTIRN manufacturer Lockheed Martin".

However, with the US Air Force's ATP requirement broadening from around 100 systems for defence-suppression F-16 Fighting Falcons to a potential replacement for Lockheed Martin's LANTIRN, the company's future in this major market segment may depend on its winning the ATP contest, he argues.

The problem, comments Rockwell, is that Lockheed Martin is currently without a major procurement programme for its third-generation Sniper FLIR (Pantera for foreign markets). It is also facing stiff competition, he says, from Northrop Grumman's Litening and Litening II pods.

The current lack of a major future customer for the LANTIRN-derived Sniper is a worry, says Rockwell, but he believes Lockheed Martin is in with a good chance of winning ATP.

Lockheed Martin, adds Rockwell, has an added incentive to win ATP - it would then be in a good position to grab back LANTIRN's international market for future FLIRs.

Source: Flight Daily News