PALM BEACH: Lockheed Martin Corporation is already the Pentagon's biggest supplier and the largest information technology provider for the US federal government, but now it is turning its sights on a $1 billion niche market in the oil and gas industry.
At a small waterfront facility just outside Palm Beach, Florida, engineers have developed a 10-foot unmanned submarine named Marlin that uses sonar and other technologies developed for the US military to inspect off-shore oil rigs in far less time and at lower cost than current systems.
The bright yellow unmanned undersea vehicle was tested last summer in the Gulf of Mexico, generating detailed three-dimensional data that have piqued a great deal of interest in the industry.
A Lockheed crew is back in the area off Louisiana, where Marlin is surveying a number of offshore platforms owned by a big oil firm, generating the first commercial revenues for this small arm of Lockheed.
The project, first initiated in mid-2009, reflects growing efforts by big weapons makers like Lockheed to find revenues in adjacent markets as they brace for weaker defence spending in the US and Europe after a decade of strong growth.
The new system can be programmed to autonomously survey an underwater object, and detect any changes. It then generates three-dimensional models that oil and gas companies can use to lower their inspection costs.
Currently, oil and gas companies do inspections using divers and remotely operated, but tethered undersea vehicles that provide less detailed video images.