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22 July 04. Reuters reported that, as fighters thrilled crowds with aerial stunts at this week’s Farnborough air show, aerospace executives huddled in stuffy conference rooms to discuss the real reason many had attended — promoting the latest technology to link satellites, troops and combat jets.

“Network-centric” was the catch phrase at Farnborough, which alternates each year with Paris in hosting the top aerospace industry gathering. The term refers to plans to integrate tanks, planes and satellites using common data transfer systems.

Such connectivity has been the military’s dream for years, but recent advances in broadband telecommunications, electronics and sensors are making it a reality.

The early success of such systems during the Iraq war showed the world it was worth pursuing, executives said.

“In my mind, there’s no technological hurdle left,” said retired General Larry Henry, vice president of Air Force programmes for U.S. defence contractor L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. (NYSE:LLL – News). “It’s a humungous part of our effort.”

Top U.S. defence equipment maker Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE:LMT – News), best known for its fighter jets, used the show near London to highlight new planes such as the F/A-22 and the F-35, which will carry sensors that share information with satellites, other aircraft and ground command centres.

Raytheon Co. (NYSE:RTN – News), which makes 50% of the Global Hawk unmanned spy plane’s radar, told journalists it was “not a platform company,” emphasizing its focus on networking technology. The goal of sharing data between land, air, sea and sub-surface equipment stretches beyond the United States.

Raytheon, for one, is building network sensors for the UK and L-3 is making the UK’s maritime reconnaissance and attack aircraft part of its initiative to develop network-centric collaborative targeting technology.

“Iraq was the first network-centric war,” said Northrop Chief Executive Ron Sugar. “There were a lot of capabilities that got a lot of attention around the world.”

Northrop builds the Global Hawk, which used data from satellites and other platforms to collect and transmit information on Iraqi troop movements.

“We’re seeing tremendous interest and having lots of discussions about it” with Asian and European clients, Sugar added, saying he saw net-centric warfare equipment as a growth area for the company.

But successfully revamping corporate and military culture takes time.Though the technology is leaping ahead, habits evolve more slowly and some elements of the U.S. military establishment are reluctant to change the way they communicate or share information across different arms of the defence community.

The new focus is also forcing companies to rearrange the way they think about their business. Lockheed, for one, created a new unit solely to oversee ways its different equipment and technology can interact.

“Have we reached the panacea?” said Ken Peterman, government systems vice president at Rockwell Collins (NYSE:COL – News), which makes technology that allows troops to transfer target information among themselves with one click.

“Not yet. But the U.S. and other countries are seeing the value of network-centric operations. It’s a business opportunity.”

Comment: There was nothing high-tech about the management of Farnborough 04. Once again the press were relegated to ‘poor relation’ status with no car park (unlike Paris) and having the choice to pay £63 to park nearby or face a 15 minute bus ride. When the Editor pointed out that he had to carry publications into the show, he was told to rent a cubby hole in the far way Media Centre for £93! The problem was compounded when during the main Watchkeeper announcement the floor nearly gave way leaving a number of journalists waiting downstairs. The organisers also shot t

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