Palantir, Lockheed Martin team up to modernize naval combat systems

Petty Officer 2nd Class Rawad Madanat

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the location Palantir traveled to to make a software security fix. A technician flew to Poland.

WASHINGTON – Palantir Technologies and Lockheed Martin have partnered to modernize surface navy combat systems, with the aim of developing an autonomous deployment model for future combat system software updates, the American companies announced Wednesday.

The U.S. Navy has plans to field an integrated combat system on its ships, with containerized software that’s agnostic of the ship’s hardware and can receive over-the-air updates, rather than requiring complex, in-port modernization periods.

Several ongoing efforts aim to start moving the Navy and its contractors in that direction, including a Virtualized Aegis Weapon System program to separate the software from the hardware; The Forge software factory in Maryland will generate some of the new code to address emerging needs and threats.

But this industry teaming effort gets at the underlying questions of how to push updates once the software is written, how to monitor performance, and how to recall and fix code, among other logistical factors, Palantir’s senior vice president for federal and strategic initiatives told Defense News.

Julie Bush said Palantir typically performs data management work for its clients. The company developed its Apollo software deployment tool in 2015 for internal company use, and it only recently offered the technology externally at the request of its clients following last year’s Log4j security vulnerability that highlighted the value of Apollo.

Apollo has a security operations feature that can quickly identify, roll back and remediate problematic code. In the case of Log4j, Bush said, the vulnerability was addressed within three days; it took days rather than hours because the company had to fly a technician to Poland to update software on a disk that couldn’t be remotely fixed.

Apollo can deploy, manage and monitor software across multi-cloud environments and legacy on-premises data centers at various classification levels. Bush said that’s what Lockheed Martin needs as it considers the future of the Aegis Combat System that powers Navy surface combatants.

Lockheed began developing Aegis in 1969 and has since rolled out capability improvements via periodic baseline upgrades to be built into future ships or backfit during lengthy shipyard maintenance periods. Work on the Virtual Aegis Weapon System has made it easier to test and certify new software-based capabilities, but the partnership with Palantir could help Lockheed prepare for an even more dramatic shift in how it develops and fields new capabilities.

“The Navy needs capability to update software at the edge rapidly and securely to address ever-evolving threats. Lockheed Martin is investing in skills, capabilities, tools, and infrastructure to deliver the best software to the warfighter efficiently and affordably,” Joe DePietro, vice president and general manager for naval combat and missile defense systems at Lockheed, said in a news release. “Palantir’s Apollo is central to these efforts. Apollo addresses last-mile delivery challenges and performs automated software deployment and management across secure government networks, cloud environments and on-platform environments.”

Bush said some of the early work between the two companies focuses on reworking Lockheed Martin as an organization to allow for more automated processes. In this model, developers, operators and security teams will work in tandem, rather than linearly, to constantly push out security patches and new capabilities. Palantir argues it can help those teams understand what this workflow might look like.

This early work will also include writing and then deploying new software capabilities into a lab environment, simulating what a software push to ships at sea could look like. None of this work will touch Navy ships yet, as that would require a contract to certify and field this software deployment model to the fleet. But it will serve as a proof of concept for Lockheed to consider as it pitches to the Navy its plans for the Aegis Combat System and a future integrated combat system.

Bush declined to talk about specific software packages the team might build and deploy in the lab setting, but she did say this model could help the Navy quickly address cyber vulnerabilities and the need for new threat detection and intercept capabilities. The software could be pushed to all ships, Bush added, but if one is operating in a degraded communications environment, the software would automatically update when the ship comes back online.

Bush described this collaboration as a turning point for Palantir as it seeks to diversify its business opportunities. Using Apollo as an enabler for other government contractors could help develop more of a client relationship between Palantir and prime contractors, she said.

“I do think this is actually a moment in time that is a little bit different for Palantir, where you’ll see a lot more of these collaborations” focused on helping other companies with “Day Two operations,” or addressing the deployment, monitoring and configuration management of the company’s software.