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Australia to get its own Skunk Works

AAP logoAAP 1/08/2016 Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

Australia is set to gain its own version of Lockheed Martin's famous Skunk Works, the advanced research centre in California that developed some of the company's most advanced aircraft.

However, the Australian centre, to be located in Melbourne and called the STELaR Lab - Science, Technology, Engineering Leadership and Research Laboratory, won't just look at military aircraft.

It will also conduct leading edge research on everything from data analytics to quantum computing.

Lockheed Martin chief technology officer Dr Keoki Jackson said in a review last year, the company recognised that some key research wasn't limited to defence and aerospace or to the US.

"So we thought it was critical to expand our technology footprint beyond the US. That's why we are opening our first pilot multi-disciplinary research and development centre outside the US," he told AAP.

Dr Jackson said a key area of research interest related to data analytics for advanced command and control - how to better use the vast amounts of information generated by various defence platforms.

That will be of use for both the US and Australian defence forces. Then there's emerging areas such as autonomy of robotics, hypersonics and quantum computing, sensors and communications.

Lockheed Martin plans to spend $13 million over the next three years to get the centre up and running. It will be headed by an Australian and will employ Australian scientists.

"We are looking at this as an Australian-driven enterprise. We have a longstanding presence, over five decades, here in Australia," he said.

Lockheed's original Skunk Works - named after the moonshine distillery in the comic strip Li'l Abner - was founded in 1943 and produced a number of famous aircraft designs including U-2 and SR-71 spy planes and the F-22 Raptor fighter.

Dr Jackson said the Skunk Works brand symbolised transformational research.

"We think the environment and culture as well as the talent are here to enable that kind of a Skunk Works vision," he said.

Lockheed Martin Australia chief executive Raydon Gates said this work would be for the long term.

"We are not looking to solve today's problems. We are not looking to solve even the problems of the next generation. This is looking at the generation beyond the next," he said.

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