L-3 to Launch Export Model of Spy Planes for Middle East, Asia

L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. (LLL), will launch an export model of its Project Liberty-type spy planes targeted at customers in the Middle East and Asia, Chief Executive Officer Mike Strianese said.

The Project Liberty system, based on Hawker Beechcraft Corp.’s King Air 350 propeller planes, is generating “a lot of international interest,” Strianese said in an interview at the Paris Air Show. The aircraft, equipped with electro-optical and heat-sensing cameras, are used by the U.S. Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan to spot adversaries planting roadside bombs.

“A lot of countries are looking at it for border security” purposes, Strianese said. “I expect there to be interest in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, other Middle East countries, and possibly North Asia.”

The export version, called Spydr, will be launched next month at the Royal International Air Tattoo, an annual air show held in the UK, he said.

L-3, a New York-based supplier of military electronics with 2010 sales of $15.6 billion, received the first order for the Project Liberty aircraft from the U.S. Air Force in September 2008 and now has a contract for 37.

Export Version

For the export version, L-3 will offer the plane and all of the equipment on board including full-motion video, signals intelligence gear, line-of-sight communications and self- protection sensors, company spokeswoman Jennifer Barton said. The company will also offer to outfit airplanes other than the King Air with such equipment, she said.

The Pentagon and the U.S. State Department have made “significant” progress in reducing the time for obtaining export licenses, Strianese said.

U.S. export restrictions have “been a headwind on the industry especially when alternative technologies are available in the international market,” Strianese said. “The technology is the same, so you’re hurting U.S. industry when you’re not allowing us to export.”

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation agency, which is the department’s foreign sales arm, is speeding up the process of export licensing for drone aircraft, the agency’s head Vice Admiral William Landay said June 10.

To meet a growing demand for U.S.-made unmanned aerial systems, the agency plans to speed up the exports process by getting pre-approval for countries that may have an interest in the drones, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gopal Ratnam in Paris at gratnam1@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net

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