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Arkansas: The Defender (Lance Turner Editor’s Note)

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Here’s some trivia: Defense and aerospace products are Arkansas’ top export category, making up about 20% of all state exports.

You might not think of it as an aerospace and defense powerhouse, but global events are putting more eyes on Arkansas as a key source of weapons and equipment that aim to deter and defend.

The Highland Industrial Park in East Camden is ground zero, home to major military contractors like Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Technologies and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

All three companies have been growing.

Most recently, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that Raytheon subsidiary RTX Corp. will team with Israel-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems on a $33 million missile facility in East Camden.

The facility, set to open in 2025, will supply missiles for the U.S. SkyHunter defense system — and for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, a critical assignment given that country’s brutal war with Hamas.

Sanders is happy for Arkansas to accept the job as “America’s arsenal,” a fact she stressed last week at the Arkansas Economic Development Foundation luncheon. She was there to tout another defense giant with Arkansas operations, Lockheed.

That company, whose south Arkansas operations go back about 50 years, has already made us famous as home to the Camden-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. These mobile rocket launchers have been MVPs in Ukraine’s defense against Russia.

James D. Taiclet, Lockheed’s chairman, president and CEO, was the luncheon’s keynote speaker. Before that, he had visited the company’s Arkansas operations, which employ 1,110 people and are looking to hire about 200 more.

More than 100 countries rely on Lockheed’s technologies, Taiclet said, and the work of Arkansans at the company’s East Camden complex is making a big difference in conflicts around the world.

Taiclet, who spent 20 years in telecommunications, is seeking to broaden the impact by investing $6 billion over eight years to upgrade Lockheed’s entire enterprise with next-generation digital technologies and artificial intelligence.

The goal, he said, is to deter armed conflict with superior defense systems.

“We’ve got the best equipment in the world, but if we can network it in a way that the potential enemy can’t understand what we can do, they can’t figure out a success equation, they can’t close the loop, they may not attack us,” he said.

Arkansas will likely play a key role in that vision, which could level up our worldwide standing in a major industry.

“I don’t think anybody in Iran, Russia, China or North Korea,” Taiclet said, “can keep up with the people we have in Camden, Arkansas.”

Lance Turner is the editor of Arkansas Business.
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