Este informe no está disponible en español.


The silver lining: The war on terrorism is spurring the application and development of technologies that will change our world

Dr. Vance Coffman, the chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, the U.S. government’s No. 1 technology contractor, discusses the impact of the 'War on Terrorism' on our lives


June 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

How would you like to get to the airport and—in a matter of seconds—go through security and be on the way to your gate?

According to Dr. Vance Coffman, chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, that could soon happen with technology that now exists.

But it will require what he calls a "new world order" mindset for U.S. citizens, businesses, and democracies around the world.

Actually, it would all be quite simple. You would arrive at security, take out your personal smart card, slide it through a slot and then put your thumb on a fingerprint reader (or, as an alternative, look into an ocular iris reader). In seconds you would be cleared to proceed.

A man—and a company—in the know

Coffman speaks with authority about such impending changes to the airport security scenario. The company he leads is the new U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) prime contractor for improving airport security operations.

In fact, on the day he spoke with CARIBBEAN BUSINESS--following a pep talk to members of the Puerto Rico and Hispanic Markets U.S. Savings Bonds Committee (Coffman succeeded Popular Inc.’s Richard Carrion this year as U.S. national campaign chairman)--U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced that Lockheed Martin had been selected to implement phase two of its master schedule and plan to revamp security at the nation’s 429 commercial airports by the end of the year.

In addition to its work with the TSA, the federal government also relies on Lockheed Martin for a myriad of other key elements in its technological and defense needs. The technology and services the company’s 50,000 engineers and scientists produce are used for some of the most basic services depended on by the nation’s citizens, including back office processing of 35 million monthly Social Security checks, the automated scanning and sorting equipment used by the U.S. Postal Service and the recognition and database technology of the FBI’s automated fingerprint identification system.

Lockheed Martin is also the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s (NASA) principal contractor for its launch operations, planetary missions and satellite services, as well as the manufacturer of most of the U.S. Air Force’s fleet, including the C-130, C-5 Galaxy, F-16, F-117 Nighthawk and the new Joint Strike Fighter, whose $200 billion contract awarded last October was the biggest single defense contract in history.

A Stanford University trained Ph.D. in astronautics, Coffman got his start with Lockheed Martin in the late 1960s (when it was Lockheed), helping engineer U.S. reconnaissance imagery satellites that peered down upon the Soviet Union and China. For most of his life, his work has been so secret that he can’t even tell his wife.

Airport security

Coffman revealed that Lockheed Martin has made inquiries to the federal government about integrating fingerprint identification technology—as well as iris (ocular) scanning technology—as part of the new screening system to be implemented at the nation’s 429 commercial airports.

"Either one of those systems can perform [the screening function] in a matter of seconds," explained Coffman, who described for CARIBBEAN BUSINESS how the system would work.

"With the fingerprint ID system at the airport, you could walk up with your card, swipe the card, put your fingerprint on the screen and have a match made in a few seconds," Coffman indicated. "It would allow you to proceed through the airport in 20 or 30 seconds, instead of two to three hours."

In addition to moving forward with its plans to install such a system at the nation’s airports in the months ahead, Lockheed Martin is also busy training the new federalized work force of airport passenger screeners.

"We finished training the first batch just two weeks ago," Coffman said. He said the passenger screeners are going through a 40-hour course designed to make them much better prepared in terms of "how to screen, what to look for and how to ask questions."

Border security

Changes to the airport security system led Coffman to comment on changes in the U.S. border control system overall, including Puerto Rico’s sea ports.

"The ports are probably are our most porous border—the control is not very good," Coffman said. The pre-9/11 situation, only about 2% of overseas shipments were inspected and contents verified, that is clearly no longer acceptable in the post 9/11 world.

"That means that you’re going to have to have wands that know how to sense nuclear weapons, that know how to sense chemical or biological weapons, or some other mechanism that allows you to know that the things that we fear in terms of these shipments are not on board," Coffman stated.

Some of the technology for this new task already exists Coffman said, while additional necessary technology is yet to be fully developed. "But I’m quite confident that if we decide that this is an important thing to do, we can figure it out," he added, noting that Lockheed Martin alone has a virtual army of 50,000 scientists and engineers dedicated to coming up with solutions to such matters.

Coffman made clear however that thorough inspection of every ship will also have to be done in a way that has neither a disruptive nor a restrictive effect on commercial trade flow. He also said that the Coast Guard will need additional support and capacity to conduct such inspections either outside of--or at the limit of--the territorial waters of the U.S., so that any threats cannot enter into U.S. harbors.

In addition to screening out weapons of terror, Coffman believes necessary improvements in the U.S. border control system—in order to make sure that another Mohammed Atta or someone with similar intentions is detected in time—will also invariably require cooperation with other nations.

"The war on terrorism is a major signal to all democratic societies that there are people in the world who wish them harm and we need to face that and be realistic about how we treat it," said Coffman, who said he’s seeing signs of other countries also investing more in their self protection.

Missile security

The post-9/11 world has also ratcheted up the importance of putting into place a missile defense shield over both the continental—and extra-continental—U.S.

"Congress is very excited about the new PAC-3 [Patriot Advanced Capability] missile," Coffman said. "It’s the first area that can be deployed out of the missile defense program."

Coffman said the PAC-3 system—which last year successfully completed tests that demonstrated its ability to intercept incoming tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft targets--is now being deployed as fast as possible.

Lockheed Martin is also responsible for the technology behind another key element within the U.S. missile defense program, namely the Theater High-Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system. This system is said to represent the culmination of several decades of development and testing aimed at ensuring the protection of U.S. and allied forces and population centers from the a theater ballistic missile attack.

Prior to the development of these systems—throughout, for example, the Cold War years and during the Gulf War--the U.S. and its allies were especially vulnerable to such attacks.

Making the homeland safer

In essence, Dr. Vance Coffman and Lockheed Martin carry a large part of the burden for developing and implementing technologies designed to protect people from the kind of terrorist attacks that shook the nation--and the world--on Sept. 11, 2001.

"We take those kinds of problems to be the kind we want to solve for the country," Coffman forthrightly told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. "That’s what’s important about the work that we do."

In assessing the post-9/11 world, Dr. Coffman is blunt about the changes that will be necessary in order to assure citizens of the level of protection and security they want and deserve.

In retrospect, it has become evident that a big part of the problem prior to 9/11 was the lack of ability—by both government agencies and the private sector—to work together to harness and channel available information from separate databases in order to effectively stop those who seek to do their fellow men and women harm.

"There are a lot of ways to think about how we should have known that [9/11 ring leader] Mohamed Atta was in the U.S. while he was being hunted by the FBI," Coffman says. As an example, Coffman notes that Atta apparently received Federal Express packages in different cities and made numerous withdrawals from ATM machines.

"I’m not finding fault with the companies," Coffman emphasized. In fact, he points out, current law restricted the companies that provided services to Atta and other terrorists from giving their information to the nation’s law enforcement officials.

In Coffman’s view, that situation—which goes to the heart of intelligence gathering about who is moving where and what is going on in the country—is fast becoming one of the biggest changes in our post 9/11 world.

A trade off

Meeting the post-9/11 terrorist threat against the U.S. and the democracies of the world requires, as Coffman sees it, careful thinking about the balance between protecting individual liberties and the country’s citizens as a whole.

"Giving in a little bit in one area might be better than being at risk in the other," says Coffman. "I’m glad to make that trade," he says, and polls show that the vast majority of the U.S. population is as well. In fact, earlier this month, a national Gallup poll found that four of every five people surveyed are willing to give up some freedom in order to gain greater collective and personal security.

Making that trade-off, however, will require changes in the months ahead in the nation’s legal structure to allow for effective cooperation—both within the government as well as in relation to the private sector—on how information databases are shared in the search for pertinent security intelligence.

As Coffman sees it, the development of some form of national identification card in the U.S. is also definitely part of the post-9/11 world. "The real issue is how do you get to something that is roughly the equivalent of a national ID card," he says.

Puerto Rico—along with other state and local governments across the U.S.--may have an important role to play in the effort, since driver’s licenses will probably be an initial tool for including what is termed national information content.

"At least the fundamentals of a common ID card will need to be the same across America, so that it could be scanned and understood by every state," Coffman says.

Coffman readily acknowledges that the move will no doubt encounter opposition from civil libertarian circles, as well as others, who for one reason or another, harbor deep-seated fear and mistrust of the federal government. But he makes a strong case for the necessity of a national ID card system—in one form or another--as a critical element in order to put together a truly effective national security system.

War’s silver lining

Though the evil of war has plagued mankind throughout the ages, it has not been without its--perhaps providential--silver lining. Coffman says he saw it himself in the 1960s as a young Lockheed scientist on the front lines of the Cold War.

"There’re all kinds of things that have ramifications downstream when you invest in technology," Coffman observes. For example, the ‘60s-era race to the moon led to a host of major advances for mankind. "The miniaturization of electronics came out of that, as did new medicines and the advancement of our understanding of the human body."

In addition to future positive developments that will hopefully improve the quality of life for more of the planet’s inhabitants in the post-9/11 world, Coffman is also particularly upbeat about America’s capacity to successfully meet the challenges that it now faces head on.

"Really, 9/11 wasn’t the first event," Coffman reflects. "The 1993 World Trade Center bombing was a wake-up call that wasn’t heard by very many people. It’s sad to say that anything positive came out of 9/11, but I think we, as a country, have started to realize what we have to face, and that should be viewed as positive because we’re being realistic about the way we face the world."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
For further information please contact

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback