CLEARWATER - If Pvt. Jessica Lynch's Humvee in Iraq had been equipped with one of the guidance systems manufactured at Honeywell's Clearwater defense plant, chances are good her unit would have known it had strayed into enemy territory.
And if Lynch's Humvee had one of the enhanced guidance systems that will be developed as part of Honeywell's new $150-million defense contract, Lynch's commanders also would have been alerted the minute her convoy went off course.
Bottom line: If the technology had been better, Lynch might have avoided capture, rescue (and stardom).
On Monday, officials at the local Honeywell plant spoke about their company's role in the U.S. Army's broad based technological overhaul, known as Future Combat Systems.
The goal is to use advanced communications and technologies to link soldiers with manned and unmanned tanks and aircraft so they have a more accurate picture of what's going on around them. Their superiors, meanwhile, no longer will have to rely on radio transmissions to tell them where their troops and vehicles are positioned; the information will be relayed through wireless technology to a computer screen at headquarters.
The high-tech networking effort, being put into effect across all military services, is estimated to cost nearly $15-billion for the initial system development and demonstration phase. Software and devices developed under the program are expected to be ready for field use by 2010.
At Honeywell's defense plant on U.S. 19, the goal of making fighting forces more agile and interconnected complements the division's longstanding focus on making guidance and navigation systems.
The local defense division has about 600 employees; it expects to hire an additional 40 to 50 engineers next year to help implement the Future Combat Systems work.
(Honeywell's Clearwater campus also includes a space division with 1,200 employees. That division is unaffected by the Future Combat Systems contract.)
The bulk of the work on the $150-million defense contract will be handled at Honeywell's Albuquerque plant. Locally, it will mean updating and enhancing the Clearwater plant's main product, a guidance system encased in a heavy-duty metal composite known as the TALIN box.
To establish location, the TALIN navigational system relies on laser beams and gyroscopes, not the satellite transmissions used by the Global Positioning System. As a result, Honeywell's system cannot be jammed.
The system is currently used in 30 types of vehicles, from Bradley tanks to Apache helicopters. A less sophisticated model, manufactured by another Honeywell plant, is found on every commercial aircraft.
Last year, the Clearwater plant shipped 2,500 TALIN boxes, at prices ranging from $30,000 to $150,000 each. Under the new contract, the systems will not only tell vehicle operators - and everyone connected to the network - where the vehicle is, it also will supply data on fuel supply and maintenance requirements. There are also plans to miniaturize the technology so it can be carried by soldiers, relating everything from their whereabouts to their water supply.
Ben Simmons, vice president and general manager of Honeywell's defense and space electronic systems in Clearwater, said being part of the Army's new drive toward networking is critical to staying competitive.
"We've been in the product business," he said of the plant's TALIN production line. "But the trend is now to systems. This contract moves us up the food chain."