In an interview, Steve Williams, Vice President of FLIR Systems Worldwide Sales, informed Mönch about technologies showcased at IDEX, the importance of the MENA market, new acquisitions, and the company.
M.: What is it about FLIR Systems’ key capabilities that make the level of achievement you have sustainable for today’s military customer?
S. Williams: FLIR occupies an enviable position as a trusted brand and thought leader in all kinds of seemingly disparate markets. Everything from housing inspection, recreational boating, and hunting through defence. What enables us to maintain this leadership is that we share lessons learned and technological advances across these segments as much as possible, giving us a wealth of end-user knowledge to fuel our R&D efforts.
M.: With newly redesigned defence budgets, where does FLIR Systems see a chance of selling its solutions?
S. Williams: Major shifts in defence procurement strategy are forcing officials to look at incorporating commercially developed solutions as much as possible to get more for their money. As the pioneer of Commercially Developed, Military Qualified, FLIR is perfectly positioned to meet these growing monetary challenges. As we apply this philosophy to new technologies like Ground Surveillance Radar, we have great opportunity to satisfy critical military requirements at reduced cost, and with faster technology innovation cycles.
M.: What are your main priorities for the MENA market, and how important is this market to the company?
S. Williams: Many of the technologies we are showcasing at IDEX are in use or under evaluation for Border Surveillance and Protection applications. As border sovereignty and stability continue to be focal points for our regional partners, so too will we focus on bringing them newer and more effective solutions. MENA is, and has always been, a critical region for FLIR.
M.: Do you see sales to India as a growth market?
S. Williams: We have been paying close attention to the Indian defence market for years, and have been seeing more and more demand for our products. It’s always tough to compete against a strong indigenous defence capability, but our thermal and land surveillance products are getting traction.
M.: How do you deal with countries that require offset, i.e. do you offer transfer of technology?
S. Williams: It’s really a case by case basis. Some contracts specify the type of offset investment, some leave it more broad. Without getting into too many details, FLIR has excelled at meeting a wide variety of offset obligations, through everything from tech transfer, service and marketing.
M.: In terms of the future growth and sustainment of your products, what would your priority goals be?
S. Williams: If you distil it all the way down to a single goal, ours remains to give a technological advantage to people putting themselves in harms way to protect and serve. Whether it’s hand-held binoculars or ground surveillance radar, it’s all about sensing, detecting, and making informed decisions. Every product we make serves that end goal, so we want to see them all grow. As the number of deployed assets increases, sustainment and particularly regional support become even more important. We are constantly expanding our global service footprint because our priority is keeping that technical advantage operational.
M.: How do you analyse current operational use of your solutions against initial useful life projections for government programmes?
S. Williams: It’s always been an ongoing improvement effort. Experts on the government side are constantly improving their ability to match models and requirements to actual operational use. From our side, we also try to design or systems to the actual use case, so both sides work closer to the same numbers. It’s never perfect, but our priority is to make sure the person in the field gets the most utility and operational availability possible.
M.: Having introduced new tactical products during SHOT Show, when will customers be able to procure them in the MENA?
S. Williams: The tactical products we launched at SHOT Show will be available next quarter for military and law enforcement customers around the world. Several of the consumer products will be available in a similar time frame as well.
M.: How much percentage do you put into R&D, and are all these new products part of iR&D?
S. Williams: FLIR puts a higher percentage of revenue back into R&D than nearly any other major company in the defence space, around nine percent. All of these new tactical products are 100% internally funded, as are nearly all of FLIR’s products, something we pride ourselves on.
M.: What will happen at FLIR Systems in the next year?
S. Williams: Other than hosting a great IDEX, we will be looking to have our first full years with new acquisitions Armasight and Prox Dynamics integrated into the company, each bringing exciting capabilities and amazing products.
M.: What products will be highlighted during IDEX?
S. Williams: Border surveillance equipment such as: RANGER HDC, RANGER HRC, and RANGER R20SS/R66SS radars; airborne targeting, i.e. StarSAFIRE 380 HLDc; the man portable surveillance and weapon sights: RECON B2-FO and RECON V; HISS XLR; and PVS-27 MAGNUM Universal Night Sight (MUNS); and of course the BLACK HORNET Nano Unmanned Aerial System (UAS, stemming from the Prox Dynamics acquisition).
M.: On that subject, can you tell us more about your new acquisitions Armasight and Prox Dynamics, and how these new products will be integrated into FLIR Systems?
S. Williams: Armasight is a strong, growing global supplier of imaging equipment and complements our existing lineup of outdoor and tactical. The acquisition allows us to combine our existing lines of Personal Vision Systems and Thermal Weapon Sights (under our Surveillance segment) with Armasight’s products thus providing us the ability to better serve hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, police, and military customers with advanced day and night capabilities.
Prox Dynamics is now the UAS Group within Surveillance. This product is a great compliment to FLIR’s already strong business with over 30 international military special operations end users. We are also integrating the BLACK HORNET into our offerings for Border Surveillance systems, Force Protection Suites, and Mobile Surveillance systems including MVSS and LTV.
M.: Are there some key messages to our readership that you would like to address?
S. Williams: We cannot stress the importance to customers in the global defence community of agile solutions. The reality of today’s conflicts is that the location, intensity, threat profile, etc change constantly. Delivering systems that can be picked up and re-deployed, share information around a battlefield, or overcome a previously impossible obstacle (hand-held UAV with thermal imaging!), is the expectation at FLIR, and should be for all those who support those who keep us safe.
M.: Nicely said. Thank you very much for your time.