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NMSU, NM Tech join Lockheed in its bid for Sandia contract

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lockheed Martin publicly upped the ante in its bid to continue running Sandia National Laboratories by announcing Monday that it had partnered with New Mexico State University, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and Indiana’s Purdue University in the bid it submitted earlier.

Lockheed, which touts two decades of direct experience running Sandia, can now point to enhanced capability in research and development, a steady pipeline of fresh talent from New Mexico academia to staff the lab and university expertise in transferring cutting-edge technology into commercial markets.

The National Nuclear Security Agency has said it will consider all those things when evaluating bids to operate Sandia, which interested competitors submitted to the government on July 13.

Until Monday, only a competing team led by The Boeing Co. and Battelle had publicly announced the inclusion of university partnerships in its bid. The Battelle-Boeing team includes the University of New Mexico, the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System.

“We know those things are priorities in the bidding process, so we’ve brought in teammates with talent and resources to address them at the national and New Mexico levels,” Lockheed Martin spokesman Matt Kramer told the Journal. “Our teaming structure will now allow us to go to the next level in all those areas.”

He did not say why Lockheed waited to announce the university partners.

The NNSA has not publicly revealed who or even how many teams are bidding on the new contract, which awards the winner an initial five-year period to run Sandia, with options for up to an additional five years. The contractor will oversee a $2.88 billion budget and an operation that employs more than 10,000. Bidders have said they expected the process to be competitive, with several different teams involved.

NNSA has said it expects to name the winner by December.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are many other bidders in the process,” said Joe Cecchi, dean of UNM’s School of Engineering and associate provost for national laboratory relations. “Sandia is a jewel among the national labs, and we always anticipated there would be several bidders.”

“This is still a tough competition, and we don’t know who will win,” said Dr. Vimal Chaitanya, NMSU vice president of research. “But I believe we have a strong team.”

All three universities – NMSU, New Mexico Tech and Purdue – bring nationally recognized research experience and capabilities to the Lockheed team, including long histories of partnering with federal labs. New Mexico Tech, for example, already conducts joint projects with Sandia on things such as explosives development, testing and analysis.

“We do about $2 million in research contracts per year with Sandia,” said New Mexico Tech President Stephen Wells. “We have joint efforts in things like ballistics testing and other types of explosives research.”

Such joint projects benefit the lab, while offering university faculty opportunities to advance their research, Wells said.

In addition, many students from both Tech and NMSU, along with UNM, do internships at Sandia, and both universities offer robust pipelines of graduates who seek employment there. More than 25 percent of Sandia employees, for instance, have received at least one degree from NMSU, Chaitanya said.

“This partnership could open many more opportunities for our students and faculty to work with Sandia personnel on cutting-edge problems,” Chaitanya said. “It’s a win-win for us and the lab, because they can build a pipeline of future scientists, and we can hopefully keep more of our graduates in New Mexico.”

Purdue University, meanwhile, brings extensive experience and expertise in technology transfer. Last year alone, Purdue reported 27 startup companies that formed with technology licensed from the university, plus 147 licensing agreements with private entities.

Purdue also runs a business accelerator program, called the Purdue Foundry, with a $12 million Foundry Investment Fund that allows it to join other investors in funding companies that take university technology to market.

“Purdue is a leader in technology transfer,” Kramer said. “With Purdue’s help, we can get more technology out of the lab and into private hands.”

Still, since all bids remain confidential, it’s difficult to tell which of the competing teams may have an advantage, Cecchi said.

UNM and the Texas universities also offer many of the same research, tech-transfer and talent pipeline opportunities that the colleges allied with Lockheed offer.

“I think all six of the universities involved in the process bring unique strengths,” Cecchi said. “We’re still at the beginning of the process, and no one knows how it will play out.”

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