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机器人战舰走向远洋

Aaron Pressman 2019年06月11日

美国国防承包商莱多斯的海上猎人号是第一批使用人工智能代替船员的新型军舰。该公司将改造一艘艘小型军舰,迅速改变海军作战模式。

没船员也没问题:海上猎人号可以持续数周航行,追踪敌方潜艇,扫除鱼雷,不需要进港补给。图片来源:Courtesy of Leidos

北太平洋中部的海浪达到9英尺,美国海军舰艇海上猎人号(Sea Hunter)上的两台发动机有一台突然熄火。这艘舰艇的长度为132英尺,正在以10节的速度巡航,距离圣迭戈的基地约1500海里,但无法派人检查问题,因为船上并没有船员。

海上猎人号线条流畅,轮廓有点像蜘蛛,船身狭窄,配有双侧体,这款原型舰可能成为美国海军主力无人军舰。舰上搭载的人工智能控制和导航系统由国防承包商莱多斯控股公司(Leidos Holdings)耗时七年设计完成。公司总部位于弗吉尼亚州雷斯顿。本次处女航是往返珍珠港海军基地,全程4000多英里,也是第一次重要的验证理念的航行。

以前从未尝试过类似行动。虽然人工智能系统保持了舰艇的正常航行,也成功地避免了与其他船只相撞,但机械系统中的一个小故障便影响了整个航行任务。此事也提醒了技术专家,不管技术多么先进,普通的机械问题就能导致项目失败。

护卫艇上14名后勤人员的小组立刻行动起来。基斯·克拉布特里是莱多斯的一名系统工程师,他和其他人迅速跳进一艘坚固的充气船驶向海上猎人号。克拉布特里曾经帮助该船在圣迭戈湾平静的海水中穿行,他表示冲向海上猎人号时一点也没有担心海浪。原型舰船体有三层,灵感来自于波利尼西亚的瓦卡独木舟,比颠簸的护卫艇航行起来稳定得多。

“这次航行比之前经历的都要顺利。”克拉布特里回忆说。在简单修复软件后,问题解决了。最后海上猎人停靠珍珠港,顺利完成了为期10天的返航之旅。

值得注意的是,海上猎人号是第一艘穿越大洋的无人舰,也是莱多斯为海军从零开始设计的第一艘舰艇。

莱多斯前身是科学应用国际公司(SAIC),50年前由罗伯特·贝斯特创立,除了在政府承包界,几乎鲜为人知。罗伯特·贝斯特是一位才华横溢且富有创业精神的物理学家,曾经在洛斯·阿拉莫斯国家实验室研究氢弹。贝斯特曾经是一位狂热的水手,也是游艇竞赛队长丹尼斯·康纳的朋友。1983年,康纳的队伍在美洲杯帆船赛上输给了艾伦·邦德率领的澳大利亚队,也是美国在此项赛事上132年来首尝败绩,贝斯特要求SAIC开发软件模拟改进后的船体设计。第二年康纳夺回了奖杯。

这一设计在未来的海军项目中派上了用场,但直到2012年才公开重新出现,当时一份价值5900万美元开发无人舰艇的合同胜出,也再次确认了软件的关键地位。为了开发海上猎人号,该公司还利用了许多相关项目的专业知识,包括为海军开发水下传感器、为国家海洋和大气管理局调查海岸线,以及利用人工智能处理卫星图像等等。

正因为擅长整合各种技术,莱多斯才能够低调地担任五角大楼重要承包商长达50年。去年该公司收入102亿美元,在2019年《财富》美国500强中排名311位,也是连续第三次跻身榜单。

尽管国防和情报领域占收入近一半,莱多斯几乎触及了联邦政府技术和后勤工作的方方面面,包括负责弗雷德里克国家癌症研究实验室、为军用车辆设计微波系统以检测简易爆炸装置,以及帮国防部搭建数字病历系统等。分析师预计,该公司今年收入将增长5%,达到107亿美元,利润增长8%,达6.27亿美元。

目前在华尔街看来,海上猎人号根本算不上亮点,但如果海军计划订购十几艘或更多无人舰,而莱多斯获得大部分订单的话,可能会成为巨大的增长动力。

当中不确定性很多。仅仅因为莱多斯为海上猎人号设计出了原型,并不能够保证争取到未来数十亿美元的合同。国防合同竞争十分惨烈,诉讼和抗议活动司空见惯。2018年,因为竞争对手抱怨定价一份电子表格中出现了个别空白单元格,莱多斯就失去了价值20亿美元的美国司法部IT合同投标资格。“让我彻夜难眠的是,有人说他们能够做得更好。”海上猎人号的高级项目经理罗斯·库克说。“这将是对纳税人金钱的巨大浪费。”

莱多斯目前开发的人工智能软件可能会提供很大的帮助。其他公司都没有公开展示过技术接近的产品。“他们已经能够让原型舰下水,在海里执行任务了。”布莱恩·麦克格拉斯说,他是一位退役21年海军老兵,现在是哈德逊研究所美国海权中心的副主任。“前景很令人兴奋。”

The swells in the middle of the North Pacific were reaching nine feet when one of two engines on the diesel-powered U.S. naval ship called Sea Hunter shut down. About 1,500 nautical miles from its home base in San Diego, the 132-foot-long craft, which had been cruising at 10 knots, couldn’t send a member of its crew to check out the problem—because it didn’t have a crew.

Sea Hunter’s sleek, spiderlike silhouette, with a narrow hull and two outriggers, is a prototype of what could be a new class of autonomous warships for the U.S. Navy. Its artificial intelligence–based controls and navigation system, designed by Leidos Holdings, a defense contractor based in Reston, Va., were seven years in the making. And this maiden voyage—a more than 4,000-mile roundtrip to the giant Pearl Harbor naval station—was its first major proof of concept.

Nothing like this had ever been attempted before. And while the A.I. systems that keep the ship on course and help it avoid collisions with other vessels were working exactly as advertised, a glitch in its mechanical systems threatened to scuttle the trip—a reminder to tech geeks that no matter how advanced the technology, mundane mechanical problems can bring a project down.

A group of 14 support staff in a trailing escort ship sprang into action. Keith Crabtree, a systems engineer with Leidos, and other staff jumped into a rigid inflatable boat and zipped over to Sea Hunter. Crabtree, who had helped put the ship through its paces in the calmer waters of San Diego Bay, says he wasn’t worried about the swells as he rode across the waves to Sea Hunter. The triple-hulled design of the prototype, inspired by the Polynesian waka canoe, offered a more stable perch than the bouncing journey aboard the escort ship.

“We were in for a smoother ride than what we had been enduring,” Crabtree recalls. A simple software fix corrected the problem, and after docking at Pearl Harbor, Sea Hunter completed the 10-day return trip without incident.

Sea Hunter, it bears noting, is the first autonomous ship to make an ocean crossing and, remarkably, the first Navy ship designed from scratch by Leidos.

Little known outside government contracting circles, Leidos, then dubbed Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), was founded 50 years ago by Robert Beyster, a brilliant and entrepreneurial physicist who had worked on the hydrogen bomb at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. An avid sailor and a friend of yacht-racing captain Dennis Conner, Beyster tasked SAIC to develop software to model improved hull designs after Conner’s squad lost the America’s Cup to an Australian team led by Alan Bond in 1983—the first American loss in the race’s 132-year history. Connor regained the Cup the following year.

That expertise came in handy on future projects with the Navy but didn’t publicly reemerge until 2012, when a $59 million contract win to develop an autonomous ship put the software front and center once again. For Sea Hunter, the company also drew on expertise gained from many loosely related projects, including developing underwater sensors for the Navy, performing coastline surveys for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and conducting A.I. work to process satellite imagery.

That’s exactly the kind of eclectic mix of tech-savvy competencies that have underpinned Leidos’s five-decade existence as an under-the-radar but important Pentagon contractor. With $10.2 billion in revenues last year, the company is ranked 311 on the Fortune 500 for 2019—its third straight appearance on this list.

While defense and intelligence work generates nearly half of revenues, Leidos has its hands in virtually every aspect of the federal government’s technological and logistical efforts, including running the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, designing a microwave system for military vehicles to detect IEDs, and building a digital medical records system for the Defense Department. Analysts expect the firm’s revenue to rise 5% this year, to $10.7 billion, with earnings climbing 8%, to $627 million.

For now, Sea Hunter isn’t even a blip on Wall Street’s radar screen, but it could become a big growth driver if Leidos wins a major role in the Navy’s upcoming plans to add a dozen or more autonomous ships.

That’s a big if. Just because Leidos designed the prototype for Sea Hunter doesn’t guarantee it a role in the multibillion-dollar contracts to come. In the ruthless world of defense contracting, lawsuits and protests are common; Leidos was bumped from one $2 billion bidding battle for a Justice Department IT contract in 2018 when a competitor complained that a pricing spreadsheet had some blank cells. “What keeps me up at night is someone else claiming they can do better,” says Rus Cook, Sea Hunter’s senior program manager. “That would just be a huge waste of the taxpayers’ money.”

The A.I. software it has developed so far could give Leidos a big leg up. No other company has publicly demonstrated anything close. “They’ve got the archetype out there in the water, doing its thing on the open ocean,” says Bryan McGrath, a retired 21-year Navy veteran who is now deputy director of the Center for American Seapower at the Hudson Institute. “It’s really exciting for the future.”

****

莱多斯的前身SAIC之前一直是受人尊敬的政府承包商,2004年公司的创始人及首席执行官贝斯特因为反对公司上市而被赶下台,之后近10年里遇到各种问题。奥巴马时代国防预算削减打击了该司收入增长,也导致莱多斯历史上第一次出现经营亏损。最严重的是,一场涉及纽约市工资项目的大规模丑闻导致两名高管入狱,相关罚款和赔偿总计超过5亿美元。与此同时,联邦政府收紧了利益冲突规则,促使诺斯罗普格拉曼和洛克希德-马丁等大承包商剥离了服务部门。

因此在2012年,莱多斯一分为二缩小规模。剥离出的技术服务业务沿用SAIC的名称,负责升级军用车辆和组装飞行模拟器等。规模更大的信息技术和科学部门则改名莱多斯,该名称是将英文单词“万花筒”(kaleidoscope)前后部分删掉得来。

莱多斯聘请了现年62岁的罗杰·克罗恩负责新公司,他毕业于佐治亚理工学院,拥有哈佛大学的工商管理硕士学位。2014年加入莱多斯之前,他曾经在波音、麦道和通用动力等公司担任财务和项目管理高级职位。

克罗恩穿着剪裁考究的海蓝色套装,系着名牌紫色领带,也是莱多斯的代表色,一头银发飘逸。不管出席何种听证会,他都能轻易融入国会的参议员和说客之中。但这位首席执行官实际上是一个计算机天才,他讲述过在辛辛那提附近长大,还有最早开始编程的故事。当时他有一台TRS-80家用电脑。后来自己升级了电脑,帮助位于泽维尔大学附近的IBM 360主机写打孔卡程序,兼职工作每小时赚7美元。他做这项工作之前在辛辛那提的比萨饼店打工,编程老师发现后鼓励他更好地发挥自己所长。但他并不满足于寻找错误并重写代码,所以后来投身航天工程,设计飞机、直升机和宇宙飞船。

在克罗恩接任首席执行官一年后,遇上了一些不错的交易机会。国防巨头洛克希德-马丁斥资90亿美元收购西科斯基飞机,决定出售IT业务筹集一些资金,该部门规模庞大,总销售额约为50亿美元。克罗恩以46亿美元(主要是股票)吞下了相关业务,包括设计下一代空中交通管制系统、为美国社会保障局提供数十亿美元的IT项目以及一系列军事项目。

该笔交易令莱多斯的收入几乎翻了一番,2016年夏天最终完成,刚好赶上特朗普政府上台后大幅增加国防开支,以应对越来越大的军事威胁。

在成功收购整合后,莱多斯的收入不断上升。去年的收入是合并前12个月订单收入51亿美元的两倍。今年第一季度,莱多斯订货量增长到创纪录的215亿美元,主要因为管理美国航空航天局的IT网络长达10年,价值30亿美元的合同。自2014年7月克罗恩接手以来,莱多斯股价最近已涨至75美元,回报率达207%。同期标准普尔500指数上涨60%,道琼斯美国精选航空航天和国防指数上涨了106%。

除了国防和情报领域,莱多斯也深入参与大量癌症和疫苗的关键研究,还为政府远在南极洲的麦克默多站研究前哨站提供补给和物流网络,夏季为超过1000常驻人口往返运送人员和物资。在2017年感恩节期间,首席执行官克罗恩被困在该基地,才实地了解到了基地多么偏远。

由于访问时间超出了预期,他在基地拍了数百张海豹的照片,其中一张挂在他办公室办公桌对面的墙上。照片旁边是个有点凌乱的书柜,装着他帮助设计过的飞机以及跟洛克希德-马丁交易的纪念品,还有他的三个孩子在小时候做的手工品,现在孩子们都已成年。

Long a well-regarded government contractor, Leidos predecessor SAIC suffered from almost 10 years of problems after the 2004 ouster of founder and CEO Beyster, who opposed taking the company public. The Obama-era defense budget cuts hammered the company’s revenue growth and contributed to the first-ever operating loss in Leidos history. And most damaging, a massive scandal involving a New York City payroll project landed two executives in jail and resulted in fines and restitution costs totaling more than $500 million. At the same time, the federal government tightened its conflict-of-interest rules, prompting big contractors like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to spin off their services divisions.

So in 2012, the company moved to shrink itself by splitting in two. A technical services unit, which performed tasks like upgrading military vehicles and assembling flight simulators, was spun off under the SAIC name. The larger information technology and sciences unit went forward as Leidos. The name was created by lopping off the front and the back of the word kaleidoscope.

To run the new operation, Leidos hired Roger Krone, now 62, an aerospace engineering graduate from Georgia Tech who holds an MBA from Harvard. Before joining Leidos in 2014, he served in senior positions of finance and project management at Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and General Dynamics.

In a well-tailored navy suit with an on-brand purple tie, the Leidos corporate color, and a distinguished shock of silver hair, Krone could fit in easily on Capitol Hill among the senators and lobbyists at any hearing. But the CEO is a computer nerd at heart, recounting stories of his earliest programming days growing up near Cincinnati with a TRS-80 home computer that he upgraded himself and writing programs on punch cards for an IBM 360 mainframe at nearby Xavier University. The part-time punch-card job, which paid $7 an hour, came after his programming teacher caught him working the ovens at Pizza Bob’s in Cincinnati and challenged him to put his skills to better use. But finding the bugs and rewriting code didn’t suggest a satisfying career path, so he went into aerospace engineering, eventually helping design airplanes, helicopters, and spacecraft.

A year after taking over as CEO, a bargain of sorts fell into Krone’s lap. Defense giant Lockheed Martin had spent $9 billion to acquire Sikorsky Aircraft and decided to raise some money by selling its IT businesses, a jumble of units with total sales of about $5 billion. For $4.6 billion, paid mostly in stock, Krone gobbled up businesses whose work included designing a next-generation air-traffic control system, billions of dollars of IT programs for the Social Security Administration, and a host of military projects.

The deal, which nearly doubled Leidos’s revenue, closed in the summer of 2016, coinciding almost perfectly with the arrival of the Trump administration and major increases in defense spending to combat the growing military presence of China and smaller threats from North Korea and Russia.

Having successfully integrated the acquisition, Leidos is on the upswing; revenue last year was twice the $5.1 billion the company booked for the 12 months before the merger. And in the first quarter of this year, the Leidos backlog of business grew to a record $21.5 billion, aided by a $3 billion contract to run NASA’s IT network for up to 10 years. Leidos’s share price, at $75 recently, has returned 207% since Krone took over in July 2014. That compares with a 60% rise in the S&P 500 index and a 106% gain for the Dow Jones U.S. Select Aerospace and Defense index.

In addition to defense and intelligence work, Leidos is deeply involved in a wide range of critical research on cancer and vaccines. It also runs the supply and logistics network for the government’s remote McMurdo Station research outpost in Antarctica, moving people and supplies back and forth from the U.S. for a residential population that can exceed 1,000 in the summer. CEO Krone learned firsthand just how remote the base can be when he got stuck there over Thanksgiving in 2017.

Souvenirs of that longer-than-expected stay are the hundreds of photographs he took of the seals there, one of which adorns the wall opposite the desk in his office. Nearby, a somewhat cluttered bookcase contains mementos of aircraft he helped design and the Lockheed Martin deal, alongside childhood artwork from his three now-grown children.

****

当2016年海上猎人号第一次下水时,它像一头光滑的灰色野兽,外表凶猛,对人类也不友好。船内没有容纳船员的内部设施,例如卧室、厨房和浴室,也没有扶手和甲板上用来缓冲的垫子。毕竟,海军订购的是能跟踪敌方潜艇并抵抗登船者的无人舰。莱多斯的测试人员第一次沿着俄勒冈州的哥伦比亚河试航时,他们需要在甲板上加上扶手和防滑层才可以安全地登船。还有个小一些用螺栓固定的驾驶室用来装人,有些金属栏杆连接设备。项目高级经理库克表示,加上的设施让他不太自在。“就像在科尔维特跑车上装了一个车顶行李架。”他说。

但是如果没有附加设备,两年后海上猎人号在公海中抛锚时,工程师几乎不可能上船修理发动机。不到一个小时,克拉布特里和海军工程师重新启动了舰艇,问题出在一处很容易修正的软件设置上。

军方常用的无人机已经实现遥控,某些水下舰艇也用上了计算机控制的碰撞避免程序,但海上猎人号的设计是为了实现更高水平的自动控制,这一挑战与设计自主车辆并无不同。虽然海上航行与公路行驶差别很大,但错误的风险要高得多。而且海上没有道路标志、车道或易于软件跟踪的分界线。库克自认为“对无人技术很挑剔”,他表示,“我认为(无人驾驶)汽车更容易。”

莱多斯设计海上猎人号时,要遵循船与船遭遇时人类处理的基本规则,这要求船只根据特点和功能遵循不同的程序。通常来说,一艘船保持航线,另一艘船让路。不过,根据是帆船还是机动船、风向和许多其他标准,优先顺序也会有所不同。海上猎人使用照相机和雷达的传感器数据评估遭遇的其他船只,并恰当地选择正确的操作方式。

本次是海军主导“无人驾驶”情况下的大型试航,希望证明无人舰艇的概念已经能够迎接更大的挑战。海上猎人号表演优异后,今年4月,美国海军提出设计具备作战能力的中型和大型(长达300英尺)水上无人舰艇。海军水面作战主任少将罗纳德·博考尔表示,“我们希望寻找每一美元杀伤力最大的船只。”无人舰艇“目前处于研发阶段,但只要我们认为准备就绪,就可以相对迅速地进入作战采购阶段。”

2017年12月,海军从莱多斯订购了第二艘海上猎手,在密西西比州的格尔夫波特建造。下一步,莱多斯将参与2020年中大型无人舰艇项目,也可能会与造船领域其他更为专业的承包商合作,如通用动力公司和亨廷顿·英格尔斯。有点类似之前莱多斯为飞机制造成像和传感器仪器,由其他公司提供巡航导弹制导系统。

波音公司和洛克希德-马丁公司则专心研发无人潜艇,可以避免在水面上遭遇其他船只的复杂情况。2017年,罗尔斯·罗伊斯展示了一艘类似于海上猎人号的海军无人舰艇,但并未实际建造。此后,该公司将商业船舶业务出售给了挪威的康士伯集团公司。目前,康士伯一直努力研发民用无人驾驶船舶,已经改装了一艘渡轮,在芬兰图尔库群岛周围行驶了几英里,还与造船商瓦尔德控股合作建造一艘大型无人集装箱船,将于明年开航。

无人舰艇将为海军节省大量资金。美国国防高级研究计划局初步负责无人舰艇项目,为该部门做的一项研究显示,海上猎人号每天的运行成本可以为2万美元,而完全载人的驱逐舰执行类似任务费用高达70万美元。如果将海战比作下国际象棋,无人舰队不用担心水手生命危险,就可以担任追踪潜艇、扫除鱼类和通信中继任务的“小兵”,载人船只则担任“国王”和“王后”。

至于海军无人项目,莱多斯的工程师模拟了更典型的单体和双体设计,以及制造潜水器的可能性。他们惊讶地发现,装上两个外接支架后主船体更稳定、速度更快,维护成本也更低。“正因为我们不是造船厂,所以我们能够从全新角度去考虑。”克罗恩说。

When it was first put in the water in 2016, Sea Hunter was a slick gray beast, fierce-looking and intentionally tough to board. The ship lacked not just the interior amenities to house a crew, like sleeping quarters, a galley, and bathrooms, but also handrails along the sides and padding on the deck for traction. The Navy, after all, had asked for an autonomous ship that could track enemy submarines and resist boarders. But when the testers from Leidos launched its very first trips along the Columbia River in Oregon, it became apparent that they needed to add handrails and an anti-skid coating on the deck for safer human boarding. There’s also a small, bolted-on pilot’s cabin for shelter and some metal rails for connecting gear. Cook, the senior program manager, says some of the additions make him cringe. “It’s like a roof rack on a Corvette,” he says.

But without them, it would have been all but impossible for the engineers to come aboard and fix the engine two years later, while tossing on the high seas. In under an hour, Crabtree and the Navy engineers restarted the craft, tracing the problem to an easily corrected software setting.

While the airborne drones commonly used by the military are piloted by remote control, and some autonomous under?water craft use computer-controlled collision avoidance programs, Sea Hunter was designed to achieve an even higher level of self-control—a challenge not unlike that designing autonomous vehicles. Though sea traffic is nowhere near that of highway driving, the stakes of an error are significantly higher. And there are no road signs, traffic lanes, or dividing lines for the software to track. Cook, a self-described “autonomy snob,” says, “I think a [self-driving] car is easier.”

Leidos designed Sea Hunter to meet the fundamental rules of human ship-to-ship encounters, which require that a ship follow different procedures depending on its features and functions. Typically, one ship is to stay on course and the other is to give way. But the priorities differ for sailboats vs. powerboats, the direction of the wind, and many other criteria. Sea Hunter uses sensor data from cameras and radar to assess any other craft it encounters and properly choose the correct maneuver.

It was the Navy that sought the big test—an ocean crossing with “no human hands on”—to prove that the concept of unmanned vessels was ready for a much bigger push. After Sea Hunter passed with flying colors, the Navy Department issued requests in April for the design of truly combat-ready medium-size and large-size (up to 300 feet long) unmanned surface vessels. Says Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director of surface warfare for the Navy: “We’re looking for a mix of ships that gives us the most lethality per dollar.” Unmanned ships are “in a research and development phase right now, but they could cross into an operational procurement phase relatively quickly when we think we’re ready.”

In December 2017, the Navy ordered a second Sea Hunter from Leidos, being built in Gulfport, Miss. Next, the company will compete for a part in the 2020 medium and large unmanned vessel programs. It’s likely to partner with other contractors more expert in the world of shipbuilding, such as General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls. That would be similar to Leidos’s work building imaging and sensor instruments for planes and guidance systems for cruise missiles, which are built by others.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin, for their part, have concentrated on underwater unmanned craft, avoiding the complications of navigating amid other vessels on the surface. And Rolls-Royce Holdings showed off renderings of an autonomous naval vessel somewhat like the Sea Hunter in 2017 but never produced a craft. It has since sold its commercial boating business to Norway’s Kongsberg Gruppen ASA. Kongsberg has so far focused on developing civilian unmanned craft. It has a refit ferry that navigated its way on a journey of a few miles around Finland’s Turku Archipelago and is also working with shipbuilder Vard Holdings to build a huge autonomous container ship that should be ready to sail next year.

Autonomous vessels will save a ton of money for the Navy. According to a study produced for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which initially oversaw the autonomous vessel program, Sea Hunter can operate for $20,000 per day, compared with $700,000 to run a fully manned destroyer performing similar missions. And with no sailors at risk, an autonomous fleet could serve as “pawns” for tracking subs, clearing mines, and acting as communications relays while manned vessels remain the “king” and “queen” pieces for large-scale battles in the Navy’s ocean-borne chess match against China and Russia.

For the unmanned Navy project, Leidos engineers ran simulations of more typical single- and twin-hull designs, as well as some submersible possibilities. But to their surprise, they found that a main hull with two outriggers was more stable, faster, and cheaper to maintain. “I think because we weren’t a shipbuilder, we really came at it with a very fresh look,” says Krone.

****

莱多斯的三块业务都发展稳健。今年一季度,国防收入强劲增长了7%;占收入三分之一的民用部门增长了2%;卫生保健是最强劲的部门,收入增长了9%。该部门贡献了18%的收入,主要针对医疗保险欺诈并提供残疾检查,该业务最核心的是管理马里兰州弗雷德里克国家癌症研究实验室,该实验室每年预算达5.4亿美元。

这家闪闪发光的国家实验室坐落在华盛顿以北45英里,凯托克廷山脚下宁静的山坡上。1972年该实验室由前美国总统尼克松从生物武器研究机构迪特里克堡中分拆出来,主要任务是研究癌症、艾滋病和其他太难或太不确定的,私营部门很难从中获利的领域。2008年,莱多斯获得了50亿美元的运营合同,并在2015年增加了15亿美元。

在占地33万平方英尺的设施内部,一间黑暗的实验室里,高功率显微镜下激光正在照射“汤米的跳舞分子”。分子是癌细胞内的RAS蛋白,在黑色显示屏上呈锯齿状排列。蛋白质编码基因突变是30%人类癌症的根源。“汤米”指的是在莱多斯工作的科学家汤米·特比维尔,他正在研究可不可以直接定位导致一些最致命疾病的突变蛋白,从而治疗胰腺、结肠和肺部癌症。如果有药物可以抑制RAS蛋白,就能够拯救数百万人的生命,但私营部门在研究30年一无所获后已经基本放弃。

特比维尔留着整齐的白胡子,戴着黑眼镜,实验室外套里穿着牛仔裤,他在实验室里一边四处奔波一边解释说,该项目跟踪跳舞分子并测量速度,为移动方式而创建计算机模型,希望能够发现突变的RAS中可用药物攻击的新漏洞。实验室的另一角,价值100万美元的机器人装置正在将不同的化合物注入RAS蛋白的测试板中。

莱多斯的科学家还有一台价值700万美元的低温电子显微镜,美国研究癌症人员都可以免费使用。另一个项目的重点是想办法降低注射宫颈癌疫苗所需剂量和成本。

“这是国家实验室履行使命的完美例证。”莱多斯生物医学研究子公司的首席科学家莱恩·弗里德曼表示。“RAS是一些最常见癌症的关键,尽管付出了艰苦卓著的努力,还是没有人能够(设计)抑制剂。”实验室的努力开始取得成果。今年将开始人体临床试验,测试一些有望治疗RAS相关癌症的药物,不过能否成功尚不确定。

All three Leidos divisions are in healthy shape. Defense revenue grew a robust 7% in the first quarter of this year; the civilian unit, which makes up a third of revenue, was up 2%; and health care was the strongest segment, posting a 9% revenue gain. This unit, which contributes 18% of revenue, targets Medicare fraud and provides disability exams, but the crown jewel of the business is the management of the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research in Maryland, which sports a $540 million annual budget.

The gleaming national lab sits on a serene hillside at the foot of the Catoctin Mountains, 45 miles north of Washington, D.C. Split off from nearby Fort Detrick, home of the nation’s bioweapons research, by President Nixon in 1972, the lab’s charge is to focus on cancer, AIDS, and other areas that have proved too tough or too uncertain to be profitable for the private sector. Leidos won a $5 billion contract in 2008 to run the lab and added a $1.5 billion extension in 2015.

In one darkened lab room in the ?bowels of the 330,000-square-foot facility, “Tommy’s dancing molecules” are getting zapped with laser light in a high-powered microscope. Appearing as zigzagging dots across a black display, the molecules are RAS proteins inside of cancer cells. Mutations of the gene that encodes the instructions for making the protein are at the root of 30% of all human cancers. “Tommy” is Tommy Turbyville. A scientist working for Leidos, he is trying to figure out if there’s a way to directly target the mutant proteins, which cause some of the deadliest forms of the disease, including cancer in the pancreas, colon, and lungs. The discovery of a drug that inhibits RAS could save millions of lives, but the private sector, which has come up empty after 30 years, has largely given up pursuing it on its own.

With a trim white beard and black glasses, and wearing jeans under his lab coat, Turbyville is full of energy as he bounds across the lab to explain that by tracking the dancing molecules, measuring their speed, and creating computer models for how they move, the project aims to uncover new vulnerabilities in mutant RAS that could be attacked with drugs. In another part of the lab, a $1 million robotic setup is injecting different compounds into test plates of RAS proteins.

Leidos scientists also operate a $7 million cryo-electron microscope that cancer researchers all over the country can use for free. Another project is focused on finding a way to lower the required dosage—and cost—of administering the HPV vaccine.

“It’s the perfect example of what a national lab should be doing,” says Len Freedman, chief scientist at Leidos’s biomedical research subsidiary. “RAS is behind some of the most common cancers, but despite thunderous efforts, nobody has gotten close to [designing] an inhibitor.” Still, the lab’s efforts are starting to bear fruit. Clinical trials for humans are starting this year for several promising drugs to address some RAS-related cancers, though it’s unknown whether the trials will succeed.

****

返回圣迭戈后,近来海上猎人号的大部分时间都在码头,大约每个月都要测试一次软硬件调整。实地来看,这艘船比图片上显得要大,几乎有半个足球场那么长,而且带两个尖头的外伸支架和锋利船头显得格外凶悍。驾驶舱里有个塑料草裙舞女孩摆件,写着“祝你好运”,除此之外没有人类的痕迹。未经许可的参观者不可参观甲板下面,显然不会是船员宿舍。“下面是潘多拉超导矿石(电影《阿凡达》里虚构的矿石——译者注)造的时间机器。”后来首席执行官克罗恩开玩笑说。

如今海上猎人号遇到最大的威胁是偶尔有闲逛的海狮爬到外伸支架上,而且一来就不愿意走。“只能等他们自己下船。”加州阳光下库克微笑着说,此时巨型驱逐舰和货船正在蓝色海湾里航行,驶过了附近著名的洛马岬灯塔。(财富中文网)

本文发表于《财富》杂志2019年6月刊,标题为《公海探险》。

译者:Ms

Back in San Diego, Sea Hunter spends most of its time these days in dock, going out to test new tweaks to its hardware and software about once a month. In person, the ship is larger than it looks in pictures—nearly half the length of a football field—and more fierce, with its two pointed outriggers and sharp bow. There’s a small plastic “good luck” hula girl in the cockpit but almost no other human touches. Visitors without clearance aren’t allowed to see what’s below deck, although it’s obviously not crew quarters. “That’s where the unobtainium time machine is,” CEO Krone jokes later.

The biggest threat to the ship these days is the occasional loafing sea lion that clambers onto one of the outriggers and won’t be moved. “You just have to wait until they get off,” says Cook, smiling in the California sunshine, while giant destroyers and cargo ships ply the blue waters of the bay and cruise past the famed Point Loma Lighthouse nearby.

This article appears in the June 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Adventure on the High Seas.”

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