Ross Wilkers

M&A

How Curtiss-Wright is bringing PacStar into the fold

Pacific Star Communications’ journey began in 2000 as a reseller of military communications hardware and software, then the company applied lessons from that experience in its move to gradually become a maker.

That shift eventually led PacStar to start working with Curtiss-Wright on investigating new technologies and other applications of those tools. Then in November, Curtiss-Wright closed its $400 million acquisition of PacStar as part of the former’s broader push into the defense technology landscape.

Curtiss-Wright’s defense product line is centered on commercial-off-the-shelf models and subsystems, which then get integrated onto the platform. The company made one move into the data link and software landscape last year with its $50 million acquisition of Tactical Communications Group.

“Where we don’t have a lot of technology is actually in connecting the vehicles together and that’s right in the heart of PacStar’s strength,” said Chris Wiltsey, senior vice president and general manager for defense solutions at Curtiss-Wright.

“Adding that capability is just incredibly obvious to us,” Wiltsey added to me in a joint interview. “The product line is complementary to us… and then conversely the size of our catalog means we can apply PacStar’s technology and especially (their) IQ-Core Software to the large Curtiss-Wright catalog.”

Peggy Miller, PacStar’s CEO since 2015 and hence leader of its shift, is staying with the business as senior general manager.

Those five years included wins that gradually grew in size, culminating with the potential $300 million contract won last year to supply wireless command post networking equipment to the Army.

Miller told me in the same interview that Curtiss-Wright was one of a number of strategic partners PacStar has worked with during this phase of growth, but felt that aligning with one was the next best step.

How did PacStar get to the point where a strategic buyer like Curtiss-Wright was interested in acquiring them? Miller mentioned how nearly one-third of PacStar’s 145 employees are engineers to check the technical expertise box, but then there is the customer knowledge aspect as well.

Miller told me that PacStar breaks out those engineers into three groups -- one on hardware and another on software, then a third as described below that links both the physical and digital.

“One of the secrets is our network engineering group because you can have hardware and you can have software, but if you can’t effectively connect to the networks that the military is deploying, then you really don’t have something that’s useful,” Miller told me.

PacStar’s focus on smaller-form offerings as an alternative to those larger in size was another element that Curtiss-Wright was attracted to as customer requirements for in-theater technology evolve.

“Think about especially an expeditionary force, where the configuration of the networked system is dynamic and changing, and the technology needs to enable that,” Wiltsey said. “It needs to allow the network to change and be very dynamic, and that can be difficult to do if you have a technical solution that is capable of doing that but cumbersome to use.”

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.

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