Given that it's a defense contractor and all, you'd probably expect Lockheed Martin (LMT 0.05%) to appreciate the value of strategic surprise -- but today's news out of LockMart was nonetheless quite unexpected.

On Tuesday, Lockheed revealed a move in a very surprising direction for an arms merchant to be taking: It's begun a green-energy project. And it's begun it in China. Specifically, Lockheed announced that in cooperation with "green" Chinese enterprise Reignwood Group, it has begun developing an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, or OTEC, pilot power plant off the coast of southern China.

OTEC refers to using temperature differentials in ocean waters to generate power. Lockheed didn't go into the specifics of how OTEC works, scientifically, but it did note that because these differentials are more or less permanent, the power generated by an OTEC plant is consistent, running "24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

Reignwood and Lockheed signed a memorandum of agreement to build the plant Saturday. The plan, as Lockheed describes it, is to build a 10-megawatt plant off the Chinese coast. 10 megawatts should be sufficient to supply all the energy needed to power a "green resort" that Reignwood will be building on the mainland.

This plant would also serve as a pilot project. If successful, it could presage additional offshore plants that could be built -- for many billions of dollars of project revenue -- to generate power of anywhere from 10 megawatts to 100 megawatts apiece.