2030-focused Raytheon Unit Preps for New 6th Gen Fighters

Kris Osborn

VIDEO: Pentagon & Raytheon Innovate New "Cyber Resilience" Tools

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington D.C.) A stealthy, supersonic, semi-autonomous 6th-gen fighter maneuvers undetected through heavily armed enemy air space, evades radar detection to …. jam the adversaries command and control systems with EW weapons, gather, analyze and transmit targeting data across huge areas of terrain in milliseconds using AI-empowered computing, launch and operate groups of nearby minidrones, fire air-launched hypersonic missiles and then... incinerate enemy aircraft with fighter-jet fired precision laser weapons … all while flying too quickly and stealthily to be targeted.

Taking this hypothetical mission yet another step farther, what if the 6th-Gen fighter not only performed many of its missions with complete autonomy but also operated with a kind of self-regenerating coating or even composite armor which used synthetic biology to essentially regenerate and restore external structures lost or damaged by enemy fire?

In 2030, all this could be reality.

The alignment and collective execution of these now-in-development technical attributes rests almost entirely on the continued pace of Pentagon and industry innovation now striving to prepare for and anticipate the unknown, if not even somewhat mysterious, future warfare environment. Making these things happen, and integrating them to one another such that they complement one another in a coordinated fashion, requires visionary thinking, some amount of guessing and a delicate blending of art and science combining the best conceptual theorizing with early evidence of scientific promise.

This complex, yet highly sought after mixture of sensibilities and science, it could easily be said, captures the intent of many Pentagon efforts to prepare for warfare decades from now. It is the reason entities like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s, Lockheed’s Skunk works Works or Raytheon’s lesser- known Advanced Concepts and Technology (ACT} ) units exist… to explore the realm of the seemingly impossible and innovate yet-to-be-envisioned warfare technologies.

While many of these kinds of units have been well known and operational for decades, Raytheon’s ACT has just fully emerged within the last three to five years. Of course innovation, basic research, wargaming and future warfare preparations have always been on the radar at places like Raytheon, ACT came into existence as part of an effort to harness, leverage, optimize and “pool” the best and most promising thinking. Much like DARPA or Skunk Works, ACTs scope is varied and perhaps too broad to specify, yet there are some emerging areas now showing particular promise, such as those cited in the aforementioned 6th Gen fighter hypothetical scenario.

“We look for innovative solutions and disruptive technologies taking on challenges such as those focused on by DARPA programs. We are not a pure research house, rather we develop new technologies and transition them to the battlefield,” Tay Fitzgerald, Acting Vice President of Advanced Concepts and Technology, Raytheon Intelligence & Space, told Warrior in an interview.

Based in McKinney, Texas with sites in El Segundo, California and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Raytheon’s ACT employs more than 1,000 scientists, engineers, academics and other experts to explore hundreds of programs focused on both nearer and farther term technologies.

Raytheon’s ACT, for example, developed the now operational High Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS) which uses a multi-spectral targeting system pod to perform laser surveillance and counter-drone attack missions from a lightweight, high speed tactical combat vehicle from a variety of vehicles.

“HELWS was a concept in ACT a few years ago and nowthat went from whiteboard to delivery, in less than 24 months;, it has logged 3,000 operational hours,” Fitzgerald said.

Much of the innovation with HELWS, and other comparable applications, rests upon the ability to not only engineer mobile expeditionary sources of electrical power but build smaller, more adaptable form factors able to integrate onto fast-moving platforms. This is particularly true regarding laser weapons, as they have been operational for several years now on large platforms. The cutting edge work on laser weapons, therefore, has been centered upon a need to conduct “power-scaling” of laser weapons and engineer sufficient sources of power small and light enough to travel successfully on a stealth fighter jet, yet scalable and strong enough to achieve the sought after destructive effects.

“We are moving rapidly and asking our hardware to do more with less,” Fitzgerald said.

Interestingly, while much of ACTs work pertains to weapons guidance systems, and next-gen major platforms such as planes and armored vehicles, large portions of the emphasis is naturally now placed upon the supporting subsystems such as computing, information processing systems and sensors being engineered to surpass previous limitations or performance boundaries. With this in mind, information itself, particularly when it comes to networking an attacking force to expedite sensor-to-shooter time and quicken the “kill web,” is increasingly viewed as a defining weapon of war. This premise, which relies often upon an AI-empowered ability to gather, analyze, organize and share time-sensitive data, forms the conceptual backbone of the Pentagon’s emerging Joint All Domain Command Command and Control program. Fitzgerald explained that the JADC2 program is receiving a lot of attention from ACT, which is deeply immersed in the testing and development of advanced algorithms for signal processing, micro-electronics, autonomy and secure data networking.

Sensing and information analysis breakthroughs, Fitzgerald explained, are often equally if not more more impactful than other innovations by virtue of the scale and scope of their impact across platforms. For instance, she referred to how, working with academia, scientists at ACT developed a new microwave radiation detector 100,000 times more sensitive than existing technologies. The sensor technology, Raytheon ACT data explains, brings large implications for

satellites, radar and laser systems. Called a bolometer, the sensor achieves its margin of difference through the use of a material called graphene and a device which “acts as a semiconductor switch to detect infrared radiation at very high speeds with very high sensitivity,” a Raytheon essay states.

Developmental speed, heavily emphasized by ACT engineers, is based upon the concept of exploring, testing and refining the art of the possible with a “don’t be afraid to fail” sensibility, Fitzgerald explained. A learning curve and developmental trajectory can be massively expedited through the adventurous willingness to fail and take well-reasoned risks. This is where areas such as digital engineering can come in, Fitzgerald explained, because advanced simulation and computer modeling can now accurately assess performance parameters and design models of major platforms before anything needs to be built.

Digital engineering, wherein competing technical configurations can be refined and analyzed before any “metal is bent,” is part of why the Air Force’s 6th-Gen aircraft has taken to the skies years ahead of schedule. While specifics on the plane and any information on vendors involved are naturally not known, the Air Force did announce that a demonstrator 6th-Gen prototype stealth fighter has flown. ACT’s emphasis upon cultivating a risk-taking culture designed to accelerate innovation and experimentation aligns with strategies regularly outlined by the military services and the Pentagon. For instance Air Force Acquisition Executive Dr. William Roper recently published a paper about digital engineering and regularly mentions how it is fast-changing the acquisition landscape through programs such as the new 6th-Gen aircraft.

All of this work, going on across DoD, DARPA and industry, not to mention the threat environment and the pace of technological change, might be one reason why Gen. John Murray, the Commanding General of Army Futures Command, recently told me his unit is now preparing for warfare in a “hyperactive battlefield” by 2040, if not sooner.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest*. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.*


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