Pentagon Builds New Sensing Weapons for Space War
photo: Maxar Satellites
Video: Raytheon Engineers Develop New Infrared-Acoustic Sensor to Stop RPGs & ATGMs
By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
(Washington D.C.) A 6th-Generation stealth fighter has already taken flight, a new class of ICBMs will soon fly through space, hundreds of new Low Earth Orbit satellites are shooting up beyond the earth’s atmosphere and emerging hypersonic weapons are moving from design to production in record time …. all because of fast-moving digital engineering innovations.
Digital engineering, a method of using 3D virtualized representations and engineering models of new high-end platforms and weapons systems is already changing the Pentagon’s acquisition paradigm and exponentially accelerating the pace at which new systems become ready for war.
China and Russia are already claiming to fire operational hypersonic weapons, anti-satellite missiles and AI-enabled systems propelled by quantum computing. China is raising alarm bells with its industrial capacity to build new carriers, amphibs and destroyers in rapid succession, at a staggering pace. This may not mean that rival weapons systems and platforms truly rival U.S. ones, yet the pace of development continues to cause alarm at the Pentagon, further inspiring this massive push to accelerate the development of new weapons through digital engineering.
As part of this effort, the Pentagon and all the military services are working with industry partners such as Raytheon to refine and implement digital engineering methods throughout the entire sphere of scientific and technologically-focused new weapons programs.
“We need to think about how to get faster. Our adversaries aren’t slowing down, and neither can we,” Madison Dye, WorldView Legion engineering lead, Space & C2 Systems, Raytheon Intelligence & Space, told Warrior in an interview.
Raytheon continues to draw upon methods of digital engineering to build telescope subsystems for new, high-resolution Low Earth Orbit (LEO) commercial satellites, such as those increasingly being used by the U.S. military services. Maxar’s WorldView Legion, a fleet of six Earth-observation satellites, will offer a more accurate and timely view of the ground.
“Our instrument collects images and effectively stitches together a panoramic picture of the ground,” Wallis Laughrey, vice president of Space Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, said in a Raytheon essay. “The amount of images collected will be huge. Each satellite will collect imagery that could cover approximately 700,000 square kilometers – about the size of Texas – every day.”
The Legion provides an accuracy measure of <5m CE90, meaning users can be 90-percent confident the identified feature is within a 5-meter radius of where the image suggests it is, the Maxar website states.
“We implemented digital models to rapidly increase the pace at which we were able to run through the thermal elastic analysis as well as understand the full end to end threat of the digital signal chain,” Matt Jenkins, digital engineering lead, Space & C2 Systems, Raytheon Intelligence & Space, told Warrior.
Using digital engineering to fast-track and upgrade commercial satellites of potential value to the U.S. military services synchronizes with ongoing Army work to integrate networking innovations.
“If a commander has multiple options to use such as commercial SATCOM, military SATCOM, high bandwidth military radios/waveforms and even commercial cellular in permissible environments, then the commander can choose the best network option for the mission or fall back to a different option in a contested environment,” Paul Mehney, Director of Communications, Army Program Executive Office C3T, told Warrior.
Air Force Acquisition Executive William Roper, one of the early leaders and proponents of implementing digital engineering, describes the process as a “digital trinity,” consisting of software development, computer modeling and the integration of common technical infrastructure standards. Roper articulates his vision in a well known essay he wrote called “There is No Spoon .. The New Digital Acquisition Reality.”
“This “digital trinity” — digital engineering and management, agile software, and open architecture — is the true successor to stealth: the next big paradigm shift for military 3 tech dominance. Rather than just building better systems, it builds systems better — opening doors to faster design, seamless assembly, and easier upgrades — and not a moment too soon!,” Roper writes in his essay.
These new, already proven innovations, were put to the test with the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance 6th-Gen aircraft which has already taken flight as well as the service’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program to build a new class of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles; both programs are moving at lightning speed, bringing new unprecedented measures of efficiency, speed, accuracy and effectiveness to an acquisition process typically encumbered by multi-year, bureaucratic milestones and procedures.
“With digital acquisition, the digital lifecycle must become as real as the physical one, and then eventually, even more real. One day we should design particular eSystems and view “printing” them in reality as unnecessary, even wasteful, as printing electronic documents today,” Roper’s paper explains.
Raytheon’s digital design work on the telescope subsystems for the satellite seems entirely consistent with Roper’s account of how the use of digital engineering enabled engineers to analyze large numbers of competing designs before “bending metal.” “Fly before you buy, no longer exists,” Roper writes.
Instead of building large groups of unproven and somewhat unexamined prototypes, weapons developers can perform needed analytics upon virtual replications and design models of what a particular offer might look like.
“Whoever is building a system can clearly see in a visual way what the parts look like and move them onto a digital screen in a 3D sense to see how things come together. How can we use digital engineering to make the physical manufacturing worth our time and cost efficient?” Dye explained.
Raytheon’s timing is aligned with the advent of better-networked, faster LEO satellites being pursued by the Army and the Pentagon. Army engineers, talking to the Secretary of the Army and a small group of reporters at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., recently talked about the rapid acceleration of LEO and MEO satellite acquisition, citing a plan to deploy as many as 4,500 of the satellites. There are roughly 600 of them deployed thus far, supported by current plans to add up to 60 per month.
The use of LEO satellites aligns with several crucial Pentagon space war aims, including a move to improve the connectivity, resilience and survivability of space assets. Connectivity comes in the form of “networking” the LEO satellites to share information and, in effect, blanket areas with coverage across expansive areas by space “nodes” to pass targeting data from one area to another to establish a continuous track.
The accelerated targeting technology, used earlier this year in an Army exercise in Arizona called Project Convergence 2020, was part of a large-scale Army effort to fight war and target enemies at “speed,” exponentially faster than any current processes. Overall, networking satellites, to drones, to mini-drones to ground attack weapons, enabled by sensor-to-shooter pairing done by an AI system called FIRESTORM, changes the Army paradigm for modern war in a substantial way. Technologies applied during the experiment were able to quickly align and optimize sensors-with-shooters in as little as twenty seconds, taking a massive, breakthrough leap beyond current norms of up to twenty minutes.
Digital engineering supports this process by getting the most advanced systems ready for war on an expedited timeframe, Army developers explained.
“Taking information from space-based sensors and passing them to ground and air based effectors seemed really simple and happened super fast, but it was very complex and it took us weeks of hard coding and work to get it done,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, Director, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told reporters at Project Convergence 2020.
Part of the accelerated process, intended to shorten the developmental cycle and get cutting edge, new weapons technologies to war quickly, without compromising technical quality or sophistication, involves building weapons requirements directly into industry requests for proposal and streamline key procedures such as critical design reviews and preliminary design reviews for new weapons programs, Dye explained.
“Development won’t be done by powerpoint anymore. It will be accomplished through dedicated engineering conversations regarding technical data. This will drive down costs everywhere. We are handing over technical data through purely digital means in a digital environment,” Dye said.
During the Army’s Project Convergence, for example, an armored combat vehicle in Arizona engaged in a “direct fire” mission to destroy an enemy tank target, after receiving targeting cues via radio from an overhead surveillance drone, mini-drone and helicopter. In addition, that combat vehicle received informational details and locations specifics on the target first from fast-moving, low-altitude satellites operated in Washington State.
A series of smaller, faster, lower-altitude Low Earth Orbit satellites operating from Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state sent targeting information to live attack experiments in real time happening at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., bringing new dimensions to high-speed, long-range targeting.
“What you saw here was the first phase of information being fed by LEO satellites. That is what was going through Washington state into a surrogate ground control station. Then that ground station was sending data,” Maj. Gen. John George, Commanding General of the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, Army Futures Command, told Warrior on the ground at Yuma.
The exercise leveraged emerging technology from LEO and Medium Earth Orbit satellites, new satellite applications intended to increase “mesh” networking beyond the existing capability of existing Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites. LEO systems can also help sustain space and satellite functionality in the event that some assets in space are destroyed by enemy fire, by building in a needed measure of redundancy. In these circumstances, networked satellites can retain operational mission status if one is jammed or hit by enemy anti-satellite weapons.
“Typically we do it over GEO. We did it here over MEO and LEO, but they are still somewhat immature. By PC 21, we believe we will have full 24/7 coverage in North America to continue our experimentation. Once we get to 4,500 satellites within the next year or two, we will have global coverage with LEO,” the Army engineer said.
Building and utilizing this fast-growing number of LEO satellites is the process Raytheon’s digital engineering innovations are intended to support, as it may offer the only avenue through which to build and deploy this many new systems.
“We laid in place a front-end digital threat that pulled together models usually done manually, to map a thermal environment into a structural model. We put that through our optical model to measure the change in performance. We took a task that was normally 6,000 hours of work and turned it into a process that was 2,000 hours of work,” Jenkins said.
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.*