Pentagon Networks Satellites to Stop Enemy Nuclear-Armed Missile Attacks
Video: Raytheon Engineers Develop New Infrared-Acoustic Sensor to Stop RPGs & ATGMs
By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
(Washington D.C.) It looks like an expanding red heat flash, or small, bright mini-ground explosion when a space-based infrared early warning sensor finds an enemy ICBM or ballistic missile shooting up into the sky, weapons which at times travel beyond the earth’s atmosphere at massive speeds, presenting serious threats to major ground locations such as ports, military bases or even entire cities. Ballistic missiles, and new generations of ICBMs being developed by potential adversaries bring increased range, precision, speed and reliability … and that is not even considering hypersonic attacks traveling at five times the speed of sound.
Oftentimes the first and best chance to activate any kind of defense against these threats naturally starts in space, one of many reasons why the Pentagon is fast-tracking new technologies for sensors, interceptors and of course an entirely new network of smaller, faster, lower-altitude and highly networked satellites.
The U.S. military services are putting up and networking hundreds of Low Earth Orbit satellites to expedite sensor to shooter times and help develop a continuous or consistent “track” of approaching threats as they transit from one radar envelope to another. This is particularly relevant with hypersonic attacks, as weapons moving at those speeds are too fast for radar tracking systems as they move from one segmented field of view to another, all the more reason why larger numbers of networked satellites are needed.
“In order to reduce the timeline from sensor to shooter, you are limited by latency In order to make all of this work, there needs to be standards that are used for communications for processing so nodes can work together and interoperate. The goal is to make high quality data acceptable to all users in real time, regardless of domain,” Arthur Dhallin, program management senior manager, Raytheon Intelligence & Space, one of the Pentagon’s industry partners now researching and prototyping new innovations to advance the effort.
The advent of better-networked, faster LEO satellites is moving fast for the Army and the Pentagon, who 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.
“We’ve been reliant upon GEO for decades. LEO satellites, being much closer, dramatically reduce the latency that is inherent in satellite communication. They increase the throughput for more data. With the smaller form factor we can get more points of presence on the battlefield closer to the tactical edge,” an expert Army engineer told former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy in Sept. of last year at Project Convergence in Arizona at Yuma Proving Grounds.
This dynamic, and the pace at which enemy threats are evolving, is providing the inspiration for why the U.S. military services and industry partners are pushing the limits of technical innovation and enterprising new methods of tracking, networking and transmitting time-crucial warfare data. This includes the adoption of new technical standards to enable interoperability and modernization, hardened transport layers such as GPS and RF connectivity and large scale cloud-migration and data processing among ground terminals. All of this is intended to keep pace with how quickly new generations of satellites are heading into space.
Making this data access and hardening possible, Raytheon innovators explained, requires common sets of IP protocol technical standards to be architected in an open, modular way across otherwise federated systems. This circumstance forms the conceptual basis for Raytheon’s emerging Enterprise Ground Services (EGS) –compatible Dashboard, a user-friendly monitor system engineered to connect, share and organize seemingly vast or otherwise less accessible pools of crucial data. The prototype system leverages the latest in visualization technologies and cloud migration systems to access, secure and network data between satellites themselves as well as ground terminals.
“We are planning a ground system well in advance of satellites going up. We are doing a study looking at the software and exploring how we can innovate with digital transformation,” said Dave Sutton, director, business development, Raytheon.
Sutton also added that EGS innovations are deeply immersed in the use of AI and machine learning to analyze, organize and present time-sensitive information to human decision-makers. AI-empowered cloud technology can of course quickly access vital intelligence information across otherwise detached or disaggregated nodes and hardware systems, quickly enabling rapid access to data. This can be brought to fruition, in large measure, through upgradeable software, increased virtualization and common technical standards.
While extra security measures are needed with cloud systems to ensure potential intruders cannot leverage vast amounts of data through a single point of entry … a cloud infrastructure fortified by machine learning and AI can quickly discern unrecognized activity, compare it against a known database, perform near real-time analytics and identify anomalies to better harden an entire system.
“We are constantly evolving commercial software stack that we continually try to hack and attack. We can see if something happened and we can already start to look and see what we need to do if our terminal goes out. We can see cyber threats and threats to satellites and we can model to circumvent these threats,” Sutton added.
Sutton said EGS will favor increased ease of use and make it so “you don’t have to type in the 0s and 1s. Now it is all mouse driven, this makes the training better."
“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.
The accelerated targeting technology used in 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. Success with all of this relies heavily on the kind of data sharing, networking and interoperability among satellites and ground terminals Raytheon is working to address.
“Project Convergence 20 utilized commercial LEO and MEO ground terminals for transmitting the Sensor to Shooter threads to populate Fires and Mission Command systems with target data Events such as Project Convergence 20 began initial evaluations of the viability of commercial high throughput, low latency SATCOM links to increase path diversity for a more resilient tactical network and increase the points of network connectivity across echelons,” Paul Mehney, spokesman for the Army’s PEO C3T, told Warrior.
The Army is working closely with industry in an effort to stay ahead of the technical curve with LEO satellites in particular, as they are at the moment less mature than MEO satellites but showing great promise, Mehney added.
Initiatives now being pursued by the Army and industry, such as Raytheon’s EGS-compatible solutions, are closely intertwined with commercial satellite technologies, an important and growing emphasis as the Pentagon seeks to optimize the latest innovations while also hardening or ruggedizing them for military use.
Interestingly, the kinds of challenges Raytheon’s technical efforts are intended to address are evidenced in an essay on commercial satellite use for the military from as far back as 1994. The paper, called “Military Use of Commercial Communication Satellites” in the Journal of Air Law and Commerce, cites the extraordinary advantages and limitations of how commercial Satcom was used in the Persian Gulf War. Roughly one half of the satellite communications in the region were provided by commercial systems. INMARSAT was used to send as many as 152,000 messages per day passing along satellite, microwave and landlines at the height of the conflict, the essay says. The system was also used successfully between
U.S. and British warships, however with some limitations. Some information, such as crucial news broadcasts, had to be delivered by courier due to equipment connectivity and interoperability between the ships experienced other challenges as well, according to the paper.
“Most U.S. ships did not have facsimile transmission capabilities. Moreover, significant communications circuit incompatibilities existed between Navy and U.S. Air Force units, slowing the implementation of the daily Air Tasking Order,” the essay writes.
Significantly, the 1994 essay highlights some of the known advantages of commercial satellite use, and also points out the kinds of technical hurdles that the Army and industry innovators such as Raytheon seek to address through a use of common technical standards and an open architecture framework designed to optimize interoperability.
“Use of commercial SATCOM capability will provide commanders with multiple communication options during contested and congested network environments,” Mehney 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.