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  • Fighting More, Spending Less
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 4:53 PM on Nov 18, 2010

    The Pentagon is going to have less to spend in the next decade, but those investments will land disproportionately in a small cluster of technologies that include the increasingly sophisticated fields of airborne electronic and cyberattack and directed energy weapons including high-power lasers and microwaves.

    U.S. and U.K. companies have been realigning their structures to profit from this new wave of intelligence, cyber-, information and electronic weaponry as well as the sophisticated sensors that will guide them. Three BAE Systems executives sat down with Aviation Week to discuss how their company is moving into the rearranged commercial battlefield for defense products.

    “We reorganized over the last two years to fit those capabilities under the same umbrella as ISR solutions,” says Mike Roberts, deputy general manager of ISR at BAE Systems. “We had pieces scattered across the organization, and we wanted more synergy from about 20 areas including acoustics, underwater systems, advanced airborne platforms, measurements and signatures intelligence (Masint), electro-optics, UAVs, IFF, signals intelligence (Sigint) and space-based electronics – anything with an ISR component and it turned out to be an interesting collection of capabilities.”

    Non-kinetic weaponry is another part of the defense industry revolution. Devices that can project pulses of high power microwave (HPM) with enough strength to destroy a foe’s electronics – such as computers, communications, sensors – from the air are a key part of future combat plans. As a result the U.S. Air Force is working on weaponizing HPM devices that can fit into the weapons bay of a high performance UAV like the X-47 or the manned, stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

    The service wants a multi-shot, reasonably directable HPM weapon that can perform a mission and return to base.

    “The speed of response [during combat] and reduced collateral damage is going to drive [defense] investments,” says Clark Freise, head of the research and development center for BAE Systems’ electronic solutions group. BAE Systems is investing deeply in both the U.S. and the U.K., for example in directed energy weapons.

    “There are two benefits to directed energy weapons that I think will drive where investments go and how they are employed,” Freise says. “One is the ability to apply your effect to the target at the speed of light and to shorten the timeline in an uncertain environment. The second is collateral damage. With directed energy you can put a pinpoint illumination – in the case of a laser – anywhere you want it. With HPM (high-power microwaves), you have the potential to go directly after systems instead of the people standing around them.”

    “Packaging it internally or in a pod and getting the directivity and power levels you want is a big physics problem,” says Freise.  “Our company, in the U.S. and the U.K., has multiple programs. Eventually, directed energy weapon are going to be a regular part of the inventory. When it comes to directed energy weapons, the available platforms and what you want to do with them will drive you toward certain answers.”

    The phenomenon of this convergence of technology is being driven by the commonality of processing power that uses new, specialized algorithms to link and fuse the data from a growing variety of unique sensors.

    “Our Diamond open software architecture – with its library of components and a software development toolkit – gives us the basic building blocks and allows significantly higher software reuse in the big double digits,” Roberts says.

    Two emerging areas aimed at the warfighter are passive infrared sensor detection (by picking up the glint of reflected IR) and improved hyper-spectral detection (by reordering the frequency slices for detecting various targets).

    “From what we’ve seen, [that tailoring] depends on the platform, application and what you are looking for,” says Chris Cyprus, business development director for ISR Solutions. That will determine “whether you exploit lots of small slices of the spectrum [hyper-spectral] or whether you tackle a few large chunks [multi-spectral]. We feel the need for both approaches. One technique is not enough.”

    Tags: ar99, directed-energy, BAESystems

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