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Pentagon pursues information 'kill web' at massive speeds

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Information itself, 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 and Control program (JADC2).

This program, and cutting-edge work to refine the ability to weaponize information and networking, is one of a few large focus areas for the Defense Department and major industry science, technology and weapons units such as Lockheed’s Skunk Works and Raytheon’s more recently emerging Advanced Concepts and Technology (ACT).

Tay Fitzgerald, acting vice president of ACT, Raytheon Intelligence & Space, told Warrior that the JADC2 program is receiving a lot of attention from her organization, which is deeply immersed in the testing and development of advanced algorithms for signal processing, micro-electronics, autonomy and secure data networking.

Interestingly, while much of ACT’s work pertains to weapons guidance systems, and next-generation major platforms such as planes and armored vehicles, large portions of the emphasis are naturally now placed upon the supporting subsystems such as computing, information processing systems and sensors being engineered to surpass previous limitations or performance boundaries.

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Sensing and information analysis breakthroughs, Fitzgerald explained, are often equally if not 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 that "acts as a semiconductor switch to detect infrared radiation at very high speeds with very high sensitivity," a Raytheon essay states.

US Pentagon in Washington DC building looking down aerial view from above (iStock)

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 said, 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 sixth-generation 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 sixth-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 sixth-gen aircraft.

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All of this work, going on across DoD 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 managing editor of Warrior Maven and the defense editor of The National Interest --

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