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Pentagon builds new sensing weapons for space war

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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.

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“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 The National Interest in an interview. 

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

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. 

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“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,” said Matt Jenkins, digital engineering lead, Space & C2 Systems, Raytheon Intelligence & Space.

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 an essay he wrote called “There is No Spoon: The New Digital Acquisition Reality.” 

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“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.

— Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest —

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