Raytheon [RTN] officials say it is clear that with conflict winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan and budget pressures, radical change is needed for unmanned aircraft systems to be affordable and innovative and provide warfighters with what they need in the future.
“One of the most important things that we can do as a country is make sure that they have open, government owned interfaces,” Mark Bigham, vice president, business development at Intelligence and Information Systems at Raytheon, said recently at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) North America conference in Washington, D.C.
With open interfaces the government can control different components and compete those components, and the competition “drives down costs and increases innovation,” he said.
Costs have risen over time and innovation has been slow to enter the market because of some of the pressures, to include some proprietary UAS air to ground links, something that “actually puts handcuffs” on the government’s ability to accelerate change and fielding, he said.
Those types of interfaces need to become government owned and open, Bigham said. That way the government can compete them, putting the power in the government and services’ hands. It also facilitates rapid change and equipment fielding.
“Once you have an open interface you can allow others to get in the market and drive down cost,” he said. “Competition is good; it does drive down price and drives up innovation.”
Raytheon has a long history of experience with sensors, intelligence and information systems and weapons, the bulk of the UAS world beyond the platform.
The Raytheon record is good, Bigham said, with products on 10 different platforms, for example flying 60,000 hours with Global Hawk, and an equipment availability rate of about 99 percent through 2010.
“We do use open modular architecture so that we can practice what we preach,” Bigham said. Additionally, Raytheon participates with the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the architecture working group.
Raytheon recently submitted an unsolicited proposal to the Air Force that would offer essentially a ground station modernization, a service life extension program that would “dramatically reduce the cost of maintaining the ground station for the next decade at a fraction of the price of the current program.”
Raytheon is investing in open architecture, and ramping up its innovative efforts, in information processing, sensors and weapons.
Neil Peterson, director of strategy and business development for Space and Airborne Systems at Raytheon, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, said their innovation centers on smart sensors.
The Airborne Cueing and Exploitation System, ACES Hy, is an innovative, new capability, he said, that uses a spectrometer to identify gases, materials and other elements, for example, the paint on a Ford pickup. Now, the instrument is part of a sensor that’s been flown for the Air Force.
The company is under contract to the Air Force for production units to be delivered in the third quarter of 2012. The unit will be deployed and integrated on Predator UAV. It provides a new capability for a new ID and reduces the operator workload while leveraging the unique spectrum, Peterson said.
Another system he highlighted was the SeaVue Expanded Mission Capability, a radar with an exploitation and tracking tool that allows automatic data correlation and allows operators to find and concentrate on specific targets more quickly. Based on results and flight tests, the company was recently awarded a $45 million indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract for Customs and Border Patrol, to retrofit and modify aircraft such as the Dash 8.
In March, the Missile Defense Agency bought four Multi-Spectral Targeting System B units (MTS-B), which Raytheon has delivered. The company is also working on new processing and exploitation tools for autonomous missile defense detection and track.
JC Lede, director of unmanned systems at Raytheon Missile Systems, said automation is another path toward affordability. The company has a new factory that is heavily automated now up and running producing the advanced state-of-the-art tri-mode seeker for the Small Diameter Bomb II. This is the seeker that would also be used on the Joint Air-To-Ground Missile should Raytheon win that program, now in competition.
The automated factory “allows us to reduce the cost of that new munition,” Lede said.
For another affordable initiative on the missile side, Raytheon is investing its own funds in a Small Tactical Munition.
“We saw the need for a much smaller munition that would allow you to utilize a more affordable munition…right now we’re using the same munition whether it’s a tank or a pick- up truck or a group of people on the ground, while not all of those require that class of weapon,” Lede said.
The STM weighs 12 pounds and is 21.5 inches long, and carries a five-pound warhead. It is a precision guided gravity drop bomb, which incorporates laser guided and has a GPS system, meaning it can engage from standoff distances and attack moving and static targets. Lab integration and test is complete and flight tests will be done later this year.
Additionally, the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform would be able to carry the munitions without impacting its primary goal.
Also highlighted was an affordability initiative where Raytheon won a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on its Persistent Close Air Support (CAS) program. This would allow people on the ground to control air vehicles and be able to call in CAS much more rapidly and with much better situational awareness.
This technology would ease the burden on UAS operators and eventually provide the ability to get multiple air vehicles controlled by one operator, Lede said.
Raytheon’s approach is different from the way UAS capabilities are usually acquired, Bigham said, and the company believes it can provide advantages to the government while significantly reducing cost going forward.