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BMD

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Developing advanced seekers for ballistic missile defense system
17 Mar 2020


Next-generation seeker technology will help protect the U.S. and its allies from ballistic missiles

BAE Systems has been awarded a contract from Lockheed Martin to design and manufacture next-generation infrared seekers for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) weapon system, providing critical targeting technology that helps protect the U.S. and its allies from ballistic missiles. The sensor design work will improve the missile defense system's ability to neutralize more threats and improve its manufacturability.

"The THAAD seeker is a key product in our precision munitions portfolio that's recognized for its proven intercept capabilities. It demonstrates our ability to deliver advanced targeting and guidance systems for critical precision munitions," said Barry Yeadon, THAAD program director at BAE Systems. "This award is a testament to our ongoing success with the program, and enables us to advance our proven design and take the program into the future in support of the Missile Defense Agency's mission."

The THAAD weapon system intercepts hostile ballistic missiles with kinetic force during their final, or terminal, phase of flight. BAE Systems' seeker provides infrared imagery that guides interceptors to their intended targets, destroying enemy warheads inside or outside the Earth's atmosphere. The company has been developing and producing missile defense seeker technology for more than four decades, and has delivered more than 500 THAAD seekers to date.

THAAD is an integral part of the MDA's mission to field an integrated, layered, ballistic missile defense system. Its high-altitude intercept capability mitigates the effects of enemy weapons before they reach the ground, and its non-explosive kinetic impact minimizes the risk of detonation. THAAD is a highly effective system for addressing ballistic missile threats.

BAE Systems' THAAD seekers are assembled, integrated, and tested at the company's facilities in Nashua, New Hampshire and Endicott, New York. Portions of the design work for the next-generation seeker technology will be conducted in Huntsville, Alabama, where the company is actively hiring and building a state-of-the-art facility. The THAAD seeker program provides an opportunity for engineers to join a cutting-edge design program at its early stages in the Rocket City. Those interested in applying should visit BAE Systems Jobs in Alabama.
https://csbaonline.org/research/pub...pTj_-4PVN6c2GLWqfZuI9wy58mFrDtrhZETOGAd52itIA
Forging the Tools of 21st Century Great Power Competition
March 16, 2020 Thomas G. Mahnken
Resources: Strategy & Policy


The U.S. national security community has, in recent years, begun to focus its attention on the need to compete with China and Russia. The move to embrace the reality of great power competition, and with it the prospect of great power war, comes after a three-decade respite from serious thinking about what it means to face an economically powerful and technologically sophisticated adversary in peace and in war. How can our governmental organizations, our defense planning premises and priorities, and the linkages among diverse elements of national power be revamped to focus our collective energies on a more demanding set of security challenges than has been the case since the end of the Cold War? Are there lessons that can be applied from the past 30 years – the era of “unipolarity,” the first Gulf War, and the post-9/11 conflicts? Our should we cast our mental template further back to identify useful policy antecedents, such as the period in which the United States organized for and adapted to long-term competition with the Soviet Union?

Thomas G. Mahnken, CSBA President and CEO and a member of the independent National Defense Strategy Commission, explores these and other questions in Forging the Tools of 21st Century Great Power Competition. Dr. Mahnken reviews our current national tools to compete and, if necessary, wage war in the future, looking back on decades of U.S.-Soviet rivalry to determine whether that very different experience can still shed light on current conditions. Chapters include assessments of alliance management, defense policy, arms control and competition, economic relations, political warfare and internal security. Also included is an appendix surveying past “whole-of-government” efforts to compete with the Soviet Union and resulting insights on the effectiveness of various instruments of power during the Cold War.

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Pentagon successfully tests hypersonic missile

Pentagon successfully tests hypersonic missile


AFPMarch 20, 2020



The Pentagon, pictured here from the air over Washington, DC in 2013, says it has successfully tested an unarmed prototype of a hypersonic missile (AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)

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Washington (AFP) - The United States announced Friday it has successfully tested an unarmed prototype of a hypersonic missile, a weapon that could potentially overwhelm an adversary's defense systems.

The Pentagon said a test missile flew at hypersonic speeds -- more than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5 -- to a designated impact point.

The test followed the first joint US Army and Navy flight experiment in October 2017, when the prototype missile demonstrated it could glide in the direction of a target at hypersonic speed.

"Today we validated our design and are now ready to move to the next phase towards fielding a hypersonic strike capability," Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe said in a statement.

Hypersonic weapons can take missile warfare, particularly nuclear warfare, to a new -- and, for many, frightening -- level.

They can travel much faster than current nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles at very low altitude, can switch direction in flight and do not follow a predictable arc like conventional missiles, making them much harder to track and intercept.

Even as conventionally armed, non-nuclear weapons, they are viewed by analysts as raising the danger of conflict, because an adversary might not know how they are armed when launched.

The Pentagon is pressing to catch up with rivals Moscow and Beijing in the race to develop hypersonics, even as it recognizes they could dangerously raise the risks of a nuclear conflict.

In its fiscal 2021 budget the US Defense Department requested $3.2 billion for hypersonic programs, up from over $2 billion in the current year. According to reports, the goal is a deployable hypersonic capability by 2023.
 

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Deterrence by Detection: A New Approach to Preventing Opportunistic Aggression | RealClearDefense

Deterrence by Detection: A New Approach to Preventing Opportunistic Aggression
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By Thomas G. Mahnken & Grace B. Kim

March 25, 2020
U.S. Air Force photo by A1C William Rosado

As both the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the 2019 National Defense Strategy Commission conclude, the United States urgently needs to develop new operational concepts to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In an era of constrained resources, it makes sense to identify, develop, and implement concepts that make effective use of the forces and capabilities we already have.

One of the most significant challenges the United States and our allies face is the need to prevent China or Russia from launching opportunistic acts of aggression. Beijing and Moscow have used sub-conventional gray zone aggression to erode international norms, undermine the U.S-led rules-based order, and shift the balance of power in their favor, all without sparking open armed conflict with the United States or its allies. They are also developing the ability to launch aggression rapidly against states on their periphery under cover of increasingly capable defenses in an effort to achieve a fait accompli.

The U.S. armed forces are poorly configured to meet the challenge of deterring such acts, which requires long-duration monitoring rather than episodic coverage. Most information-gathering platforms, such as satellites and manned aircraft, are scarce, expensive, and can provide only periodic coverage. Moreover, their expense both reinforces a tendency to under-invest in them and breeds a reluctance to put them in harm’s way.

The United States needs to rely more on capabilities that are less expensive, have greater persistence, and pose less risk if lost. Equally important, the Defense Department needs to develop new concepts of operations and organizations to employ them effectively. The solution may not involve fielding exotic new capabilities so much as employing the capabilities we already have in innovative ways. It will also benefit greatly from approaches that allow allies and partners to participate fully. If we do not adapt, we risk falling victim to potentially catastrophic surprise in a future conflict.

The concept of “deterrence by detection” represents a promising approach to meeting this challenge. The logic that underpins it, which should be familiar to policemen and parents, is that potential transgressors are less likely to act if they know they are being watched. Specifically, the concept rests on the premise that adversaries are less likely to commit opportunistic acts of aggression if they know they are being watched constantly and that their actions can be publicized widely.

Until now, real-time situational awareness was not available due to limited surveillance assets, lack of persistence, cost, absence of communications, and limitations to data processing. Today, the means to provide round-the-clock situational awareness exist, in the form of proliferated sensors backed by communication networks and data analytics. Indeed, today the ability to generate and maintain situational awareness, and deny the same to an adversary, is at the core of strategic and operational effectiveness.

Implementing the concept of “deterrence by detection” will require an ISR network composed of systems that are cost-effective, persistent, and interoperable with a broad array of allies and partners. Any such network would include a variety of systems, including manned air, sea, and ground platforms; space assets; and cyber capabilities. Such a network would need to be supported by communications networks and feature recognition algorithms.

Force planners have overlooked the role that non-stealthy unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) such as the Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk can play in great-power competition because they consider them to be less survivable than other platforms in a contested or highly contested environment. Indeed, the Air Force is seeking to divest itself of many of these aircraft. Certainly, any conflict between the United States and its allies on the one hand and China or Russia, on the other, would likely result in a highly lethal and contested warfighting environment. But since the aircraft would primarily function before the outbreak of major hostilities, they can be non-stealthy and yet still be effective. In fact, as argued below, their very visibility represents a key attribute in bolstering deterrence.

In order to implement the concept of “deterrence by detection,” an ISR network should be visible, ubiquitous, affordable, and interoperable.

First, visibility is a key attribute of platforms in an ISR network designed to deter opportunistic aggression. Whereas there are many cases where it makes sense for ISR assets to operate covertly, in this case, there is value in being overt. It is important for adversaries to know that they are being observed. Moreover, "watching the watchers" would consume an adversary's resources and could distract it from other, less visible operations.

The fact that ISR aircraft are visible means they are vulnerable, and this vulnerability is also a valuable attribute. On the one hand, it offers an adversary the opportunity to attack the nodes of the network; on the other hand, doing so would shift the onus of escalation on the adversary. Attacking the network would be a concrete sign of aggressive intent. It would also be possible to build a self-defense capability into ISR systems, whether electronic warfare capabilities or active defense.

Second, maintaining a ubiquitous presence is another key attribute of such a network. Whereas there are many cases where it makes sense for ISR assets to operate unpredictably to catch an adversary unaware, deterring through the threat of detection requires that a competitor have high confidence they are being observed. This implies that the ISR network should be composed of many rather than few ISR aircraft. Proliferating ISR assets will ensure that the loss of one or a few aircraft would not cause the network to fail. The need for ubiquitous, proliferated ISR networks make UAS particularly attractive. As the cost of space launch continues to fall, these networks could be augmented by proliferated constellations of low-earth orbit satellites.

Third, for an ISR network to provide the sort of ever-present, visible coverage needed to implement the concept of “deterrence by detection,” individual aircraft need to be affordable. This also favors UAS over manned aircraft under many circumstances.

Finally, the argument in favor of including U.S. allies and partners in such a network is strong. In light of the changing military balances in the Western Pacific and Eastern Europe, it makes sense for the United States to seek new ways of reassuring its allies and friends and generating collective responses to crisis and aggression. An ISR network represents a promising approach to do just this. Some of our allies in the Western Pacific and Europe have already begun to purchase UAS, sufficient quantities of which could augment or replace U.S. capabilities and ISR missions in those regions. Still, U.S. allies could invest further in these technologies and capabilities by increasing the number of existing long-endurance UAS in their inventory, whether they are U.S.-made or domestically produced. Other countries could also invest in them to boost their capabilities, further enhancing the global deterrence by detection strategy.

The United States and its allies face operational challenges in competing against China and Russia, including the need to deter opportunistic acts of aggression. “Deterrence by detection,” based upon the idea that our adversaries are less likely to commit opportunistic acts of aggression if they know they are being watched constantly and that their actions can be publicized widely, can contribute to solving the fait accompli challenge. Unmanned ISR aircraft capable of conducting wide-area persistent surveillance missions are best suited to implementing “deterrence by detection” by the United States, its allies, and partners. Although this concept is far from a panacea, it is a realistic, effective, and affordable step in the right direction.
 

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When Secret Mystery Planes Landed At The Air Bases Where I Was Stationed
In the 2004 and 2005 time frame, the Global War On Terrorism was in full swing with a high ops tempo. The United States Air Force’s Air Combat Command made a routine out of keeping a bomber rotation at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and that’s how the author found his way there. B-1s, B-52s, and the occasional B-2 regularly made deployments there to stage for combat missions over Afghanistan.

Actually a United States Naval Support Facility with a deep water port and runway capable of receiving the Space Shuttle, Diego Garcia is a part of the British Indian Ocean Territories comprising the greater Chagos Archipelago. Its extreme isolation has made it a hotbed for unsubstantiated accusations of classified and even nefarious activity.

I never observed anything nefarious, but it was entertaining reading about how the tent I lived in was supposedly part of a CIA “black site” for terrorist detainees. If the Air Force’s rowdy flightline maintainers and their tent city could be considered detainees in the Global War On Terror, then an ounce of truth could be credited towards the metric ton of false information that could be found on the internet about the remote Indian Ocean outpost.


Google Earth
The airfield on Diego Garcia in the mid-2000s.

If nothing else, the 2004-2005 deployment was eventful. From the outset, we experienced a tsunami that spared the flightline and tent city, but caused damage to the eastern side of the atoll. Just like in Forrest Gump, we discovered that tropical storms can actually cause rain that seemingly comes sideways from every angle and even straight up from the ground.

Mysterious Visitors
During one week in 2005, we were advised that the Navy was conducting sensitive operations out of a large, red, dilapidated hangar at the Northern end of the airfield near the passenger terminal and base operations building. Air Force personnel were advised to stay away. For the entirety of the week, the hangar appeared unused and empty.

One night during that week, the flightline was evacuated. The base was locked down and Air Force personnel were advised to stay inside and away from windows to protect an incoming classified aircraft.

Everyone complied without protest or hesitation.

There’s no quiet like the silence of a shutdown airfield on an atoll more than 2,000 miles away from the nearest sign of civilization. In the absence of takeoffs, landings, and idling F-101-GE-102 turbofans and auxiliary power units (APUs) on B-1 bombers, you begin to hear waves on the beach and wind in the trees through open windows.

We anticipated hearing some sign of an arrival. The bark of high-pressure tires touching pavement, the clattering of segmented disc brake rotors, or the throb of those brakes being applied heavily as a large jet slowed itself after touching down. Maybe even an idling jet engine or humming turboprop propeller could have been harbingers of us soon being allowed back outside.


DoD
B-1Bs and KC-10s on the ramp at Diego Garcia during the Global War On Terror.

Around a half-hour came and went and we were cleared to get back to our wartime operations tempo. We never heard or saw a sign that anything happened at all. No sleek black spy plane parked by the Navy ramp and no activity by the mysterious hangar. As a lifelong fan of all things aviation and defense, a side of me positively hoped to catch a glimpse of some rare, glamorous jet. As with most things for active-duty military, all hope of glamour was swiftly replaced with the mundane and routine.

Years later at my home station of Dyess Air Force Base, an operational readiness exercise was interrupted by a similar call from the command post. Evacuate the flightline and evacuate it now. An aircraft no one can lay eyes on was diverting to Dyess Air Force Base. Why? Because it is. Go inside and stay away from the windows.

It may not be as isolated as Diego Garcia, but Dyess is to the West of Abilene, Texas. It’s situated just outside of town and the flightline lies in the country. On the rare occasions that the flightline has no running engines or APUs, it gets very quiet.


Google Earth
Dyess AFB.

My curiosity was piqued, but it unfolded much in the way the Diego Garcia incident did and without incident. I personally didn’t hear or otherwise detect any sign of an arrival or departure. It must be noted that in nearly a decade at Dyess and to the best of my knowledge and memory, there was never a single hangar, ops building or section of the flightline deemed off-limits for a sensitive, let alone classified project.

The Dyess flightline is like that of many Cold War B-52 bases. Long and straight, sitting parallel to a long runway suitable for heavyweight bomber takeoffs on their way to training, or potentially the Soviet Union.
Nothing unusual was to be seen for miles in each direction upon our return to the flightline.

What were these mystery aircraft?
What’s hiding behind the military’s technological curtain is certainly fascinating to ponder. The War Zone has extensively documented what is publicly known about the United States Air Force and Navy’s pursuit of secretive unmanned aerial systems and other projects, such as the long-running goal of retaining a low observable special forces transport and the operations of the shadowy RQ-170 Sentinel. Still, I have no idea what aircraft paid me and my squadron mates a visit on those two occasions.

By the time the SR-71 made it out of Area 51, it was a glittering jewel in our nation’s aerospace crown. That is just the type of aircraft a lifelong aviation fanatic hopes they’ve been privy to in any mysterious aircraft encounter.

Though I remain hopeful for a public release one day that fits my timeframe and locations, as time passes it becomes exceedingly unlikely I will be so lucky.


Lockheed Martin
An SR-71 in a hangar at dusk.

Other military personnel share similar experiences that are seemingly brushes with black projects; some seemingly factual, but many bordering on myth, and in some cases, utter absurdity. In the complete and absolute vacuum of anything seen or heard on either occasion, personal to myself I can’t even speculate as to what happened or what the aircraft involved was. That much is agreed upon by those I shared the experiences with.

Looking back, I’ve had to relegate those two experiences to the unknown with diminished expectations they will ever come back to me in a new light.

What conclusion is to be drawn?
One’s own military experiences become mundane in their day-to-day execution and every job has it’s annoyances, no matter how glamorous seeming they may be from the outside. Combat aircraft, for example, are notoriously high maintenance. Conceivably, somewhere out there is an F-22 Raptor pilot who is frustrated to taxi five minutes late because a nagging problem on startup required that he call maintenance. It’s those moments in which the greater privilege of being part of our nation’s legacy and heritage of aerial achievement and advanced technology is lost on the individual.

The break in what becomes a mundane routine comes in experiences like the two I shared in this article. They serve as a powerful reminder that our nation has the most advanced fighting force ever seen in all of human history and that force appears to have some wondrous capabilities that lay tucked away out of sight. Some of which we may never truly understand.

I am just glad I got to at least be in close proximity to such a thing, not one, but two times in my military career.
When Secret Mystery Planes Landed At The Air Bases Where I Was Stationed
 
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The US Space Force's Space Fence orbital tracking system is officially operational

The US Space Force's Space Fence orbital tracking system is officially operational
Darrell Etherington
TechCrunchMarch 30, 2020, 5:26 PM GMT+1

The US Space Force's Space Fence orbital tracking system is officially operational
The U.S. Space Force is a relatively young arm of the U.S. armed forces, but that doesn't mean it isn't already operating assets. The USSF announced late last week that its Space Fence radar system is now officially operational, for instance. First: Yes, it is actually called that. Second, the Space Fence is actually a radar system that aims to provide advanced tracking of on-orbit objects, including, but not limited to, commercial and military satellites.
The Space Fence ground infrastructure is located in the Marshall Islands, and currently is in the "initial operational capability and operational acceptance" phase. The program will track the existing 26,000 orbital objects already accounted for in the existing Space Surveillance Network (SSN), but Space Force said via an update on the new operational phase that it expects to grow that list quickly with its own additions.
To support detailed tracking of objects in this orbital range, the radar observation technology developed by Lockheed Martin on behalf of Space Force can pick up items roughly the size of a marble in low Earth orbit. With that level of fine-grained observational power, it seems pretty likely that eventually the catalog should contain just about every active and passive potential observation, communication and potentially militarized in-space assets operated by just about anyone.
Knowing the terrain is a key part of any military operation's ability to succeed, so officially bringing the Space Fence online marks a big milestone for the Space Force. It also recently launched its first dedicated payload: A high-frequency secure communication satellite to join an existing constellation in space that provides communication services for military operations on Earth, on land, at sea and in the air.
 

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Unmasking Northrop Grumman's XRQ-72A Great Horned Owl Spy Drone
USAF via FOIA/IARPA
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Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Intelligence Community began work on an experimental ultra-quiet, high-efficiency reconnaissance drone with an advanced hybrid-electric propulsion system. Very limited details about this secretive project, known as Great Horned Owl, have emerged since then. Now, The War Zone can share previously unseen schematics and other details about the resulting stealthy flying-wing-shaped unmanned aircraft called the XRQ-72A, which Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman well known for producing advanced aircraft designs, developed.

TheWar Zone obtained the information via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) supported the Great Horned Owl program, which the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) first disclosed in 2011. IARPA is one of the Intelligence Community's top research and development arms and answers to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It's not clear which intelligence agency or agencies may have had requirements that led to the Great Horned Owl effort, but the CIA has operated a variety of drones with a wide range of capabilities over the years to conduct various missions.

"The Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) role for UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] is dependent upon the ability of the UAV to do its mission without the adversary being able to counter it. For many such ISR applications, the acoustic signature of the UAV alerts the adversary to the UAV’s presence and can interfere with the mission," IARPA explained in a public notice regarding the Great Horned Owl effort in 2011. "Battery powered UAVs are very quiet but lack endurance and payload capability. Better, more efficient, quiet power sources and propulsion techniques are needed to build next generation UAVs for ISR mission applications."

The resulting XRQ-72A has a general planform reminiscent of other Northrop Grumman designs, including that of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber. It also has some broad external visual similarities to flying wing unmanned aircraft that other companies have developed over the years, including designs from Lockheed Martin.


USAF via FOIA

A rendering of the XRQ-72A, along with various dimensional and other details.

The drone has a 30-foot wingspan, is 11.2-feet long measured from the nose to the ends of the wingtips, and is four feet tall when including the vertical wingtip stabilizers, according to the schematics we obtained via FOIA. Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works' X-44A, which The War Zone was first to report on and which the Air Force did not publicly acknowledge until 2018, also has a wingspan of around 30 feet. The X-44A represented an important "missing link" in the chronology of that company's advanced flying wing drone developments, including the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone.

It's not clear how heavy the XRQ-72A is, but another AFRL document we received said that the Great Horned Owl program's requirements called for an air vehicle weighing between 300 to 400 pounds. The drone also appears to have at least some stealthy features, including its general shape and shrouded exhausts, and is made out of composite materials.

Its most important feature, of course, is its hybrid propulsion system. A pair of fuel-powered generators inside the central fuselage produce the electricity that powers four ducted fan propulsors mounted on top of the aircraft's flying-wing fuselage. This is in some ways visually reminiscent of the general configuration of the Boeing X-48 series of experimental unmanned blended wing body demonstrators, but those aircraft used small turbojet engines.


USAF via FOIA

An internal schematic and other more detailed views of the rendering of the XRQ-72A.

The schematics also show the XRQ-72A equipped with a typical ball-type sensor turret, which could include various types of video cameras. IARPA made no specific mention of what sensors it might be interested in any Great Horned Owl demonstrator being able to carry in its original 2011 announcement.

It's not clear from the Air Force documents how the drone takes off or lands. There no landing gear present in the schematics, which could point to runway-independent operation using a catapult or rocket-assisted zero-length launch system.

The Great Horned Owl program was initially focused simply on exploring technologies that could enable the development of a very quiet and efficient unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance drone. Hybrid propulsion concepts, which have been and continue to be of great interest to both military and commercial aviation communities, offer a potential path to significant improvements in fuel efficiency, reliability, and reduced acoustic signature over traditional aircraft propulsion concepts. AFRL is still experimenting with these ideas today, which you can read about in much greater detail in this past War Zone piece.


IARPA

The Great Horned Owl program logo.

The XRQ-72A's exact capabilities are unclear. AFRL said that it expected the drone to have a "low acoustic signature at a speed of 50 KEAS [Knots Equivalent Air Speed]," according to the documents we obtained via FOIA. IARPA's stated goals in 2011 were a high-efficiency design that could be as quiet as 50 Phons at speeds up to 100 knots. A Phon is a unit of sound measurement equivalent to 1 decibel at a frequency of 1 kilohertz.

Sound can be hard to measure. A typical conversation, where people are speaking without raised voices, or the hum of a dishwasher are typically described as being around 50 decibels loud, though that dissipates the further away you get from the source. A typical jet engine on a commercial airliner still registers around 130 decibels or more during takeoff, even at a distance of 100 feet.

In 2012, IARPA did issue contracts to various companies to craft various ducted fan designs, as well as other propulsion system components as part of Phase 1 of the Great Horned Owl program. CRG and Xcelaero supplied hub-driven propulsors, while a firm called Theta Tech developed a hubless, or rim-driven design. As their name implies, hub-driven propulsors have a centrally mounted propeller inside the propulsor. A hubless design has fan blades mounted on the inside of a ring that rotates within the body of the propulsor. The schematic of the Northrop Grumman XRQ-72A shows hub-driven propulsors.


IARPA

A factsheet on various Great Horned Own Phase 1 requirements and developments.

The exact timeline of the Great Horned Owl program, including whether or not it is still ongoing, is not entirely clear, either. When IARPA first announced the project publicly in 2011, it said it expected it to wrap up in June 2016. This schedule included plans for a second phase involving system integration and ground testing and a third phase with actual flight testing.

At least one testbed drone emerged during that timeframe, called Talos. Oklahoma State University's Unmanned Aircraft Systems program helped develop this unmanned aircraft, which first flew in 2013. Talos is a completely different design from Northrop Grumman's XRQ-72A with a more traditional wing configuration and overall planform.

However, AFRL only requested a formal designation for the Great Horned Owl drone in January 2017, according to the documents we received via the FOIA request. "It is planned that the GHO [Great Horned Owl] demonstrator would complete a series of flights at the Acoustic Research Complex operated by AFRL/RH [Airman Systems Directorate] on the White Sands Missile Range incorporating the hybrid power and propulsion system, and then be available for future demonstrations of additional technology and/or vehicle configurations," the memorandum explained.

What's also interesting is that AFRL asked for an X-plane designation, which are typically applied only to purely experimental aircraft. One notable exception was the Bell X-16, which was publicly described as a high-altitude testbed, but was, in fact, a competitor to the famous U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane.

"The X-## Mission Design Series Assignment is very important at this time to highlight to the aerospace R&D community the importance of the development of hybrid power and propulsion for future USAF aircraft," the memo noted. "While potential benefits to a broad range of future vehicles have been identified, such a dramatic change in the design paradigm is a slow process. The X-## designation for the GHO will dramatically improve awareness of the research and help preserve the technical achievements, increasing opportunity for technical transition of the experimental results and design philosophy to future USAF air vehicles."


USAF via FOIA

A portion of the memo requesting an "X-##A" designation in the X-plane series for Northrop Grumman's Great Horned Owl demonstrator.

It's not clear how the final XRQ-72A designation, which the Air Force approved in March 2017, came about. The "XRQ" prefix is very much not an X-plane designation and is more fitting for a prototype of a potentially operational platform. There numerous examples of experimental drones with "XQ" or just "X" prefixes, such as the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie and the Lockheed Martin X-44A, as well as the still curious YQ-11 prototype designation for the General Atomics Predator C/Avenger, so this appears to have been a deliberate decision.


USAF via FOIA

A portion of the memo approving the XRQ-72A designation for the Great Horned Owl drone.

The number 72 is also wildly out of sequence for either the X-plane category or the drone category in the U.S. military's joint-service aircraft designation system. It is a number that has been informally applied on multiple occasions to advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft designs in the past, as a reference to being a spiritual successor to the iconic SR-71 Blackbird spy plane.

In 2018, IARPA also initiated a follow-on project called Little Horned Owl, which had similar goals to Great Horned Owl, but called for a notably smaller overall design that would only have to carry a 10-pound payload. There was also a requirement for "innovative battery architecture to improve flight times for battery-only flight" and "runway independent operation (minimal ground support equipment)."


IARPA

The Little Horned Owl program logo.

Regardless, as IARPA noted in 2011, there is a clear demand for the kind of technologies developed under the Great Horned Owl program. A drone with relatively long endurance and very quiet operation would enable persistent surveillance of targets of interest with a reduced likelihood of detection.

This, of course, would hardly be the first time the U.S. Intelligence Community, or the U.S. military, has acquired or otherwise experimented with ultra-quiet aircraft for reconnaissance and covert operations. The CIA famously used a pair of Hughes 500P helicopters, also known as the "Quiet Ones," to conduct a top-secret wire-tapping operation in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army also experimented with very-quiet manned surveillance aircraft, such as the YO-3A Quiet Star, during the Vietnam War.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Army, as well as the U.S. Air Force and the CIA, further pursued higher-flying manned surveillance aircraft with low acoustic signatures, most notably the RG-8A Condor powered glider, some of which later found their way into U.S. Coast Guard service. The Coast Guard went on to fly the unique RU-38A Twin Condor, as well. You can read more about these aircraft, and the Coast Guard's attempts to develop a successor, in this past War Zone piece.

When it comes to more modern quiet drones, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been pursuing similar developments for U.S. military use. In 2006, Lockheed Martin also supplied a hand-launched, electrically-powered drone called Stalker to an unnamed customer, reportedly U.S. Special Operations Command, specifically to meet a requirement for a quieter unmanned aircraft that opponents would have a harder time detecting. More recently, the company developed a propeller-driven flying wing design, called Fury, which is visually similar to the RQ-170, albeit smaller, and that also has a reduced acoustic signature.

The XRQ-72A represents a more advanced concept than smaller designs, such as the Stalker or the Fury, though. The Great Horned Owl program, as well as Little Horned Owl, also underscores how the U.S. Intelligence Community is driving unmanned aircraft developments themselves, including in the classified realm, independent of the U.S. military, though there is clear cooperation between them. The Department of Homeland Security had also expressed an interest in the outcome of the Great Horned Owl program to support the development of future unmanned aircraft for border surveillance.

Much about the XRQ-72A still remains a mystery and The War Zone has already begun working to uncover more about this drone and the shadowy program that spawned it. The biggest question is whether the drone, or further improved design based on the work done under Great Horned Owl program, is silently roaming the skies today.
Exclusive: Unmasking Northrop Grumman's XRQ-72A Great Horned Owl Spy Drone
 
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The Air Force Mobilizes Its Laser and Microwave Weapons Abroad

The Air Force Mobilizes Its Laser and Microwave Weapons Abroad
These futuristic directed energy weapons will protect air bases from drones.



BY KYLE MIZOKAMI

APR 9, 2020

RAYTHEON

  • The Air Force has shipped three of its latest directed energy weapons overseas.
  • The weapons, HELWS, PHASER, and THOR will protect air bases from drone attack.
  • The weapons are the result of three years of testing in the U.S. and will serve overseas for at least one year.
The U.S. Air Force has sent three different directed energy weapon systems to protect air bases abroad. The HELWS, PHASER, and THOR weapons will guard U.S. air bases from the threat of drone strikes, shooting down any unauthorized drone that comes within microwave or laser range. The new weapons are a response to the new threat of weaponized drones and drone swarms attacking airfields.

The three weapons are the High Energy Laser (HELWS), PHASER high power microwave (PHASER), and the Tactical High Power Operational Responder (THOR).



HELWS serving overseas.
AFRL

HELWS, developed by defense contractor Raytheon, is a laser weapon system mounted on a Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle. The laser is coupled with an advanced electro-optical/infrared sensor designed to detect, identify, and track drones.

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Once the command is given, HELWS fires a laser at the target, destroying it. Raytheon touts the system as being able to operate from a standard 220 volt outlet, firing dozens of shots before recharging. The Multi-Spectral Targeting System is the same surveillance and tracking system installed on MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones.



PHASER high powered microwave system.
RAYTHEON

The next weapon is PHASER, a microwave energy weapon. Also developed by Raytheon, PHASER is a microwave radar transmitter mounted on top of a shipping container. As Popular Mechanics described the weapon last year: “PHASER is high-powered microwaves cannon that emits radio frequencies in a conical beam. It doesn’t cook a drone with heat. Instead, the weapon disrupts or destroys their circuits with a burst of overwhelming energy.”

PHASER needs just one microsecond to overwhelm a drone’s electronics, sending it plunging to the ground. The conical nature of the beam means that a single pulse can catch several drones in midair at once, making PHASER particularly useful against drone swarms.



THOR microwave weapon system.
AFRL

The third weapon is the Tactical High Power Operational Responder, or THOR. THOR was developed by the Air Force Research Lab as a “counter-swarm electromagnetic weapon”. THOR also ships in a shipping container, takes three hours to set up, and according to AFRL requires very little operator training. THOR also uses high powered microwaves and cost just $19 million to develop.
 

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Installs Rocket Motor Casting Bell as Camden Large Solid Rocket Motor Development Facility Nears Completion | Aerojet Rocketdyne

Installation marks another milestone for ongoing expansion in Camden

CAMDEN, Ark., March 12, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Aerojet Rocketdyne has installed a steel casting bell to support production of large solid rocket motors, marking an important milestone for completion of its Engineering, Manufacturing and Development (EMD) facility in Camden.


Aerojet Rocketdyne’s vacuum chamber casting bell will support production of large solid rocket motors in Camden, Arkansas

The vacuum chamber casting bell was relocated from Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Sacramento, California, facility, where it was used to produce large rocket boosters for the Atlas V rocket. In Camden, it will be used to produce large solid rocket motors for programs, including hypersonics and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Camden facility will be able to produce motors up to 470 inches long and up to 100 inches in diameter.

“The installation of the casting bell is a major milestone as Aerojet Rocketdyne continues to prepare for national security programs, including the Air Force’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program and the Missile Defense Agency’s Next Generation Interceptor program,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. “I would especially like to thank state and local leaders from the great State of Arkansas whose efforts have been critical to our ongoing expansion here in Camden.”

The casting bell is a vacuum chamber that eliminates air bubbles that can otherwise form when propellant is poured into solid rocket motor casings. The chamber also serves as an oven that heats the propellant during the curing process, and then cools it back down to ambient temperature.

Aerojet Rocketdyne broke ground on its 17,000 square-foot EMD facility in spring 2019 as a part of an ongoing expansion of its Camden operations, where the company has had a presence since 1979. The $15.5 million state-of-the-art facility is slated to open this spring.

Northrop Grumman selected Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2019 to join its industry team for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, the U.S. Air Force effort to replace the nation’s current Minuteman III strategic missile fleet. Aerojet Rocketdyne would provide a large solid rocket motor system and a post-boost propulsion system for Northrop Grumman’s nationwide GBSD team.

In August 2018Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced plans to expand the Southern Arkansas facility near Camden, where the company manufactures solid rocket motors and warheads critical to national defense.

The expansion plan included investing in new infrastructure and creating more than 140 jobs by 2021. Working in partnership with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Calhoun and Ouachita Counties, more than $50 million dollars is being invested in the ongoing expansion.
 

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GPS celebrates 25th year of operation
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Global Positioning System, better known as GPS, marks its 25th year of operation Apr. 27, 2020.

On this date in 1995, the system reached full operational capability, meaning the system met all performance requirements. U.S. Air Force Space Command formally announced the milestone three months later.

“This is a major milestone,” Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr., former Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, said in 1995. “GPS has become integral to our warfighters and is rapidly becoming a true utility in the civilian community.”

Initially developed for the military to meet a critical need for determining precise location on the battlefield, GPS has also become an integral part of technology affecting the lives of billions of people worldwide.

“The United States Space Force’s continuing objective for the constellation is to ensure GPS remains the Gold Standard for global space-based positioning, navigation and timing,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, USSF Chief of Space Operations, and U.S. Space Command Commander.

Today, the U.S. Space Force operates the GPS satellite constellation as a global utility – always available to everyone, everywhere on Earth.

“GPS is a free for use service provided by the Space Force that enhances everyday lives around the world,” said Brig. Gen. DeAnna Burt, USSF Director of Operations and Communications. “GPS provides the highest accuracy positioning and timing data. In addition to the essential capabilities it provides for the military, GPS underpins critical financial, transportation and agricultural infrastructure. It’s always available, whether for an ATM transaction or securing a rideshare.”

Its military capabilities first enhanced combat operations in 1990 and 1991 during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Allied troops relied heavily on the new GPS signal to navigate the featureless deserts in Kuwait and Iraq.

In the early 2000’s, during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, GPS contribution to warfighting increased significantly. For example, the GPS constellation enabled accurate munitions, allowing the delivery of GPS-aided Joint Direct Attack Munitions with pinpoint precision and minimal collateral damage.

Today, in addition to these and other GPS-enabled warfighting capabilities, Airmen conduct resupply missions with battlefield precision airdrops to combat forces with GPS-guided, parachute-delivered equipment pallets known as “Smart Pallets.”

The GPS operational constellation currently has 31 satellites, and the system is continually updated and modernized, making it a resilient system to maintain the signals required for accurate positioning, navigation and timing around the world.

The first satellite of the new GPS III version, called Vespucci, was launched into space Dec. 23, 2018.

The 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., operates GPS. The squadron recently accepted control of the second GPS III satellite, called Magellan, on March 27.

GPS III is meeting users’ emerging needs and responding to tomorrow’s threats with improved safety, signal integrity and accuracy. GPS III satellites are more accurate, have improved anti-jamming capabilities, and have doubled the design life; when compared to previous iterations of GPS. They are also designed to incorporate new technology and changing mission needs,

“The 25th Anniversary is a huge, momentous occasion for us. We take great pride in providing this global utility to the approximately six billion users worldwide,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Toth, 2nd SOPS commander. “Celebrating this anniversary gives us a moment to recognize how far we’ve come, but also to get pumped about what lies ahead for our program and our role in executing that.”
 

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The Space Development Agency wants to put an initial batch of satellites capable of tracking hypersonic weapons on orbit in fiscal 2022, according to a draft request for proposals the agency released May 11.

The draft comes as SDA prepares to launch its first tranche of about 20 satellites in FY22, the first step toward its goal of hundreds of interconnected satellites operating in low Earth orbit. The agency is taking a spiral development approach, launching additional satellites with increasingly advanced capabilities in two-year tranches.

The second tranche, to be launched in FY24, will place 150 satellites on orbit.

According to the draft RFP, the agency wants a contractor to design and build eight Wide Field of View, or WFoV, satellites with infrared sensors capable of demonstrating an initial hypersonic weapon-tracking capability.

The eight satellites will also be able to plug into SDA’s transport layer satellites, which will establish a space-based mesh network with optical intersatellite cross links. That will allow data collected by the WFoV sensors to flow from satellite to satellite until it is disseminated over tactical data links to the appropriate system.

The agency released an RFP on May 1 for the first 10 satellites that will make up the transport layer. Those satellites are also set to launch in FY22.

In addition, SDA wants to launch Medium Field of View satellites in mid-FY23 focused on technologies needed for additional performance.

Here are the performance goals laid out for the eight WFoV satellites in the draft RFP:

- Develop and deliver space vehicles integrated with infrared sensors that have sufficient sensitivity and processing to detect hypersonic vehicles from low Earth orbit.
- Characterize performance of satellite-to-satellite and satellite-to-ground communication paths.
- Integrate with a proliferated transport layer to directly provide tracking information over tactical data links.
- Demonstrate interoperability between satellites provided by different vendors.
- Assess how on-board processing, communications infrastructure and advanced algorithms can enable more efficient use of communications bandwidth.
- Develop a concept of operations for a global tracking capability.
- Verify functional and performance requirements to inform future trade studies on communications; space and ground processing; and the numbers, types and capabilities of space-based sensors needed for a full global capability.

Responses to the draft are due May 29.

The release comes shortly after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced it plans to launch its first Blackjack satellite into orbit later this year, with more to follow in 2021. With Project Blackjack, DARPA seeks to demonstrate the value of low-Earth orbit satellites for the Defense Department. The small satellites will carry advanced technologies that will demonstrate space-based mesh networks and constellation autonomy.

SDA leadership previously said the agency will build off the lessons learned from Blackjack.

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MDA seeks to double range of THAAD interceptor for homeland defense mission
The Missile Defense Agency wants to double the range of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system's guided missile in a gambit to bulk up the interceptor -- originally designed to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles -- to foil intercontinental rockets and defense the U.S. homeland against North Korean threats.
MDA Revives Dormant Concept For Extended-Range THAAD | Aviation Week Network

"The MDA also revealed plans to conduct the first two demonstration events for a new THAAD booster since 2006. A static fire test for a new booster would occur no later than the end of fiscal 2022. By the middle of fiscal 2023, the agency also plans to perform a flight test of the new booster paired with a real or mass-representative surrogate THAAD KV, the agency says."
 

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