TUCSON, Ariz. — Scientists and engineers at Raytheon Missile Systems — the world’s biggest missile-making operation — are shaping the future of warfare.
It’s a future of remote-control combat, where land battles may be fought with swarms of toy-sized unmanned aircraft and missiles that “talk” amongst themselves to coordinate attacks on fast-moving enemy forces.
It’s a future where even artillery shells will become satellite-guided “smart bombs” capable of hitting within a few feet of targets 40 miles away.
Raytheon, the fifth-largest U.S. defense contractor, is a key player in the effort to transform the U.S. military from a Cold War force of mass-scale warfare into a high-tech network of intelligent weapons and forces, able to hunt down and destroy an increasingly elusive enemy.
“These are things that people said couldn’t be done,” said Ken Pedersen, vice president of advanced programs for Raytheon Missile Systems. “But you’re going to see this happen.”
Riding this new wave in warfare, Raytheon’s future-weapons business is booming. In the past year, Raytheon reached several milestones in next-generation weapons systems:
In May, a Raytheon-Lockheed Martin joint venture was awarded a $1 billion contract to develop the Non Line-of-Sight-Launch System, or NLOS-LS, a system of two types of small missiles that will be linked with data and radio links to commanders and other systems on the battlefield.
In June, Raytheon announced a successful flight test of the Excalibur XM982, a precision-guided artillery shell that can be fired from standard artillery guns.
In August, Raytheon successfully demonstrated SilentEyes, a 20-inch-long, unpowered unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, designed to glide closely over enemy territory and collect target information.
Raytheon is busy creating next-generation versions of existing missiles with Global Positioning System satellite guidance and other upgrades.
In August, the company landed a $287 million Navy contract to supply the next-generation Block IV Tomahawk cruise missile, formerly called the Tactical Tomahawk, which adds GPS satellite guidance and other new capabilities. The program could be worth $1.6 billion over the next five years.
Raytheon recently reached key milestones in perhaps the most ambitious future defense system ever, the U.S. missile defense system. The controversial program is intended to shield the United States from ballistic missile attacks with a network of radars, sensors and missile interceptors spread across space, air, land and sea.
Driving the development of new, “networked” weapons systems is the ever-changing threat of terrorists and rogue nations.
“How do you target something that’s moving across the land and hiding under bridges, or looks like a normal truck and the whole thing turns into a mortar launcher?” asked Marv Ebbert, Raytheon’s director of advanced systems. “How do you take out these targets with a very smart weapon without harming innocent civilians? That’s what we try to do.”
To accomplish that feat, the missile is being turned into a “node on a network,” designed not only to blow up targets but to relay intelligence and battle-damage information.
to help paint a picture of the battlefield for commanders, said Jon Jones, vice president of Raytheon Missile Systems.
Such technology is driving modern weapon-making, a defense analyst said.
“You’re seeing more and more electronics and information technology integrated into weapons system, to where today the value of any weapon system is embedded into its electronics and information technology,” said Pierre Chao, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
A prime example is the NLOS-LS system, formerly known as Netfires, one of the first major “force-transformation” projects funded under the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System.
The NLOS-LS system consists of two small missile types that can be fired remotely from a common launcher. Data links provide two-way communications between weapons and commanders, while GPS satellites combined with advanced guidance and targeting systems allow retargeting on the fly.
As networked warfare systems develop, other missiles, aircraft and other forces could be linked up as needed, Raytheon vice president Pedersen said.
“The big change that is taking place is that the whole thing is becoming a big information network,” he said. “That really has opened the door for a whole new generation of over-the-horizon weapons, where the information flows on a network both from the weapon and to the weapon, and they can be controlled not only from the aircraft but from the war-fighter on the ground — or from a computer halfway around the world if we want to.”