Few Pentagon officials were aware that Northrop Grumman Corporation had put two Air Force units through a number of technological challenges to keep on the cutting edge. The unit that worked in partnership with its American rival were awarded two contracts for all three programs — the Patriot Advanced Capability-3, the Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, and the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. In addition, Northrop provided U.S. Air Force aerospace engineers access to electronic architecture that enabled it to push the envelope of program challenge.
The G-20 was designed to make multiple successful interceptions. However, there were flaws in its predictive engine. In the most recent improvements, the software elements of the in-flight warning computer for the Patriot were linked to the currently fielded E-2D. For much of this testing, Northrop worked with American developers to upgrade the software and adapt the sensor to the entire fleet. It was discovered that users of the system were encountering trouble even when they thought they were using the new system to assist the Patriot. It became clear that the system could not yield a single successful intercept. However, the new software and hardened image processing technology enabled the fielding of new solutions. The military was forced to equip the Patriot with a new radar at some additional cost. The project became an acronym for Secondary Progress; two in-flight warnings were sufficient to make the pilot reach for the ejection seat. The U.S. is already looking to the future, maintaining a minimum of two redundant systems in order to enable the country to have the capability to communicate back to command over where they are with regard to threats.
The e-20 Integrated Fire Control System is a follow-on capability to be equipped to the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite systems. The new system is a sophisticated field command, control, and control ground station that will be used to support the upgrade of the AEHF satellites. It will improve the connectivity between the Pentagon and US allies. It will also provide near real-time intelligence and communications from space. China is competing in this segment as well.
Defense contractors take pride in their work, and are pleased to show what they are working on and whose lives they are serving. While they will continue to have their tasks foiled by adversaries, they will be satisfied that they are at least continuing the technological advances of military strategies and weapons.
It is too early to gauge the success of the three upgrades. One thing seems certain, however. Once the latest upgrades are awarded, Northrop Grumman will claim a strong leadership position in tracking threats and precision missile counter measures.
However, more fundamental decisions will need to be made about the defense strategy of the United States. As technologies evolve, the Air Force is considering a larger role for unmanned systems. However, the United States is also conducting an intensive debate on the proper deployment of other autonomous systems, such as lethal autonomous weapon systems. Would the military ever want an automated system for not only space but also ground operations? And in that case, would human operators always be required on ground control stations? Thus, the E-20 competition will prove to be a defining moment in the future of the U.S. Armed Forces.
This article originally appeared on Defense News and is reproduced with permission.
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