Deputy Defense Secretary praises innovation after Raytheon, Boeing visits

Boeing photograph

In Raytheon’s Space Factory in Tucson, Arizona, a technician inspects an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle, which travels through space to track and attack enemy missiles.

Defense Department recommendations in the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget heavily emphasize increased munitions acquisitions, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said Dec. 4.

On his way back to Washington after a four-day trip to Arizona and California to meet with defense contractors, have lunch with airmen at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., and participate in the Reagan National Defense Forum, Work spoke with reporters traveling with him about his meetings.

“Over the last four or five years as we’ve tried to deal with $800 billion in defense cuts,” the deputy secretary explained. “Each of the services has had to choose priorities, and generally what has happened is that munitions have taken short-shrift.”

As a result, Work said, “we took a careful look at the different inventory objectives and tried to … expand munitions procurements as much as we can.”

Industrial base innovation
Work’s first stop was Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Ariz. The company, according to its website, is a technology and innovation leader founded in 1922 with headquarters in Waltham, Mass., 61,000 employees worldwide and $23 billion in 2015 sales.

“They are one of our premier missile manufacturers,” Work said. “They do a lot of other things, but I went specifically to Tucson to see their missile plant.”

Among other things in Raytheon’s 9,600-square-foot Space Factory, scientists in some of the world’s cleanest “clean rooms” work on an evolving series of Raytheon-designed exo-atmospheric kill vehicles that seek and destroy ballistic missiles in space. Kill vehicles carry no explosives — they destroy missiles by steering into their paths and slamming into them, company literature says.

A robotic arm places a small-diameter bomb II guidance section into a test cell.

Raytheon, Work says, has automated a lot of its production, using bright-yellow Fanuc industrial robot systems to test and calibrate every weapon they make, not just one out of every 20.

“It used to be a very laborious process with humans on a bench, so they’ve invested a lot in robotics and [during the tour] they demonstrated to us how the robots work,” he said, as the robots tested a missile’s seeker for infrared radiation, vibration and more.

“It’s all on one line and the robot does everything, so the missiles are cleared faster and [the systems] are much more accurate over time, Work added, noting that Raytheon is using the same kind of robotic processing for some of its small space capabilities, like small low-earth-orbit satellites.

Raytheon thinks a lot about advanced capabilities, the deputy secretary said.

“We spent about an hour talking about their ideas on hypersonics and making [our] current weapons better,” he added.

Work also visited Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security facility in Huntington Beach, Calif.

“Boeing … has spent a lot of their own money on advanced capabilities,” he said, including the Navy’s UCLASS, or unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike, program. The program was established to develop an autonomous aircraft-carrier-based unmanned combat aerial vehicle that would offer the fleet unmanned intelligence and strike capabilities.

“They had a model that they were ready to take to flight testing,” the deputy secretary said, “but they paused because we made a slight change in our program.”

At the Boeing facility Work was briefed on Echo Voyager, a 50-ton, 51-foot-long unmanned undersea vehicle, or UUV.

craft is a fully autonomous extra-large UUV that can be used for a range of missions, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The vehicle includes a modular payload section that’s large enough to allow the UUV to perform at sea for months at a time, according to a Boeing fact sheet.

Echo Voyager, Boeing’s latest unmanned undersea vehicle, or UUV, can operate autonomously for months at a time thanks to a hybrid rechargeable power system and modular payload bay. The 51-foot-long vehicle is the latest innovation in Boeing’s UUV family, joining the 32-foot Echo Seeker and the 18-foot Echo Ranger.

“We talk a lot about the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental [effort] and [other private-sector tech-based programs], but the innovation in our defense industrial base is quite impressive,” Work said, “ … with a lot of innovation, a lot of focus on reducing cost and a lot of focus on producing more capability for the war fighters.”

Strategic capabilities
Among the DOD offices that work with large defense contractors is the Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO, headed by Will Roper. SCO’s mission is unlike any other in the Defense Department, defense officials have said.

Start with an established military system like the Navy’s Standard Missile-6, or SM-6, a surface-to-air air defense weapon first deployed in 1981. It and its variants launch from cruisers and destroyers and can stop incoming ballistic and cruise missiles at low altitudes in the atmosphere. Now make it do something completely different — such as offensively attacking and destroying enemy ships at extended ranges.

“The thing that is so unique about SCO and what I applaud Will Roper for doing – [is that] he is plugged in to the service chiefs and the combatant commanders [and] they have established a level of trust with him,” Work said.

When Roper visits companies like Boeing and others, the deputy secretary says, he speaks authoritatively about demonstration programs that senior DOD leaders are interested in.

“That’s an important signal to send to industry — if we go this way there may be a program on the other end,” Work explained.

The guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones launches a Standard Missile-6 during a live-fire test of the ship’s aegis weapons system, June 19, 2014. Over the course of three days, the crew of John Paul Jones successfully engaged six targets, firing a total of five missiles that included four SM-6 models and one SM-2 model.

Getting capability out fast
SCO has had 26 projects and six of them have transitioned to a service program. Work said he expects that to increase. The Navy picked up SCO’s SM-6 missile changeover, for example, and it’s now a program of record, the deputy secretary said.

“Boeing and Raytheon and the other companies now … bring their ideas to SCO and say, ‘What do you think about this?’” Work said. “Will has the engineering talent to take a look … and decide that he’ll come up to the [Advanced Capability and Deterrent Panel] and try to convince [its top-level members] that this is a demonstration we ought to pay attention to.”

When SCO first began they had about $50 million in projects the first year, and they’re nearing $1 billion in projects now, Work said.

“When SCO comes in with a proposal it’s very well thought out and the majority of them get approved. So the thing we have to watch is that SCO is a relatively small organization and we want it to … stay an [operation] that … does demonstrations and gets capability out really fast,” he added.