If the 2020s are anything like the 2010s, they promise to produce an accelerated pace of technological innovation that will transform the aerospace and defense industry. At a recent media roundtable hosted by Raytheon, a panelist suggested that the next three-to-five years will be one of the most dynamic periods the Pentagon has faced in 40 years. Roman Schweizer, managing director for aerospace and defense at Cowen Washington Research Group, said there is a fair amount of sea change happening as emerging technologies accelerate the speed of relevance. This will affect not only the defense department, but also the companies that provide solutions and services.
“For decades, the same companies have been in the same segments in the defense space, but that is changing,” Schweizer said. “There are competitions for contracts in the platform domain and even missile systems, radars, and new missions.”
While new defense programs are forcing repositioning in the existing markets, newer undefined, untapped, and potentially abundant segments are on the horizon and helping to push that sea change. These include hypersonics, robotics, unmanned ground robotics, and unmanned maritime robotics, as well as surveillance, artificial intelligence, and, certainly, the evolving arena of cyber.
These are the shifts that the Pentagon is grappling with, according to the panelists. The defense space is at an inflection point and much of what has traditionally been done in terms of how we go to war and what we need to do to protect the public is changing. From cyber to unmanned aircraft systems, technology is moving faster than the evolution of policy, the capabilities of existing infrastructure, or the concept of military operations.
Major technological shifts also are occurring in federal/civil government, such as management of air travel, where Ben Marcus, CEO of AirMap, predicts a major shift in the use of the national airspace.
“Over the next 10 years, aviation is going to go from something that people benefit from only occasionally to something that people would benefit from in their everyday lives,” said Marcus.
To facilitate that transformation demands new technology to safely manage a massive increase in low altitude air traffic.
“Our current airspace system was built to handle traditional aircraft,” said Chris Rogers, senior program manager of air traffic control systems at Raytheon. “Upgraded technology will optimize the airspace system so new entrants can operate safely and efficiently, allowing innovation and improvement to happen while not disrupting the traditional aircraft of today.”
Similarly, major changes will occur in cyberspace. The adoption of 5G wireless technology will bring more devices and critical infrastructure online and all of them will be vulnerable to cyber attack. This transition will also enable faster and more sophisticated methods of sowing disinformation and penetrating critical systems to extract, exploit and damage data.
“Over the next decade, we’re going to see an increase in deep fakes,” warned Jon Check, senior director at Raytheon Cyber Protection Solutions. “That’s really going to challenge us because those become very unrecognizable. What’s real and what’s not, that will definitely affect the political landscape. Ransomware will continue to take off and be very targeted to specific individuals and specific areas where recon now is much easier than it’s ever been to hone in on who they want to fish and target.”
The evolving battlespace, airspace and cyberspace requires input and participation from a number of players across a number of areas. For example, data sharing must become a priority to make the new battlespace successful. Currently, there are stovepipes of information built on disparate systems in every branch. Raytheon has been working with the Air Force for several years to open these systems and expose them to each other to allow the data to be exchanged between the systems.
The imperative today for those working in aerospace and defense is to understand the extent to which these disruptive technologies demand a fundamental transformation in the approach to operations across all domains.
As software forms the backbone of every capability, fully integrating new technologies into existing platforms requires a move to a commercial DevOps and Agile development model. In the past, the prime directive for developing software was, fundamentally, to build to the requirements and to the functionality the user needed. The prime directive for software in this new world order is different. While it still must be built to the functionality that the user requests, providers must design in the ability for that software to evolve, to scale, and to be sustained.