PARIS AIR SHOW NEWS: Leonardo DRS Focuses on Sensor Integration (UPDATED)

By Laura Heckmann

PARIS — As the U.S. military works towards network integration across all services, defense contractor Leonardo DRS is prioritizing what it is calling a necessary precursor: integrated sensing.

“In the network computing area and the advanced sensing area, we see those two coming together,” said Bill Lynn, Leonardo DRS CEO, during an interview at the Paris Air Show June 19.

Currently, a look inside a tank or infantry fighting vehicle would reveal multiple sensors, all of them independent of each other, Lynn said.

“So, you’ll have a commander who will be looking through a sight and sees the world come back to him on a screen. There’s a gunner sitting very close to him, but he has a separate sight and a separate screen,” he said.

Drivers might have vision enhancement systems or night vision systems that pile on a third screen. “None of this is put together,” he said. “So, where you have a lot of different inputs, you’re not getting the collective power by fusing it.”

The myriad of sensors and tactical radars are “not like a Tesla,” he said — but they could be.

Lynn said the future Leonardo DRS envisions is taking those sensors  many of which the company provides with its own network computing on vehicles it installed  and fusing the data with the processing that’s already inherent in the battlefield computing system.

“You could get a single integrated picture of the battlefield so that you can see what was going on, and you could present decision quality data — everybody could see the same thing,” he said.

Pushing that view up the chain of command to the whole force would provide enhanced capability “substantially without buying a lot of new equipment,” he added. “It’s just a matter of taking what you have and pulling it together.”

In their first six months as a public company, Leonardo DRS acquired Israeli radar company RADA last November in part to complete the portfolio of sensors under their own umbrella.

Radar was the one sensor Leonardo DRS did not have “inside our perimeter,” Lynn said. And as part of their vision of integrated sensing, they needed it.

“Because not only is [radar] going to be a sensor, but in this new world, it’s going to be a communications node. It’s going to be a platform of electronic warfare,” he added.

Integrated sensing is “almost what you would have to have underneath JADC2,” Lynn said of the Pentagon’s service-wide effort to achieve joint all-domain command and control. “You’ve got to have all that data to share. This is what gives you the data at the vehicle and unit level that would … start to move around the battlefield.”

No specific program or timeline has formed yet, but the U.S. Army is helping fund Leonardo DRS’s research and development of the integrated sensing concept, Lynn said. Because integrated sensing is largely vehicle based, the company is working primarily with the Army, but the Navy has some contributing programs such as the Cooperative Engagement Capability Leonardo DRS is producing for as well, he said.

Sensing in space is another realm Leonardo DRS has already entered, and an intensified focus on missile defense and its evolution has created an opportunity to advance it, Lynn said.

“We’ve been in space sensing for a while, but for us it's been more of a niche capability,” he said. Leonardo DRS has developed “smaller satellites that are good in low-Earth orbit” such as weather satellites, he added.

“But what’s happening in the market now is the market is moving to low-Earth orbit for a lot of applications — in particular missile defense,” Lynn said. The previous generation of missile defense has largely been done with ground-based radars, “which is fine is you’ve got ballistic missiles coming at you.”

But when the trajectory is not so predictable, such as with hypersonic missiles, being able to place radars in the right place “doesn’t work so well,” he said. Hypersonic missiles don’t follow the ballistic missile trajectory. They fly low and fast, and they maneuver around fixed, ground-based radars.

“What you need to defeat the threat is space-based radar,” he said. “And that’s what the Space Development Agency is developing” with the Proliferated Warfare Space Architecture, a constellation of satellites in low-Earth orbit to provide advanced missile warning and tracking.

Lynn said there is a “real opportunity to expand” in the space sensing market. “We have a sideway power advantage. We do smaller, less hefty payloads. And that’s what you need in this.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to include the full company name.

Topics: Global Defense Market, International

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