New Air Force technology aims to stop nuclear attacks faster

The Air Force and industry are taking new technical steps to quickly alert commanders in the event that the U.S. comes under nuclear attack, by increasing the time window with which decision-makers have to both defend and potentially retaliate.

This includes using emerging software and hardware technologies and new architecture to, among other things, migrate time-sensitive targeting data to the cloud, increase network resiliency and better connect space, air and ground nodes into a fast, seamless integrated threat analysis system. The current work, which includes new technical methods of engineering communications nodes within a broad network, is part of an overall Pentagon strategy to improve missile warning systems as quickly as new technology emerges.

Part of this effort involves a recent $197 million deal between the Air Force and Raytheon to advance an emerging system called FORGE (Future Operationally Resilient Ground Enterprise). The Raytheon system helps architect the technical apparatus to gather, store, safeguard and network missile-attack related sensor information. It involves synchronizing fixed ground terminals with other nodes such as air and space assets; it also leverages cloud technology. In effect, when Spaced-Based Infrared sensors (SBIR) detect the heat and light signature of an enemy missile launch, the data is then networked to key ground sites and passed to the appropriate decision-makers - such as the President.

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“FORGE unlocks data that has been locked up in the past. The value is -- we are going to support world event challenges in a faster manner. Ultimately, the vision is to break down legacy stovepipes. Right now, stovepipes exist between satellite missions, radars and ground assets,” Karen Casey, program chief engineer, told Warrior.

Casey explained that their prototype system, which Raytheon believes is “ready now,” is specifically engineered for the Air Force’s next-generation satellite program known as Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR).

The FORGE initiative does seem to align with an ongoing Missile Defense Agency program described as Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications System.

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“We continuously upgrade and improve our existing systems to make sure the warfighter has the most effective system available to defend the country. We call it spiral development where we put something that is working out into the field and then don’t stop there. We look for the next improvements such as software upgrades,” Mark Wright, Chief Spokesman, Missile Defense Agency, told Warrior in an interview last year.

The aim of C2BMC, according to MDA statements, is to “to collectively see the battle develop, and to dynamically manage designated networked sensors.” Wright explained that the strategic and tactical intent, for instance, is to network various space-based, terrestrial and maritime sensor assets to create a coordinated picture of fast-approaching attacks. He mentioned, for example, that this would include connecting ship-based Aegis radar with air assets or ground-based THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile batteries.

Using cloud technology in this fashion enables otherwise disparate servers and fixed locations to see threat data simultaneously, thus expediting response protocol. An enemy ICBM would typically take about 20 to 30 minutes traveling through space en route to its target, creating time pressure as lives hang in the balance. This approach is consistent with Casey’s description of the FORGE program with the Air Force, which prioritizes both cloud-migration and AI.

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Casey added that Raytheon is working on building “deterministic” and “non-deterministic” AI into the FORGE system. According to Casey, deterministic AI looks for patterns, bouncing incoming data against an existing database of known patterns, whereas non-deterministic AI is enabled by algorithms that perform greater levels of analysis, essentially making decisions.

Some of FORGE, Raytheon developers explained, has been informed by advanced weather information processing systems. Given that FORGE is largely commercial technology, Casey made a point to emphasize that Raytheon continues to take specific technical measures to “cyber harden” the system.

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