Missile Defense Innovations

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Kenneth Todorov

By Kenneth Todorov

Director of Global Air and Missile Defense
at Northrop Grumman, and former deputy director
at the Missile Defense Agency.

Harnessing digital transformation to solve missile defense's discrimination challenge.

The possibility of a ballistic missile attack on the United States continues to grow as the threat increases in quantity, quality and diversity. Adversaries are improving missile technologies and demonstrating more sophisticated and reliable systems with greater range, accuracy and complexity. With this trend, America's ability to develop a robust yet affordable missile defense is increasingly challenged. One of the toughest aspects of a missile defense engagement is determining which objects are lethal (warheads) and which are nonlethal (countermeasures) within a given threat complex.

For a successful intercept, our nation's Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) must discriminate the lethal reentry vehicle(s). Adversaries can attempt to overwhelm our interceptor inventory with a variety of counter-discrimination techniques thereby defeating the purpose of our early warning land-based radars and space-based sensors. These adversarial advancements in countermeasures have made the task of discrimination all the more difficult. The easy solution, building more complex sensors and deploying across the landmasses, is not affordable or supportable.

To meet DOD's priorities regarding the evolving ballistic missile threat, Northrop Grumman continues to harness the disruptive force of digital transformation and look for opportunities to apply innovative software-driven and hardware-enabled solutions into existing warfighter systems. Much success has been realized in recent years through two programs, the Simultaneous Correlation of Unambiguous Tracks (SCOUT) and Athena.

SCOUT is a multiphase activity to develop a physics-based capability to identify lethal objects within a complex countermeasure environment. The program has been heralded for its rapid research, maturation and demonstration of a potentially game-changing suite of advanced algorithms. These advanced software algorithms provide critical capabilities, enabling the BMDS to distinguish between targets and non-targets during missile defense engagements.

MDA Ground-based Midcourse Defense test
In 2016, SCOUT showed its mettle during a recent MDA Ground-based Midcourse Defense test. During the flight test, SCOUT demonstrated its critical technology to improve discrimination of threat objects in a limited countermeasure environment using world-class agile software engineering and innovation. MDA recognized the SCOUT team's success as a key member of the Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) Advanced Technology Research Team at the 2016 Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Symposium for significantly improving the nation's missile defense capabilities.
To complement SCOUT, Athena was initiated under a Northrop Grumman innovation grant to investigate applying high-performance computing and techniques to better utilize battlespace information to improve lethal object identification. The Athena concept began by incorporating Open Systems Architecture Sensor Models (OSM) program capabilities and high-fidelity threat modeling programs and matured from a simple white board concept to concept fielded prototype. Athena builds upon Northrop Grumman's experience in developing high-fidelity radar models with a focus on predictively estimating sensor observations within the new mission context.
Athena provides improved mission performance in the areas of discrimination, engagement direction, and post-intercept assessment. The dynamic solution eliminates a costly and rigid aspect of BMDS configuration optimization in the face of ever-changing threats and has the potential to reduce the overall cost and timeline for MDA to respond to new threat intelligence information. The Athena team has demonstrated thought leadership through the initial inception and feasibility demonstration within the discrimination domain. By expanding the core concept into adjacent mission areas, the Athena team also showed its creativity in providing value to engagement direction and post-intercept assessment.
Programs like SCOUT and Athena continue to underscore Northrop Grumman's commitment to innovation and finding affordable solutions to missile defense's most complex problems. These programs are prime examples of utilizing existing sensor and test architecture to exploit opportunities to prove out enhanced capability over time - without establishing new and costly material solutions. As the ballistic missile threat continues to evolve, it is critical the U.S. takes innovative approaches to not only pace the threat, but to do so in a cost effective way.

As global threats continue to evolve, so does Northrop Grumman—building and integrating complex layered air and missile defense systems that protect our nation and our allies. Our open architecture approach allows agencies to provide reliable data seamlessly to execute the mission with greater efficiency, flexibility, and operational superiority—achieving the most effective response no matter the threat.

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