By Kenneth Todorov
Vice President, Northrop Grumman Missile Defense Solutions, and former Deputy Director at the Missile Defense Agency
Harnessing Digital Transformation to Solve the Defense Challenges of Today and Tomorrow
Ballistic missile threats continue to evolve as potential adversaries improve missile technologies and demonstrate ever more sophisticated and reliable systems with greater range, accuracy and capability. America's ability to develop a robust yet affordable defense system is increasingly challenged, yet it is an increasingly critical component of our security. We must deliver more flexible and evolvable capabilities to the warfighter that counter known threats and anticipate the unknown threats of the future, and we must do so more rapidly than ever.
To outpace adversaries, a new technology paradigm is required that mirrors the speed of development in the commercial world. Northrop Grumman is a leader in advancing that paradigm shift as one of the pioneers of a new approach to systems design to address evolving and emerging threats: Digital Transformation.
What Is Digital Transformation?
The Digital Transformation effort approaches system capabilities — what things can do — as inherently digital. Viewing systems as largely digital allows us to recognize the potential for them to adapt to changing mission needs faster and cheaper than current analog and hybrid (analog/digital) systems. In digital systems, hardware-dominant architectures become software-dominant. These fully software-defined systems evolve and enhance hardware capabilities with software updates. All-digital software-based systems can learn, change and even add functionality to a given system as the threat-driven need for change arises.
The public has been experiencing the benefits of digital transformation in the commercial world for more than a decade. Cellphones, televisions, computers, self-driving cars and other systems today are digital platforms that are software-defined and hardware-enabled, gaining new capabilities and increased competencies through software updates and app downloads. The physical form of the platform does not change, but, through software upgrades, the capabilities and functionality do.
With digital transformation, the cycle of upgrading and fielding defense solutions is no longer constrained by analog electronics and hardware limitations. Rather, digital missile systems are defined by software, quickly adaptable and improved over time, and enabled by their flexible hardware architecture.
Coupling Digital Technologies With Open Architectures to Meet New Threats
Northrop Grumman is leading the digital transformation revolution in defense capabilities through our software-defined, hardware-enabled systems using modular and open interfaces and architectures. These inherently digital systems can be fielded faster and enable rapid software updates necessary to adapt and stay ahead of adversaries. The digital systems enable hardware platforms to be fundamentally multifunctional and operate in multiple domains. They can rapidly adapt to and deliver missions not originally envisioned for the systems.
A digitally transformed defense system is not restricted by the constraints of the hardware, but can evolve through software upgrades as the missile threat evolves. The ability to advance capabilities at commercial timescales reduces the fielding of new warfighter capabilities from years to months, from months to days, and delivers functionality not envisioned when the original system was fielded.
The Northrop Grumman digital transformation approach addresses emergent threats and mission needs by:
- Evolving and harnessing digital technologies and innovations.
- Leveraging existing platforms and optimizing performance by continuously delivering updates to software-enabled hardware systems.
- Understanding customer needs via agile teams and processes.
- Deploying an open, modular architecture that enables rapid and affordable integration of new systems and capabilities.
Theory in Practice: Addressing the Hypersonics Threat
Advancements in propulsion systems are manifesting in new non-ballistic trajectories and hypersonics. Existing systems are unable to detect, track and engage these new vehicles and missiles. Digital transformation is critical to developing and deploying the game-changing capabilities required to outpace these emerging threats.
Northrop Grumman has embraced a strategy to leverage digital transformation to deliver all-digital, modular, scalable, sustainable and cyber-resilient systems to our customers in airborne, command-and-control (C2), sensor, aeronautics, space and cyber domains. With decades of experience supporting mission-critical defense programs across the entire kill chain, the company is bringing to bear a portfolio of advanced, innovative capabilities from left of launch, through detection and tracking, all the way to assessment of kill, delivering mission agility in addressing the evolving hypersonic threat.
Delivering a Decisive Advantage
Northrop Grumman is leading the industry's digital transformation, leveraging technological advancement, simplifying system evolution and increasing capabilities while minimizing nonrecurring design and development costs and time. We are bringing this approach to all we do in this arena, whether building and integrating complex, multilayered integrated air and missile systems or delivering a solution that helps the warfighter address the growing threat, anywhere in the world.
As these threats continue to evolve, so does Northrop Grumman. Put simply, we are championing digital transformation to deliver an uncontested technological edge and decisive advantage to our nation and allies.