Aviation Week & Space Technology

Podcast: Combat Drones To Missile Targets—The Rise Of Kratos

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This week on Check 6, Aviation Week's U.S. defense editor James Drew speaks with Kratos Defense & Security Solutions CEO Eric DeMarco. We discuss the tectonic shifts in the U.S. defense industrial landscape, from industry consolidation to snapping up ex-bomber engineers. DeMarco talks about his company's new drone shop, first flight of the Valkyrie, Patriot Games, ballistic missile targets, and intercepting satellite spoofers on the battlefield.

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Discuss this Video 1

on Oct 31, 2017

I can't speak to the corporate aspects of this but here are some things which seem appropriate to me:

1. In the 1980s, anyone working with Israel was anathema in the U.S. defense aerospace business due to the excessively 'friendly' attitudes whose cooperative program results led to extensively technology theft by the state of Israel. You could not look at Israeli engineers as individuals but had to always evaluate them as agents of Israeli foreign policy goals to completely techint exploit American defense technology business leveraging as market share. Oh how times have changed...

Or not.

2. The 'Loyal Wingman' program will fail for at least three reasons:
a. What is stealth but a datafile...
The nature of VLO is not what we have been told it is. Anyone LOOKING AT the F-35 is going to see a largely conventional jet whose principle 40-60` cone of steath protection makes ZERO sense for a jet designed to deliver penetrating strikes. The answer to what modern stealth does look like is Teal Parrot and 'Fuzzy Balls'. As an onskin or local to airframe, active cancellation system. This is not something where you can go light. And it takes years to tailor the system. Just think about what that means on a 'robust VLO' design which has stealth goodness baked right in like a chocolate chip cookie. You cannot change it without massive (costly) reskinning efforts. This is not a coating. It's an in-skin circuit grid such as the Chinese have advertised they have 'discovered', post F-35 cyberespionge exploit. It is also why the mission data files are so critical and all encompassing now. Because, to get perfect LO against radar threats, you must cancel signal across the entire surface skin of the airframe, phase, Doppler and frequency matched to -individual radars-, by chassis numbers as particular waveform thumbprints. That's expensive, it's not going to happen on a drone and without it, your wingman is a signal mirror in the sky to where YOU are.
b. They are doing this backwards.
Just look at the drone program (Teal Dawn, Buffalo Hunter etc.) in SEA. Where some 70% of the ISR mission was flown by both very high and very low altitude platforms with tailored penaid packages (contrail suppressant, RAM etc.) for each. Because RF-4, RF-101 and RA-5 could not hack the mission. If you have excellent drone coverage inherent to long range and sacrificial tease-the-emission trace capabilities, you can target for strikes. Because the drones can be there for-evuh. And are easy to retask if shot down.
The JSF/Valkyrie (LCAS-D) pairing effort, if it happens, seeks to reverse this. In that the drone is the bomb chucker and the MANNED asset is the eyeball ISR system. If you are actually flying to 1,500nm radii, at a typical 300 knot cruise, with an 8-10 hour maximum mission time for manned assets, how does this work out? ISR is akin to ASW in that you are looking in a lot of holes for particular snakes and 90% of your mission time, you come up dry in your santization effort.
If you have 4 drones for every one F-35, you have an inverse coverage problem in that you cannot do CCD type 'swing round an fly by again, in another 20 minutes' condition. Rather, you have to do what the SCARs were doing in AfG and Iraq: running major amounts of burner time between areas to bring (F-14D) a high rez AAQ-25 and secure comm link system into play which could cue strikers cycling through with 100,000 dollars worth of CBU-105 or GBU-12 to hit targets before their gas as station time forced them to drop on 'area targets' in a given truck park zone and fly home.
And an F-35, with that dragster engine, is going to suck gas at a heck of a rate, on the wrong side of an extended radius, trying to match this behavior, even assuming the Valkyrie can hang time stick around for awhile.
No. The way you do this is the exact opposite of what is being suggested: You put a lot of cheap apertures (APY-9 Lynx and AAS-52B MTS equivalent, inside a stealth envelope) and you let the drones do the gathering so that they are the ones whose cheap-numbers vacuum the battlespace and the F-35 is the SDB bomber.
The problem with this is then, again, that high end, A2AD avoiding, VLO is not coming on a 2 year development curve. Nor is it going to be cheap. And the same applies to a very high capability, mixed EO/IR recce MEP _if_ that system comes with a MEMS based, high datarate, commo system that can push TTNT waveforms through a CDL bandpipe (X or Ka) without choking. We are talking AESA on a stick here with a very complex spatial tracking array to get back to a satellite or pseudolite relay, first time, every time. And thus contain emission trace risk with very short burst transmissions. We know this can be done. An APG-77 did it back in the early 2000s with a 170MB SAR WAS map in about 4 seconds. The question is whether it can be made small enough to tuck under a VLO aperture cover and not an MQ-9 'xenomorph head'. At cost.
My belief is that it cannot. You are going to pay for the quality of data security and network rate systems that you want or your are going to be constantly at risk of lost network security as opsec and mission effectiveness. Which brings us to...
c. Fleet Affordability vs. Mission Responsiveness.
Again, if we are talking a 60 million dollar ISR drone in company with an 80-90 million dollar ISR fighter, we are screwing up. That is NOT a 'hi lo mix' because there is no truck platform. And the manned system is SO SLOW to get on station and respond with fires that you are talking about a genuine dichotomy of contradictory mission function.
If you fly racetracks with autonomous drone platforms and send snapshots based on highly directional microwave MEMS comms, you DON'T NEED to have a manned vs. unmanned intermediate system hub node. It in fact becomes a bottleneck vulnerability whether configured like this:

UCAV.......................UCAV...........................UCAV......................UCAV
..................................................F-35...................................................

Or...

F-35+UCAV.............F-35+UCAV...........F-35+UCAV...................F-35+UCAV

Because performance and signature disparities are too significant.

However; if the drones pass data directly, then you can remove the manned asset altogether as the stovepipe integration speeds the engagement process through CCD (Coherent Change Detection = pixel to pixel image recognition) on the drone, backpass to the CAOC and then a forward hand to a network fires platform like an Ohio Followon or stealthy SSC/FF platform which can be a lot closer than a carrier while remaining completely invisible/bunker protected.

As it fires MISSILES like the Hoplite and the HSSW. Which can fly 300nm @ Mach 3 in 15 minutes and 80K or 900nm @ Mach 7 and 200K in 20 minutes. Entirely beyond 90% of existing air defenses. And probably faster than a manned asset, operating at extreme radius, can shift to a weapons release point without consuming all it's burner time fuel reserves in one engagement.

Again, deep attack with a loitering recce:strike complex is a TIME DOMAIN condition, where you are sanitizing huge haystack areas of nothin' to find that one needle of valid threat signature.

And if you cannot afford a JSF+UCAV pairing, you certainly cannot afford a JSF+UCAV+Missile equivalent. Which means that one has to go. And keeping the missiles and unmanneds lets you invest more in signature reduction for the loitering targeter. And avoid the worries of 15+ years of Gen-5 technology base loss inherent to FIVE HOURS of target penetration by a manned asset. You just loft over the threat and only worry about the splash end defenses which you handle with saturation.

And this practicality is exactly why it will never be purchased. Because men don't ride missiles like Slim Pickens yeehawing that B-28 to impact. But they do sign checks.

For airplanes.

And it is the manned jet which is screwing up the A2AD defeat system because the A2AD system is _designed to work against them_. Pull the jet and they can shoot down a dozen missiles and 4 drones per mission and you'll just task two dozen and 8 UCAV for the next.

But only if you can afford it because you haven't leveraged the farm on 426 billlion dollars worth of F-35s and 1.6 trillion over the life of the program.

This is the sin of manned aviation in an emergent warfighter condition like Korea or Taiwan or Iran or Pak-India. You have to break into the theater in the same motion as you start supporting engaged allied forces. If you have to spend 7-10 days reducing threats with DEAD, you've just shifted from saving the circled settler wagons from the indians with a cavalry charge over the hill to Normandy. And where that reinvasion happen in a near-peer threat's backyard, you will generate an October Crisis condition in terms of getting assets which are not immediately threatened, into the theater in numbers sufficient to sustain the recapture mission.

Add to this conditional threats from SSL and Hunting Weapons and you have a major threat mismatch in both target value risk and sortie rate sustainment. Which designing a UCAV to 'help out' a manned asset will not resolve.

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