7 August 2019
Laser's, Microwaves, Hypersonics & More: Army RCCTO
By Theresa Hitchins
SPACE AND MISSILE DEFENSE SYMPOSIUM:The Army’s three-star rapid capabilities chief is rushing to sign a contract on hypersonic missiles in three weeks, announced a new high-energy laser last week and just revealed a plan to build drone-killing microwave weapons — and he’s about to host an industry day asking innovators for even more ideas.
Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood — the only Program Executive Officer (PEO) in the Army to wear three stars — is responsible for developing the most challenging high-tech pieces of the Army’s Big Six modernization plan and deploying them as fast as possible to counter Russia and China. His organization, the Rapid Capabilities & Critical Technologies Office, has effectively existed only since December, when it was radically reorganized out of the older and lower-profile Rapid Capabilities Office. But Thurgood told a contractor-rich audience here that RCCTO would be ready to receive them at its first-ever Innovation Day on Sept. 17, the first of what he hopes to be a quarterly series of pitch meetings.
Innovators who put forward the most promising papers will be invited to pitch their idea to officials representing not only the Army but the other three services, the joint Combatant Commands and independent organizations like the Missile Defense Agency, Thurgood said. Those meetings will be held in McLean, Va.
For the September pitch day, the RCCTO has released a list of areas of interest. These include developing “theater resilient communications,” including commercial capabilities in Low Earth Orbit (LEO); innovative ways to detect drone swarms; and multi-domain capabilities using space, cyberspace, electronic warfare, and long-range precision fire technologies to counter the sophisticated defensive networks known as Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD).
Microwaves & Lasers
The Army is already working with the other services on directed energy weapons to defend against incoming missiles, rockets, and drones. Thurgood said today the RCCTO has teamed with the Air Force to develop a prototype vehicle-mounted High Power Microwave (HPM) weapon that can shoot down swarming drones. The Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland AFB in June had previously unveiled the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder, or THOR, in a demonstration for local press.
Since the Air Force already has a research and development program to develop technology, Thurgood said,”I don’t need to reinvent that technology, I need to buy it from the Air Force.”
The plan is for a demonstration of the microwave weapon in 2022, and fielding of four prototype vehicles in 2024. The Army intends to pair it with a 250-plus-kilowatt laser and traditional interceptor missiles as part of its middle-tier air and missile defense system, the recently overhauled IFPC (Indirect Fire Protection Capability). Each component has a different strong suit:
The three IFPC weapons will be mounted on heavy trucks and deployed to protect “static and semi-static sites” like command posts, supply depots, and forward airfields. They represent the middle tier of the Army’s future air and missile defense system, with high-performance, high-priced THAAD and Patriot taking out ballistic missiles, while the new Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD) variants of the 8×8 Stryker — variously armed with guns, missiles, or a new 50 kW laser — move forward with the frontline units to protect against the most numerous threats: rockets, artillery shells, mortar rounds, drone, and helicopters.
In the same announcement, the Army announced a change to the larger, truck-mounted IFPC laser as well. Originally, prime contractor Dynetics and subcontractor Lockheed Martin charged with developing a 100 kilowatt laser on a truck under a $130 million contract awarded in May. But because “this is a case where industry has driven technology faster than we had anticipated,” Thurgood said, the 100-kW project will end at critical design review, without actually building the weapon. Instead, the same Dynetics-Lockheed team will build on both their own work and a new multi-service collaboration led by OSD to develop a 250-300 kilowatt laser. That weapon will be demonstrated in 2022, and if successful four vehicles will be prototyped and fielded in 2024.
Paul Lemmo, vice president at Lockheed Martin for integrated warfare systems, told Breaking Defense today that “we’re going to up the power on that from 100 kilowatts to something over 250,” he said. “The contract award was a few months ago… the new news is that he wants to take that from 100 kilowatts to over 250.”
Despite all the news on directed energy, Thurgood said that his number one priority remains getting the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) experimental prototype to the field by 2023. The LRHW will comprise a maneuverable Common Hypersonic Glide Body, jointly developed by the Army and Navy for future use by all the services; a command and control center; and four transport erector-launcher vehicles. A contract will be signed for the glide body with a provider sometime within the next three weeks, he said.
He said that RCCTO is partnering on the
hypersonic weapon with Air Force, the
Navy, the Army and MDA. “The
technologies we need for offense and the
technologies we need for the defense are
actually very similar. So there is
actually an MOA between all of us that
dictates what are relationships are.” He
also noted that the Office of Secretary
of Defense “owns the design of
the glide body” right now but that will
transfer to the Navy Oct. 1; the Army
“owns the production of
the glide body.”