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Popular Science honors Raytheon innovations among best of 2018

Skyler, a small, lightweight radar that was one of two Raytheon tech innovations Popular Science named to its Best of What's New list of 100 top innovations of 2018.

The skies will fill with drones. Raytheon tech will help manage that future.

Just ask Popular Science. The publication has named the Skyler radar and the laser dune buggy, two Raytheon technologies associated with the future use of drones, to its annual “Best of What’s New” list of the 100 greatest innovations of 2018.

Skyler is a low-power radar that consists of small, one-meter-square Active Electronically Scanned Array, or AESA, software-defined, radar units. A network of such small radar units could cover and control the low-altitude flights of smaller craft like commercial drones.

The FAA predicts that the small commercial drone fleet will grow from 110,000 in 2017 to 450,000 in 2022. Raytheon is working with small business and academia on a vision: a distributed Skyler network that will support aviation surveillance, precision weather observations, small drone detection and tracking, border security and surveillance, wildfire detection and elevation and geographic gapfills.

“If you look at radars today across America, you’ll see a lot of single-purpose radars made for specific customers,” said Matt Gilligan, vice president of Raytheon Navigation, Weather and Services. “There is very limited collaboration and synergy between sensors. Skyler offers a real opportunity to change that.”

To fight the threat

A dune buggy designed to zap weaponized drones; talk about futuristic. A Raytheon team made it a reality when they mounted the company’s high-energy laser weapon system on a Polaris MRZR, a small, all-terrain, tactical vehicle.

“Basically, we’re putting a laser on a dune buggy to knock drones out of the sky,” said Dr. Ben Allison, product line director for Raytheon’s high-energy laser weapons systems.

During the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment in March, the laser dune buggy downed 12 airborne Class I and Class II UASs. It was demonstrated again during another MFIX exercise held in October and November.

The laser system can be tailored to fit on all kinds of platforms, including vehicles, rotary platforms, fighter jets and surface ships. A high-energy laser has already engaged targets from an Apache AH-64 helicopter.

Raytheon is also working on a preliminary design of a powerful, 100-kilowatt laser for the Army’s Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles to take out artillery or mortar fire, rockets or small drones.

“Our MRZR is an operational system than can immediately go where it’s needed,” said Allison. “It works easily in the hands of operators – and it’s highly effective in countering the real threat that drones pose.” 

Raytheon laser dune buggy
Raytheon's "laser dune buggy" is a high-energy laser weapon system mounted on an MRZR vehicle. It's also one of the company innovations Popular Science included in its Best of What's New 2018 list.

More innovations to come

If Popular Science thinks we came up with a few good innovations this year, wait until they see what’s on deck. We turned to some Raytheon experts to find out about the tech trends they’re working on now:

In cybersecurity: “In 2019, we will face increasing pressures as the number of connected devices and people rise, increasing both attack surface and attackers, while cyber-adversarial nations will respond to their own pressures,” said Michael Daly, CTO cybersecurity. “Given the scale and urgency of the problem, responding to this cybersecurity challenge calls for a more holistic approach that addresses and coordinates the actions of private industry, government and academia. This new approach has been characterized as a ‘cybersecurity moonshot,’ with a goal to create a secure Internet for critical infrastructure, financial transactions, and other lifeline services, while strengthening privacy controls.”

In advanced defense tech: “Raytheon’s Missile Systems business is developing advanced technologies such as high-speed weapons like hypersonic missiles, which can travel at speeds greater than Mach 5, and next-generation defenses against the growing threat of enemy ballistic missiles," said Dr. Thomas Bussing, Advanced Missile Systems vice president. “It is also working on netted, semi-autonomous weapons that can work together and directed energy systems that can provide speed-of-light effects where more traditional technologies may not be the best answer.”

In training: “In 2019, the U.S. military will fully embrace virtual reality and augmented reality for training,” said Corey Hendricks, chief engineer for Global Training Solutions. “This will be the year VR is no longer a novelty project. We will integrate virtual and augmented reality simulations with smarter artificial and machine learning algorithms, resulting in a more dynamic, immersive training environment.”

In space: “The integration of robust machine learning, automation and data analytics capabilities into next-generation space command and control systems will be absolutely paramount to the success of a U.S. Space Force and for the success of our allies,” said Jane Chappell, vice president of Global Intelligence Solutions.

“As the development and production of smaller satellites continues to move toward being more localized and commoditized, the industry will continue to see nations shifting toward acquiring integrated space C4ISR systems that enable the exploitation of their new sovereign satellite constellations,” said Bob Canty, director of Mission Management & Control.

 In analytics: “The beauty of advanced data analytics today is that our customers are able to gather an enormous amount of geospatial data from both commercial and non-commercial sources; but a drawback of this is that their human analysts can’t efficiently exploit this data using manual methods,” said Piya Kruger, Senior Manager of NGA Programs. “In years to come, data processing systems that automatically detect objects and flag changes over time, with no human intervention, will be the turnkey solution for wrangling these massive amounts of data.”  

In artificial intelligence, or AI: “In 2019, we will continue our work to help demonstrate when and how artificial intelligence can be trusted,” said Bill Ferguson, lead scientist and principal investigator on the Explainable Artificial Intelligence program. “Working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, we will develop a system that will show users which data mattered most in the artificial intelligence decision-making process. We will build trust by giving users enough information about how the machine reached its recommendation so that they feel comfortable acting on the system’s recommendation.”

In radar technology: “We will see breakthrough technologies like GaN enabling radars that see farther and more clearly in 360 degrees," said Bryan Rosselli, vice president of Mission Systems and Sensors. “New technologies will also allow radar command and control to process more quickly and missiles to hit with unparalleled precision. Portable, 3D video game-style consoles will shorten decision-making.”

“We are utilizing… everything from virtual design centers to clean rooms to robotics to constantly test, learn and evolve," said Colin Whelan, vice president of Advanced Technologies. “Robots are working hand-in-machine with engineers and operators to build incredibly powerful radars. These facilities can easily handle radar programs of various sizes and power requirements, but they’re also ready for new development programs that have completely different – and even greater – power specifications.”

Last Updated: 12/06/2018