Dan Verwiel, the vice president and general manager of the integrated air and missile defense division at Northrop Grumman Information Systems, discusses the company’s missile defense portfolio, the recent successful multi-salvo national missile defense test, layered defenses and countering hypersonic threats with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. The interview was conducted at the Association of the United States Army’s 2019 Global Force Symposium and Exhibition in Huntsville, Ala., where our coverage was sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here in Huntsville, Alabama at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Global Force Symposium, the number one winter meeting of U.S. Army leaders from around the world as well as industry, thought leaders and media here in Alabama where our coverage is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
We’re here on the Northrop Grumman stand to talk to Dan Verwiel who is the Vice President and General Manager of Northrop Grumman’s missile defense effort. Sir, great seeing you.
Dan Verwiel: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure being here.
Mr. Muradian: There was a very successful national missile defense test, it was a salvo of two weapons. A very, very sophisticated test, by all accounts a success. Historically, Boeing is the prime contractor, obviously, for the National Missile Defense System, and there are other names like Lockheed and Raytheon that everybody equates with missile defense, but you guys actually have an extremely sizeable part of that success. Talk to us a little bit about what Northrop Grumman has brought to that party and all of the myriad pieces, whether from the battle management system to the kill vehicle to the — there’s a whole bunch of pieces that you guys have in this.
Mr. Verwiel: First of all, this test was one of the most complicated you could ever be part of, and you don’t pull things like these types of missile tests, flight tests off without having a great partnership between industry and the government. And you’re right, Lockheed and Boeing all have a significant role.
Our role in it is just as significant. Northrop Grumman produces the ICBM that was launched from the Reagan test site in Kwaj Island, and we also build the boosters that boost the kill vehicle into outer space to intercept the incoming threat. We’re also the player in the ground system, in the network that really provides the communication from the data collection of all the sensors and providing information to the kill vehicle so that it can go intercept the target. So we play a very important role in that. And really, I think one of the things I’m greatly proud of is our ability to collect data from all the sensors that are available on the network, process that data to create a kill plan so that we can intercept that threat while in outer space.
To think of two things traveling at 15,000 miles an hour in opposite directions and then hitting it is just a phenomenal task, and I think it was the first time in history we’ve ever had three missiles in the air at the same time producing the kind of effect we were looking for.
Mr. Muradian: And you guys also did the test vehicle, right? The target was your product as well.
Mr. Verwiel: Like I said from Kwaj Island we launched the target and it was a Northrop Grumman produced ICBM target. It accomplished its objectives. Again, a great event for the Missile Defense Agency.
Mr. Muradian: Obviously when you look at the threat environment, it’s rapidly changing. You have Russia and China both developing anti-access area denial systems. The whole idea is to inundate and saturate targets. As you guys, historically Northrop’s had sort of this prescience to try to look 10-15 years down. We were talking a little bit earlier before we got started, the company had cyber as part of its expertise way before other folks were looking at that, as well as homeland security. As you guys look at this market, how do you see it evolving, and how are you positioning yourself to play in this space? Obviously a lot of established competitors. You’re part of that as well. But how do you see this space changing when you add hypersonics, mass area denial systems as well, DF21, DF26, as well as some of the stuff the Russians are working. What does that environment look like that we’re going to have to counter? And how are you positioning yourself in that space?
Mr. Verwiel: You’re absolutely right. One of the things that we look closely at is what is that threat going to look like 10, 15, 20 years out? And the enemy, our adversaries always have a voice in exactly how we’re going to progress the technology, how we’re going to move forward. So hypersonics is a perfect example of what that next threat looks like. We’re spending quite a bit of effort in research and development dollars both within the agency, within the Department of Defense, and within Northrop Grumman and other companies to develop counter-hypersonic capability.
Northrop is blessed with a tremendous amount of talent by virtue of all of the companies that have made up the Northrop Grumman family and we use that technology to kind of get to that next level.
General Hyten made a great comment. Hypersonic threat is one that is very real and it travels at speeds that we just haven’t seen before, and you can’t deal with a threat that you can’t see. So the first part of that mission is to create a thread that allows you to see that target as early as you can for as long as you can, and then put it into a place where your defenses can take care of it. I think that’s the big advantage that Northrop offers.
One of the things we’re looking at is the space layer as well as taking advantage of assets in the terrestrial area. How do you marry those up, be able to process that data in real time to assess that threat as it’s traveling at speeds way in excess of the speed of sound? Many times the speed of sound. And then how do you develop the appropriate kinetic or non-kinetic effects to effectively take care of that target before it hits whatever it’s going after?
Mr. Muradian: Let me take you to that question. We talked to Tom Karako over at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of the nation’s leading experts on missile defense. And one of the criticisms he had of the President’s budget was specifically that the space layer is not included in this year’s budget. There is like a little bit of R&D and seed money in it, but not actually the meat of it. How important is it to develop that space-based layer? You quoted General Hyten. And what sort of urgency window do we need to be looking at this? Especially when you have both China and Russia starting to say look, we’re operationalizing this capability and we’re deploying it?
Mr. Verwiel: There’s a great debate that’s going on right now about what that layer in particular will look like and how it should be affected in creating the solution that you’re going to create the environment to see threats before you can. We are going through those study phases to identify what those are. There’s puts and takes across the board to make those decisions. At the end of the day I believe the budget will present itself, but that’s our vision and in the mean time we’re looking at the necessity of that space layer. I think there’s general consensus that the space layer is absolutely required. What that space layer looks like, what that constellation looks like, what that budget looks like, that’s still part of the debate that’s going to on-go for a little bit of time.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you about the threat environment in that we have a lot of systems, especially to do with something as complicated as an intercept. There are a lot of different systems that have to communicate with one another. One of the big concerns that everybody has is to be in a truly jammed information denied environment. How do you do complicated evolutions like this? I know that you guys have been doing some work on this, to make sure that you have surety of connection between all of the important pieces, for example to do a missile intercept, for example, to make sure that somebody isn’t going to jam their way to success when you’re trying to defeat them?
Mr. Verwiel: A lot of it really takes place in developing an architecture, that C4 architecture that allows you to really leverage any sensor to get to any effector. Within the U.S. Army, for example, we have the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command or command and control program, that really is designed to create a common command and control platform that allows us to integrate any sensor to any effector. The methodology is very similar to what we’re doing with the Missile Defense Agency. But if you use that common command and control construct, then it allows you to tie those things together.
For us, the real value that you can get out of creating a robust and resilient network is to have many assets tied to it. So you hear more about multi-domain command and control. How do we tie assets that come from other agencies, other arms of the military? Whether it be the Navy, the Air Force, the Army, the Marines. How do we take advantage of that? And IBCS is a great example of how you can create that environment. The Missile Defense Agency is looking at those same types of things, and I think that’s the value that Northrop Grumman brings to the table.
Mr. Muradian: And talk to us a little bit about IBCS for those people in the audience who don’t know what that is.
Mr. Verwiel: So IBCS is the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System. It was designed by the Army to be a command and control platform that will allow you to break apart the traditionally stovepiped radar or sensor and effector networks such as the Patriot system, and implement a command and control system that can not only do that Patriot function but could allow me to take data from any sensor that’s in the battle space, assign a target quality track data to whatever that threat is, and be able to assign that target to any effector that I might have, whether it be a kinetic effector like a missile, or a non-kinetic effect like directed energy or EW or something along those lines.
The program now is in its stages where we’re finally starting to put hardware into the hands of the Army so that we can get to the limited user test. Great success, though, because it has demonstrated the Army’s path to try to create a common command and control framework is absolutely doable, and the integration of whether they’re legacy sensors and effectors or the ones that are yet to come. It’s a very cost-effective path to get there. But more importantly, it allows you to leverage all the things that are in the battle space so that you’re not limited to the mission of one particular stovepiped item, but really passing information back and forth to create a truly networked system.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you about directed energy. The TRW side of the company was always one of the world’s leaders in laser weapon systems. I remember the Tactical High Energy Laser, for example; Nautilus that came before. All had TRW or I would say now Northrop Grumman fingerprints on it. Talk to us a little bit about where directed energy is playing in this. Lasers were always seen as something that was going to be five years in the future but now we’re actually in a zone where five years from now we’re going to have a lot of fielded systems coming into service quickly.
Talk to us about sort of the Northrop Grumman vision of what that directed energy future looks like.
Mr. Verwiel: For us, the directed energy capability is more than just the laser itself. You’ve got to look at it from a system construct. And one of the challenges that we’ve had within the industry is just, if you build just the laser you can only get the functionality of the laser. But if you tie it to an entire command and control network, the sensor field that’s available to identify the target that you’re going to shoot, it really does give you a much broader capability that you’re going after.
At the same time we’ve continued to invest significantly with all of the services in developing our directed energy capability. So we now are producing systems that are getting closer to the target goals of all of the elements of defense and we’re creating scalable systems that can move from low kilowatts of power all the way up to the hundreds of kilowatts of power and we’re starting to demonstrate those. So we’re on the cusp of having the capability that can be fielded and there will be some fieldings that will be very, very significant to our arms of the military here in the coming years.
Mr. Muradian: And obviously from guided rocket artillery, mortar countering, you need that volume to be able to counter some of these systems in the future.
Cross-Functional Teams, new. Futures Command, new. Talk to us about how that’s changing the engagement you have with the customer.
Mr. Verwiel: The Cross-Functional Teams or CFTs are really maneuvering the Army into trying to get things fielded a little bit faster than they have traditionally in the past. We’re seeing a lot of very positive successes or early successes in the standups of the CFTs, working with industry. They’re really opening the aperture to identify who in industry they want to work with. They’re presenting ideas in a different format. Creating great relationships that pull in resources from various aspects of the Army. So the idea of the cross-functional team is absolutely working in that direction.
You have to see things come to an end where it turns into an acquisition, but I think we’re really close and we’re really excited about a lot of the positives coming out of the CFT construct.
Mr. Muradian: Dan Verwiel, who is the Vice President and General Manager of Northrop Grumman’s Missile Defense Business, sir, absolute pleasure meeting you. Thank you very much for your time, and best of luck.
Mr. Verwiel: Vago, thank you very much.