Gearhead News

March 4, 2021
How The Aegis Combat System Is Evolving To Dominate Naval Warfare Of The Future

The Aegis Combat System, aptly named after the shield of the Greek god Zeus, represented an absolute revolution in how naval surface warfare could be conducted when it first emerged in an operational form nearly four decades ago. At its core, Aegis was a monumental technological triumph made possible by combining advances in computers, sensors, weapons, communications, and human interfaces into a highly automated system the likes of which would have been considered science fiction not long before its arrival. Since then, Aegis has grown massively in capability and has largely dictated what is possible when it comes to the ability of warships to exert control over the massive volumes of air and sea surrounding them.

While the system is still going strong today—it continues to serve aboard nearly all the U.S. Navy major surface combatants, as well as a number of allies’, its perpetual development has resulted in something of a blurry picture as to just how much it has evolved over the years and where it is headed in the future.

With that in mind, The War Zone talked in-depth with Rich Calabrese, Director of Surface Navy Mission Systems for Lockheed Martin, in an attempt to bring clarity to the state of Aegis today, as well as to better understanding its past. And above all else, we wanted to learn about what is on the horizon for what is one of the most important, but often misunderstood weapon systems in the Pentagon’s portfolio. What we found out was downright amazing. 

So, without further ado, here is our exchange nearly in its entirety:

Tyler: How has the Aegis Combat System evolved over nearly four decades since it first entered service aboard the USS Ticonderoga? Are there any moves to create a new system or call it something else or is the Aegis legacy going to stay put for the time being? 

Rich: The short answer is, dramatically. What a lot of people don’t realize, is that we have been continuously evolving the Aegis architecture. There are a couple of points in time where the architecture has taken what I would call some step functions, but generally speaking, we do what we call “while we’re under the hood” changes. Essentially, as we add new capabilities, capabilities drive, form follows function, and a lot of times, that results in a change to the architecture, as well as the technology has changed.

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USS Norton Sound, originally built as a seaplane tender and later refitted as an Aegis test ship, seen in 1980. It was outfitted to test components of the Aegis system from 1973 on. The installation containing the fixed arrays of the AN/SPY-1A radar that can be seen mounted at the top of the forward superstructure. Aegis development goes back to the 1960s and was first fielded operationally in the early 1980s.

If you think about back to when Aegis was first started and it was written in CMS-2 computer language, which is essentially like an assembly language, evolved through the introduction of COTS languages, C++ and Java, and now a lot of script languages and things like that. The processing power that’s available to us, all those things have contributed to a dramatic change in the Aegis Weapon System over the 40 years. 

The names remain the same in terms of what are the elements of the Aegis Weapon System, but inside of them, the changes that we have made, have made the software more modular, made it more flexible… and facilitated the integration of new capabilities, new weapons and sensors…

As we look forward, the number of sources of information and the number of the data sources that we’re looking to incorporate are driving us to change some basic paradigms of how the system works and how it’s architected.

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An aerial port bow view of the U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) underway during Standard II missile tests near the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico (USA), on 9 April 1983. Ticonderoga was the first operational Aegis warship. 

Tyler: I think one of the things that people don’t realize is it’s the same system, but it’s also really a totally different system. As time has gone on, there’s so much difference there that it’s the same concept, but it’s very much a different, modernized system compared to what existed 40 years ago. Would that be a correct assumption? 

Rich: Yeah, that’s correct and a lot of people don’t realize that. The other thing… Are you familiar with the Common Source Library? Does that term mean something to you? 

Tyler: Not off the top of my head, no.

Rich: So, the power of the architecture really is demonstrated by what we call the Common Source Library or CSL. What the CSL does is it allows us to use a common computer program based on the Aegis computer program to support a large number of different ships. So, essentially, all the surface combatants now, LCS, the frigate (FFG-X/Constellation class) which we’re developing, even the Coast Guard, Aegis cruisers and destroyers, international programs, they are all now built out of the same Aegis Common Source Library. 

Lockheed Martin
CSL is the heart of all Aegis and associated installations across many types of surface combatants.

Because the architecture has the flexibility and Lockheed Martin has the tools and knowledge of the domains, we’re able to deliver… I’ll say specifically tailored computer programs for each of those different missions. And if you look at that range of missions, a Coast Guard cutter whose job is primarily to do drug interdiction missions up to a Aegis destroyer who’s doing integrated air missile defense capability at the highest end is quite a range of—and in between, you’ve got LCS and ships like that—quite a range of missions and capabilities, different sensors, different weapons, all being driven by the same Aegis computer program in the form of the CSL.

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A Freedom class LCS is seen underway. These ships use a version of the CSL that is tailored to their more limited capabilities compared to a destroyer or cruiser. 

That’s been a major change in the way we deliver capability, and we’re able to, like I said, tailor specific functionality and essentially, not to trivialize it, turn on and off functionality. So, in that way, if somebody later decides, “Hey, I would like that capability on my program, on my ship,” it’s already built into the CSL, we can effectively turn it on for that particular ship assuming they have the sensors and weapons that are necessary to support that mission.

Tyler: Interesting. That’s a very automotive trend too, a standardized software platform where they can say just, “Yeah, you want the extra range in the Tesla? We can turn it on.” It seems like that’s bled over into your space, and obviously, software is being one of the biggest hurdles to any program these days…

Aegis Baseline 9 allowed ballistic missile defense and defense against air-breathing threats, such as cruise missiles and aircraft, simultaneously. Can you talk a little bit about that, what the challenges are to actually making something like that happen and how that is a game-changer for the surface combatants that receive it? 

Rich: Yeah, so the game-changing aspect of it is that prior to Integrated Air Missile Defense, the ships were either or AAW capability or ballistic missile defense capability. And essentially, for the longest period of time, separate computer programs were actually developed and you switch between the computer programs depending on the posture of the ship. With the introduction of Integrated Air Missile Defense, it allows you to conduct both missions. 

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In the past, a properly outfitted cruiser or a destroyer could only conduct ballistic missile defense or anti-air warfare, not both at the same time. 

The biggest architectural driver I would say is the Mission Planner, which allows you to set up your resources accordingly based on your ship position, your mission, priorities, and so forth, and helps you to set up and plan for how you need to allocate your radar resources to support both missions. Obviously, there’s a ripple effect throughout the system in terms of how the signal processor works, how the weapon control system works. Everything is tuned to be able to support the simultaneous execution of those two missions. But the biggest result being for the warfighter is them being able to simultaneously execute those missions as opposed to separately.

Each of the functions of the Aegis Weapon System was evaluated to see what changes would need to be made internal to each of the components in order to support that integrated Air Missile Defense. And again, the Mission Planner is a key element of how we are able to manage those resources, and then obviously, we’re monitoring the performance against that plan and are able to react in real-time to the evolving mission.

Tyler: If I’m in the CIC (Combat Information Center—the nerve center of the ship) or whatever, I can say, “Hey, listen, the ballistic missile threat is prominent versus the air threat” and I could configure my operations based on what I perceive is the major threat at the time. Is that what the Mission Planner gives you in terms of tailored flexibility? 

Rich: Yeah, and you know your operating area, you know geographically where you are, you know what the threats are, so basically you are fine-tuning the system to be prepared to respond to the most likely scenario that you’re going to face that day.

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Inside the CIC aboard the cruiser USS Normandy (CG-60). 

Tyler: With all this, we will be seeing, pretty soon, the introduction of an AESA technology, the SPY-6 radar, and then Aegis Baseline 10 configuration to go with it. What will that bring to the Navy? There’s obviously the next Flight III Arleigh Burke class destroyers, they’ll have that, but also there’s going to be potentially a back-fit program for some existing Flight II destroyers. What does that sensor upgrade and also Baseline 10 give for this next step we’re going to see in the evolution of the Aegis system? 

Rich: Yeah, so I’m not really the radar guy, but I’ll tell you, primarily, the difference from the radar perspective is performance—its ability of what it can see and what it can discriminate. So, I’ll leave it at that from a classification perspective, it’s going to buy you extra performance, it’s going to buy you some extra battle space and decision time. Of course, that’s needed as the threat is increasing. What’s different is that the radar is a task-based radar, so the combat system now is evolving, and we talked about how is it changing. 

GAO/Navy
Basic configuration for the Flight III Arleigh Burke class destroyers which will come equipped with the SPY-6 radar.

With Baseline 10, we’re introducing the ability to plan and manage a task-based radar so that you can tell the radar what it is your objectives are for it to perform, and it’ll go off and perform to the request of the combat system. That’s a big deal. The other thing is integrating that with all the other sensors and that’ll be on board. So the introduction of an Above Water Sensor Coordinator, that allows us to make resource determinations across multiple sensors on the ship, and again fine-tune your sensor posture for your environment, for your threat space, for your geography.

That’s where the introduction of SPY-6 brings that task-based radar capability, it brings higher performance and sensitivities, and then the combat system has evolved along with it to be one able to control and manage the task-based radar. But also the next architectural step was really to abstract away all the specifics of the sensors to allow for effectively all data sources to be able to be used by the combat system in a similar way. 

Raytheon
The massive SPY-6 radar unit. 

Then we’ve architected it such that a non-task-based radar, back to the Common Source Library concept, that same software architecture can be applied to all of the Baseline 9 ships that will be out there. And we’re heading towards what we call CSL Continuity, which means there will truly be a single baseline of capability across the Baseline-9 and the Flight III ships that’ll be out there. So, the Flight IIs and the Flight III ships will have a common architecture, a common functionality, and performance will differ based on the radar. SPY-6 on a DDG will be different than a potential SPY-6 back-fit, which will be smaller, maybe even a rotating radar. Then there are other radar upgrades that are being looked at from a legacy radar perspective that Lockheed is working with the Navy on now to provide similar solid-state capabilities, as you would see on SPY-6, but on the legacy SPY-1 platforms.

Tyler: Will Aegis fuse new sensors like infrared surveillance systems, or weapons like directed energy weapons? What do you see being tied into the system in the future that maybe isn’t a priority now, or is at least not fielded now? 

Rich: Again, the short answer is everything. We’re continuously upgrading the multi-source integration infusion capability of the Aegis weapon system and looking to bring in new weapons and sensors and do coordinated hard kill and soft kill. Directed energy weapons… We’re really already integrating the Helios Laser Weapon System with the Aegis Weapon System CSL in our lab here in New Jersey. In fact, we’ve… The guy who’s now managing the laser program… He let me know the other day that we recently fired a laser here under the control of the Aegis Weapon System computer program. So, we’re building in the capability to do that weapon coordination and to do the hard kill, soft kill coordination in an automated fashion, working with the Helios Weapon System.

Lockheed Martin
USS Rancocas, “The Cornfield Cruiser,” Aegis lab located in New Jersey. 

Similarly, EW (electronic warfare) with SEWIP and really even beyond all data sources, if you think of anything that could provide data to the ship, and traditionally, there was a harder boundary between what some would call C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) or C6I systems, C6ISR, whatever combination of letters you like, there was typically a segregation, there were some data sources that stayed in the C4 system and the Aegis Weapon System was primarily just driven by the SPY radar. Today, what we’re doing is fusing all of that data to create a better situational awareness, and we’re able to engage on data that’s non-traditional in the form of data that may come from, I’ll say non-organic sensors.

Tyler: That level of automation would allow those at the controls to use the weapons they have more efficiently and to better classify, sort, and engage targets that are of higher priority than just having a bunch of federated systems or even those that are talking to each other in limited ways, but not actually fully fused into the system seamlessly. That’s the goal, correct?

Rich: Yeah. So, the Above Water Sensor Coordinator gives us that level of automation that allows us to recognize, set the objectives for the mission and monitor against that, and then really essentially be more effective and more efficient with your weapons and your sensors. So, you’re not using all of your sensor resources looking at one thing. If you have another sensor that can give you the same information with the same… I’ll say our budgets, that allows us to trade-off again. Say maybe I don’t need to use all of the primary radar resources, if I have a SPQ-9 or something like that, that I can use to give me good enough data for the mission that I’m trying to achieve.

Lockheed Martin
Aegis is in service with six nations’ navies. 

Tyler: We’ve seen Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block 2 and SM-6 that are networked and the moving away from having to rely on radar illuminators to paint targets for missiles to engage them in their end-game phase of flight. How is that going to change the system? Is this going to be able to simplify things in some ways, eventually not having to integrate target illumination using discreet illuminators aboard Aegis-equipped ships like U.S. Navy destroyers and cruisers?

Rich: Yeah, and it’s really on a mission-by-mission basis as to whether how much you can rely on the ‘fire and forget’ missiles. It’s certainly an assist to us to be able to perhaps get more missiles and missiles in flight if you’re not bounded by the illuminator resources [four on Ticonderoga class cruises, three on Arleigh Burke class destroyers]. But again, that comes into… What comes into play there is our weapon control architecture, which allows us to do smart weapon scheduling and trying to do the best weapon target pairing. That’s some of that automation that we talked about that’s built into the Aegis Weapon System. 

It is able to do that weapon selection and weapon target pairing, knowing what your resources are. “Hey, do I have… What’s my depth of fire? Do I shoot a long-range weapon at this thing and take it out early? Do I try to shoot the archer [the launch platform before it can fire]? Can I wait? If I wait, what am I using?” So, those are the kind of trade-offs in terms of which missiles I’m using against which targets. The fire-and-forget does give us a little bit more flexibility, but again, it all comes down to understanding the mission, the target, and the timelines involved.

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USS John Paul Jones test-fires an SM-6 which features an active radar seeker.

Tyler: How automated is that process, if I’m there on the controls, is the system at a point now where it’s giving me recommendations as far as what it thinks is best? How does that work?

Rich: It’s always been an interesting question to me because really from day one, automation… Aegis theoretically could operate fully autonomously it’s really a choice of the warfighters in terms of how much they trust the system. So, what’s improving now is that we’re providing algorithms that give you a little bit more confidence in the selections that the system is making and the system is giving, is putting up, is making decisions. We’re able to give you probabilities or the rationale behind the decisions that the system’s making so the operator can look at it. But frankly, the timelines are happening so fast, which is why we’re putting in things like Above Water Sensor Coordinators and Weapon Coordinators and things like that, that provide a high degree of automation, because there’s really no time for the operator to be in the loop.

We talk about the operator being in the loop. So, they know what’s happening, they know why things are happening, and if they’re gonna negate something, they wanna do command by negation. They have information there that will allow them to do that. But more and more, they’re going to have to rely on the automation that’s, like I said, really been in the system since the beginning of the Aegis Weapon System. It’s just that we may have more information now through the fusion of data, we may have more options now in terms of the weapons that are going to go after it. So, the environment is certainly getting more complex, the threats are getting more challenging and so the reliance on the automation and the provision of things like decision aids that make some of those decisions for them, like balancing sensor resources or doing the weapon selection, and weapon-target pairing, just become more essential to the success of the mission.

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Senior Chief Fire Controlman Michael Cullinan monitors a radar console for air and surface contacts in the combat information center aboard the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75).

Tyler: What if we were to take the Baseline 10 configuration and put it into an older ship? What does that look like? When we hear an upgrade happening, what does that include? Do you have to rip all the hardware out and then also put in new software with new hardware to support it? Or is this something that is more of a software transplant? 

Rich: Well, it depends on the state of the ship. So for example, in doing Baseline 9, we’re putting out hardware that is referred to as TI-12H and TI-16. Just think of those as a level of computing capacity and a generation of hardware that’s out there. What that enables us to do is a couple of things. 

If a Baseline 9 ship is already running that later hardware, then it’s primarily just a software back-fit to say, take Baseline 10 when it’s complete and put it back to a Baseline 9. Now, when you do that, of course, you may not have all the same sensors and weapons available to you on the ship, so you may not get the same performance, but you would get the same functionality and you can get commonality across Baseline 9 and Baseline 10 ships.

If the ship hasn’t been updated then to date, what that has involved would be called a modernization. That would be typically taking out all the racks of old equipment and upgrading them with modern computing, something along the lines of what I would call a TI-16 hardware. That’s a bigger deal, that’s more of a ship impact in terms of the amount of time it takes and the cost associated with it, if you have to take out really old hardware. 

But what we’re providing now is that on those older ships, what we can do is we can bring a ‘virtualized’ Aegis Weapon System back, and the amount of hardware, the footprint required to run the virtualized Aegis Weapon System is significantly less.

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Aegis-equipped warships are designed to be networked together and work as a combat team. 

So, for a while, we were looking at the Baseline 5 ships, for example, which were primarily BMD ships, they already had some computing equipment, they were talking about doing a tech refresh. That tech refresh would have brought the computing environment for essentially what would have been just adjunct computing, but because we’re able to use a smaller computing footprint with a virtualized Aegis Weapon System, we would have been able to bring a Baseline-9 or a Baseline-10 computer program back to those Baseline-5 ships without as much of a substantial hardware impact because the footprint is smaller than otherwise required with what prior modernizations used to require.

Tyler: When you say virtual, what exactly is that? How is it defined in terms of Aegis? 

Rich: So, virtual meaning that we would have a set of virtual machines. A virtual machine is, think of it as a software representation of a computing platform. On the raw hardware, if you think of the bare-bones metal of the hardware, you would run these virtual machines, which is in a sense present to the computer, to the computer program, it presents the look of, you think you are running in the computer that you’ve always run in. 

So, if I used to run in a TI-16 rack of hardware, and I had a bunch of blade servers in there, well, it might not actually be on a bunch of physical blade servers anywhere because inside of a server, I may be able to create, I’m just making up a number, 10 virtual TI-16 blade servers. So, now I could run all of Aegis Weapon Systems software on a much smaller set of [computer hardware]… Taking advantage essentially of the horsepower that’s available to us now in the modern computing market, we can now run… So think of that stack, bare-metal hardware, virtual machine, which is a commercial product, native Aegis Weapon System computer program and operating systems, and so forth, sitting on top of that.

USN
Aegis and the CICs aboard ships equipped with the system have evolved along with advances in sensor, communications, and computing technology. But its interfaces have always looked like something out of a sci-fi military thriller. Now, with miniaturized computers with far more power than their predecessors, less space is needed to install far more capability.  Here is a photo of Aegis aboard a Ticonderoga cruiser from the system’s first decade of service. 

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This is a rare photo of the CIC within the cruiser USS Normandy today. As you can see, there are similarities, but overall it is a much more advanced technology space than it was years ago.

So, that is what we’re using now, and a lot of deploying as I’ll say of Aegis, including some non-traditional form factors where there’s a desire to have an Aegis Weapon System on either a smaller platform or on a ground-based configuration… So, a lot of the things we’re doing now in terms of experiments like the upcoming Valiant Shield, the computer program that we’ll be delivering will be a single small box with a virtual Aegis Weapon System inside of it, and delivering all the same functionality, but without the same number of cabinets and racks…

Tyler: You’re saying basically that the miniaturization of computer hardware has made it so the invasive, rip everything out and start from scratch, huge hardware refits aren’t maybe as necessary as they used to be to deploy these new Aegis capabilities on older ships? 

Rich: Yeah, it certainly reduces that effort. I won’t say that I’ve gone in and done the ship inventory, but we do know that in some cases, you might even be able to leave the old stuff there and bring in a smaller box if there’s space and run the virtualized Aegis Weapon System in there. The challenge becomes some of the legacy interfaces and we’re working solutions with the government to handle some of the legacy systems that may not be compatible with the newer networking technologies or the upgraded computing plants and virtualized configurations.

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Sailors track contacts in the CIC aboard the Aegis cruiser USS Shiloh.

Tyler: As far as future capabilities go, what is the future for the system when it comes to things like hypersonic missile defense and also being tied into and acting as the command and control node for unmanned vessels that will have their own weapon systems on board and will need some sort of control? Can you speak to those two leading-edge capabilities that we’re seeing actually coming down the line rapidly, and how that’s intertwined with Aegis? 

Rich: We’re already starting work on the LUSV, the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle. So, we’re already defining what the combat system will look like between the controlling unit, which they call the UOC—Unmanned Operations Center—which will likely be on an Aegis or maybe a frigate platform. And the vehicle itself, the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle, and looking to leverage the Common Source Library again. So, that the control of weapons will be on the remote unmanned vehicle under the control of an Aegis weapon system type of computer program or paradigm and controlled by the controlling unit, which would be another Aegis CSL instance.

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Sea Hunter has proven itself as a technology demonstrator and has jumped started a whole “Ghost Fleet’ initiative within the Navy, in cooperation with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, which focuses on fielding various unmanned ships that will work with existing ships in the fleet. As such, they will need remote command and control, not just of the ships themselves, but also the weapons they carry. Aegis will likely provide the groundwork for that capability. 

It starts to become a family of Common Source Library instances communicating with each other… Really, you can think of it like as an extension of the magazine size of the ships. So, that’s already in progress now. And very early in the design of that, they just awarded the LUSV ship side of things, but on the combat systems side, the plan is to use a, I’ll call it a networked family of Common Source Library computer programs.

As far as the threats are concerned, that’s a continuous upgrade. We have something that we call Aegis Speed To Capability or ASTOC. And ASTOCs look at the threats that are out there, look at any perceived gaps, anticipate some perceived gaps and then address them with short sprints of bringing capability faster to the fleet. One of those ASTOCs did look at hypersonic as far as tracking, and then there’s ongoing work, looking at engagement, engageability of hypersonics. So, it’s definitely a focus going forward and I probably can’t say much more about that at this point…

Suffice it to say, Aegis has a continuing cycle of threat assessments working with the government. The government really defines what the threats are, the government defines what their priorities are. We use that information to inform our internal research and development and then we collaborate with the government to recommend changes architecturally, design-wise to the Aegis Weapon System to support, providing performance against those evolving threats. It’s a constant state of getting the intel and assessing what it’s telling us about the threats and ensuring that the Aegis Weapon System is keeping pace with those threats.

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 A Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessel takes part in a capstone demonstration during the conclusion of Phase I of the program in September. Two existing commercial fast supply vessels were converted into unmanned surface vessels (USVs) for Overlord testing, which will play a vital role in informing the Navy’s new classes of USVs. 

Tyler: On Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) and the ability to network fires across different platforms—the Aegis system is, I believe, central to that. What is that looking like and what do you see that turning into for Aegis in the future? 

Rich: I think there’s going to be continued evolution. I think CEC was purpose-built and has some limitations. I think what we’re looking to do is really break the bounds of communication, so that the communication is not dependent on just CEC networking, but really any available communication sources that allow us to be a node in the network. 

Ultimately what our objective is, is that all of the CSL platforms, and we’re talking primarily about Aegis, but when I say Aegis, I’m really also talking about LCSs and frigates. And also going forward you may know that we recently won the Ship Self-Defense System, the SSDS contract. So, we’re also providing the combat system for the carriers and amphibs. And so what we’re looking to do is identify any areas of commonality across all of those and to make recommendations back in terms of what changes will be required to CEC, but also what other communication paths are available to us. 

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Networking most everything in the battlespace to leverage distributed weapons and sensor capabilities is the primary goal of the Navy and the DoD as a whole going forward. Aegis is a critical component of that. 

So, if you look at, for example, capabilities like NIFC-CA [Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter-Air]. NIFA-CA uses other communication paths in order to share data that can be used in the engagement of targets…

Tyler: Is that something where if I’m on the destroyer or the cruiser, and there’s an F-35 150 miles away and I want to shoot a target maybe I can’t see at that time, I do so leveraging the F-35’s sensors via the network, is that something that the decision is made within the weapon system or how is the architecture set up for that? 

Rich: So the integration of F-35 is something that we did. We’ve done it in experiments, it’s not yet a program of record. But essentially the way the architecture is set up is that we created a component, which is able to receive the data that would come from the F-35 and provide it in a form that the weapon control system is able to use for engagement. It’s really more about using the F-35 as a, I’ll say, extended pair of eyes for them to be able to provide data from what they see, and they have terrific data fusion capabilities onboard their ships, some great sensors, and some great ability to fuse things. So, if we can take advantage of that data, and again, back to the fire-forget missile capabilities, you can start to extend the battlespace by making F-35 a part of the network that is shared with Aegis components or Aegis nodes.

Tyler: We hear a lot that ‘Aegis light,’ known officially as COMBATTS-21, and that it’s going into the new frigate, FFG-X, and a version of it is on LCS, as well and other ships. Can you explain really what the difference is between the two—Aegis and COMBATTS-21? 

Rich: It’s really just the decision on what functionality was required for LCS versus the Aegis platform. So again, COMBATSS-21 is just another instance of the Common Source Library. And to be honest, on the frigate, although some people think of it as a growth of the LCS program [the combat system], they’re actually calling it now the Frigate Aegis Weapon System, as an indication that the intention is that the frigate will be closer in capability to an Aegis ship than it will be to an LCS ship. 

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An artist’s conception of a Constellation class guided missile frigate, formally known as the FFG(X).

The real primary differences are that the weapons… There was a more simplistic weapons complement on LCS that did not require the full weapon control system that we have on Aegis… You can think of COMBATSS-21, if you’re familiar with the terminology of Aegis, the C&D, which is the command and decision element, ADS which is Aegis Display System, and ACI, which is the Aegis Computing Infrastructure. It’s primarily those three elements or all that is part of an LCS configuration, and that gives them the ability to process the TRS-3D or 4D radar that’s on an LCS, and to control the gun and the RAM missile, that’s the weapons that are on an LCS. 

For what’s common for those elements, they’re effectively the same as what’s on an Aegis system. When you go to Aegis now, you’re adding in a SPY computer program and you’re adding in a weapon control system because it’s a more robust weapon complement and a more robust sensor suite. So, you add in those capabilities, but if you were to draw it out in like a Venn diagram, you’d see, again, a big common core, of Aegis, inside of an LCS with a label over it saying COMBATSS-21. And then the additional functionality that’s not needed by LCS makes up the difference between a COMBATSS-21 ship and what we would otherwise call an Aegis ship.

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Legend class National Security Cutters and Flight II Arleigh Burke class destroyers both share in the Aegis lineage, with each ship’s combat system being part of the CSL.

Tyler: Do you see the Aegis system moving onto the future Large Surface Combatant initiative that they’re talking about? Would this be yet another iteration of the CSL? Obviously, you’d have a lot more real estate to play with on something like that.

Tyler: Yeah, and again, the real estate is not a big deal for us in terms of the software, so our footprint is actually going down. The Navy’s plan is that the CSL will evolve to be the combat system for the future combat system, they call it the Integrated Combat System, which will go on the future combat ship… the Large Surface Combatant. 

And so back almost full circle, the continuing evolution, we’re doing things now to the architecture to bring it into a more componentized state and trying to do things which will increase the speed at which we can deliver capability to the hands of the sailor. So, we’re transitioning all of our elements into what they call continuous integration, continuous delivery, paradigm, which will allow us to introduce new capabilities faster in smaller increments and get it out to the fleet.

So, instead of having the current large baselines which take multiple years from conception through verification, where we’re moving for the Large Surface Combatant and for the Integrated Combat System is more rapid introduction of incremental capability. And now you can think back to what I said about ASTOCs [Aegis Speed To Capability]. 

USN
The Navy is desperately trying to expand its fleet size. While unmanned hulls will be a facet of this initiative, procuring more CSL-equipped traditional surface combatants is an extremely pressing issue. 

Everything that we’re doing is pointed towards how we’re going to achieve the goals of the Integrated Combat System and the goals of a Large Surface Combatant and all the other LUSVs and the USVs, and all those other vehicles and platforms. It’s all centered around delivering capability faster to the hands of a sailor, meaning design time, compile times, delivery times all through like a DevSecOps pipeline. So, that’s going to be a continuous evolution because there are some elements of the Aegis Weapon System that we’re still working to get into the pipeline and we’re partnering with the Navy to do that.

Tyler: Is one of those DDG-1000? Isn’t that on a separate system? It seems like that would be the only one left that isn’t…

Rich: The DDG-1000 is the oddball out. We have ideas on how, again, leveraging the virtual Aegis Weapon System you could bring Aegis capability to a DDG-1000. Especially now that they’re looking at a back-fit of a SPY radar back to a DDG-1000 replacing the current radar. There would be a pretty straightforward approach that we’ve developed some concepts for and that would be ready to introduce should the Navy have interest in doing that. But yeah, currently that’s the sort of the odd duck out. That’s not a CSL, SSDS is not a CSL either. But because we’re working SSDS and frigate and Aegis, we’re able to look across all the programs and identify opportunities for sharing across the programs in both directions. 

DDG-1001 Facebook Page
USS Michael Monsoor. One of just three Zumwalt class destroyers. 

If there’s something that has been developed for the carrier that would be a benefit to an Aegis ship, great. If something on a frigate that would help SSDS, great. And so that’s why those programs are in my portfolio, so that we could take advantage of the synergy across all those surface Navy programs. And I look at DDG-1000 as an opportunity for further commonality because it is currently the one-off of the combat systems in terms of being able to take advantage of synergies across the programs.

Again, I want to be clear, SSDS is not in the Common Source library, but it is in the family of combat systems that we’re working on. So, there’s the opportunity to share subject matter expertise as well as requirements, design, and hopefully even computer software.

Tyler: Is there anything else you would like to add? Any other thoughts about Aegis and maybe people’s perception of the system?

I’d just like to say is that this is not your father’s Aegis anymore. Aegis is now the center of a family of ships that share the Common Source Library pedigree, and we’re going to continue to evolve. We’ve evolved to get to this point. We’re going to continue to evolve the system to meet the new threats, but also to change and transform the way we deliver the capabilities so that we can get more capability faster to the hands of the sailors through the DevSecOps pipeline that we’re implementing now. We’re demonstrating that on Baseline-10 and on Baseline-9, both of those programs are demonstrating breaking up what traditionally was a large baseline into smaller incremental developments of capability that we can get out there faster.

A huge thanks to Rich Calabrese and Melissa Chadwick, our very patient media relations representative, for making this in-depth interview happen.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

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