Roy Azevedo, president of Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems unit, has firm ideas about where the military technology business is headed–and how his company can stay ahead of the pack.
Raytheon is that rarest of enterprises, a tech company that has managed to stay at the forefront of innovation for multiple generations. It began as a startup organized by three of the leading innovators at MIT nearly a century ago with the goal of making radio a household appliance, at a time when radio was genuinely revolutionary. It led the way in developing radar technology during World War Two. It created some of the most successful military sensors and missiles of the Cold War era.
But when you position your business as a technology innovator, the insistent query from customers and investors always is, “What have you done for me lately?” So Raytheon (a contributor to my think tank) continually reinvents itself in a bid to stay ahead of the pack. That strategy seems to be working. Defense News ranked the Massachusetts-based company as the second-biggest military contractor in the world last year, and this year the company raised its dividend for the fifteenth consecutive year.
Big defense contactors tend to be known for their signature weapons. General Dynamics builds tanks. Lockheed Martin builds fighters. Northrop Grumman builds bombers. Raytheon has a rather different image. It produces sensors, networks and munitions that are integrated into those weapons, or occupy the space between them in combat. It’s a special niche in the military marketplace that makes the company a little harder to understand than your typical weapons maker.
So I thought what I would do here is try to capture some of the ideas that currently drive management’s efforts to stay on top in a business where change is unfolding at a faster pace than ever before. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Roy Azevedo, president of the company’s Space and Airborne Systems (SAS) unit which generates about a quarter of corporate revenues. Azevedo is an uncommonly thoughtful engineer who shared with me what he could—much of his work is competition-sensitive or classified—about where the unit is headed.
I shall now attempt to translate what I heard into layman’s language. It’s pretty powerful stuff, but the thought process isn’t just confined to Space and Airborne Systems. All of the company’s business units are engaged in sensor work, and most of them innovate in electronic warfare and missile defense. So Raytheon’s key competencies are spread across the whole enterprise. The ideas that inform how Roy Azevedo approaches military space and airborne systems offer insight into the thinking of the entire company. Here are five such ideas.
Systems versus platforms. Raytheon SAS believes the character of modern warfare is migrating away from the big warfighting “platforms” of the past. Military leverage increasingly is provided by flexible, dispersed “systems of systems” that do not depend on particular nodes for their effectiveness. The kill chain of sequential steps that traditionally defined how enemy assets were tracked and targeted is being replaced by a more fluid “kill web” that is much harder to disrupt. In the future, combat power will reside largely on the electromagnetic spectrum, and will be seamlessly spread across all the other warfighting domains—land, air, sea and space.
Proliferation versus concentration. In a related vein, architectures supporting various military missions will increasingly favor diverse, low-cost assets that degrade gracefully in the face of enemy resistance because they are so scattered and redundant. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is pursuing a highly connected combat network called Blackjack that would provide persistent coverage from low earth orbit using numerous affordable satellites rather than a handful of high-cost, high-end assets that could prove difficult to replace quickly. The Air Force is moving away from relying on aging radar planes to track moving ground targets, preferring instead to field a dispersed battle management system that cannot easily be suppressed.
Fusion versus isolation. The key to making a dispersed, system-of-systems architecture work is connectivity. But once warfighters have secure, reliable connectivity it becomes feasible to merge information from many different sources into a comprehensive picture of what is unfolding, both locally and globally. For instance, an F-35 fighter no longer needs to rely upon on-board sensors to find the enemy, because it is connected not just to other fighters, but to an array of manned and unmanned aircraft, to surface sensors, and even to orbital systems. The diverse indications originating from all these sources can then be fused into a picture of the relevant battle space that is both complete and readily grasped by the operator.
Open versus closed. Raytheon engineers believe open architectures in which any trusted supplier can participate are the only feasible way to rapidly implement a system-of-systems warfighting posture. Innovation is unfolding in so many different places along so many different vectors that it makes no sense for the government to lock its efforts into a handful of vendors offering proprietary systems. If the military cannot avoid “vendor lock,” its technology efforts will likely be overtaken by near-peer competitors such as China who are more agile in their innovative processes. Open architectures are essential to staying ahead of potential adversaries in a world where technology is advancing rapidly and unpredictably.
Resilience versus fragility. If the aforementioned precepts are implemented across the military innovation process, the U.S. will end up with a far more resilient defense posture than it has today. The current posture is full of seams that a creative adversary might exploit to compromise U.S. warfighting strategy, from anti-satellite attacks on critical overhead assets to cyber assaults on battlefield networks to electronic warfare targeting of tactical sensors. The company’s emphasis on resilience in its warfighting architectures extends well beyond conventional warfighting, to areas like missile defense of the homeland and key allies where it traditionally has been an industry leader.
All of these ideas have been discussed for years in the military technology community, and under President Trump there is a well-funded effort to put them into practice. What distinguishes Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems from many other offerors in the space is that it doesn’t just have defense electronics as a business line, it lives on the electromagnetic spectrum. Everything it does traces back to the features of the EM spectrum—how it can be used, how it can be denied, how it can be fashioned into warfighting systems of unprecedented power. It’s the kind of vision you would expect from a company founded by engineers and scientists—people whose legacy continues advancing today under the leadership of men and women like Roy Azevedo.