Expansion of sensor networks continues to improve military security and civilian mobility
By Ezequiel Juarez Garcia, Ali Raz and Nicholas J. Napoli|December 2023
The Sensor Systems and Information Fusion Technical Committee advances technology for sensing phenomena, fusion of data across sensors or networks, and autonomous collaboration between information systems.
The U.S. Space Force’s efforts to expand and harden its satellite network achieved several key milestones this year. In January, HawkEye 360, the Virginia-based radio-frequency data analytics company, was awarded a contract to identify potential RF threats to GPS services. A month later, the Space Force announced it had accepted delivery of the 10th and final GPS-III satellite from Lockheed Martin, the latest generation of the GPS satellite constellation. The force’s Space Systems Command announced in April a “focus on the maturation of [missile warning/missile tracking] sensors, optical satellite cross-links, data fusion, ground communications and constellation mission management” for Epoch 2, the second installment of its missile warning satellite network.
In other satellite network developments, SpaceX began upgrading its Starlink constellation to V2 Mini satellites in late February. These second-generation satellites form part of Starlink’s growing constellation of nearly 5,000 low-Earth orbit satellites and provide four times more capacity than earlier iterations, according to SpaceX.
In August, NASA released its Strategic Implementation Plan 2023 detailing the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s future of aviation for the next 25 years. Among its strategic thrusts, ARMD plans to aid the development of vertical lift aircraft to bolster support for advanced air mobility, including development of electric cargo aircraft and air taxis. ARMD also plans to focus on in-time systemwide safety assurance, a proactive safety strategy to address emerging aviation risks, and assured autonomy. Combined, these two thrusts will provide the national airspace with the safety, capacity and efficiency it needs to accommodate increasingly autonomous aircraft. According to NASA, this will require the use of “advanced sensors and networks.”
On the topic of next-generation tactical fighters, in January, the F-35 Joint Program Office confirmed that the “U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are jointly developing and integrating an advanced radar for the F-35 Lightning II.” This new radar system will be installed in Block 4 A/B/C variants of the F-35. The F-35 JPO announced in late March a one-year delay of the F-35’s Technology Refresh 3, which was due in April of this year. The modernization of the F-35 with TR-3 is “intended to load the jet with improved displays, computer memory and processing power” and is planned before the release of Block 4. The new technology in TR-3 will increase the tactical fighter’s data-fusion capabilities.
In parallel developments, Turkey’s Defense Industry Agency released images in March of the Turkish Aerospace Industries’ TF-X stealth fighter on a runway. This full look comes after images of the prototype emerged December of last year. The TAI TF-X is reported to have an infrared search and track sensor system to provide long-range, high-accuracy threat detection in areas where radar is not an option. TAI plans to deliver 20 TF-X Block 10 aircraft by 2028, with an estimated unit price of $100 million.