U.S. Military: New Projects and Programs



The State of the VITA Technology Industry report by VITA Chairman of the Board Ray Alderman offers key insights into business conditions, next generation platform capabilities, and five challenges the new U.S. Secretary of Defense faces.

The success of the next generation of warfare depends heavily on the electronics industry. Nowhere is this more apparent than in various military projects and programs, just one of several related topics covered in the 2017 State of the VITA Technology Industry report by VITA Chairman of the Board Ray Alderman.

One topic Alderman details: Plans by the United States Air Force to retire the MQ-1 Predator drone and replace it with the MQ-9 Reaper. The MQ-1 is a remotely piloted aircraft that has been in use for 21 years. MQ-9 can operate at higher speed, has high-definition sensors, and can carry more munitions than the MQ-1 Predator. The Predator was never designed to carry munitions and is limited to a 200-pound payload.[1] The 66-foot Reaper drone platform can drop 500-pound laser-guided weapons or free falling bombs equipped with GPS and Inertial Guidance Navigation Systems. The latter can be dropped in poor weather conditions and uses “smart” systems to target with pinpoint accuracy. Part of the Reaper’s arsenal will include “a universal armament interface with an open mission systems architecture.” A universal weapons interface follows the kind of plug-and-play mentality required for swappable, modular weapons with incredible flexibility.[2]

Figure 1: An MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, in December, 2016. The Air Force will retire the MQ-1 Predator, a 21-year veteran, in lieu of the more advanced MQ-9 Reaper in early 2018. (Source: Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Figure 1: An MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, in December, 2016. The Air Force will retire the MQ-1 Predator, a 21-year veteran, in lieu of the more advanced MQ-9 Reaper in early 2018. (Source: Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Alderman also covers what’s involved in the Navy’s goal of improving on how it engages the adversary at the systems level, from a “Domain Architecture” point of view. The concept of modularity leads to the ability to evolve warfighting platforms with modular weapons. This leads to more efficient upgrades for maintenance and modernization under the umbrella of interoperability in a domain, mainly accomplished with open architecture-like schemes. Modularity leads to advancements and upgrades that cost less as well as flexibility. The military is taking a page from the open source/standards/architecture model. “Open” translates to efficiency and flexibility. Technology is changing rapidly, such that five-year-old equipment today seems outdated and slow. Anyone with a personal computer or smartphone greater than five years old will commiserate. At present, a Navy ship might get an upgrade every 10 years at great cost,[3] but just as monolithic programming has given way to more modular approaches, so has the military recognized the benefit of being able to continuously upgrade through modularity.

Depending upon the parties in charge and whether the U.S. is at war or not, military spending can be influenced by the latest ratio of Debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The U.S. government budget is an indicator of whether the U.S. is willing to get into further debt, balance the budget and not add to that debt, or pay down some of that debt. For 2016, the total U.S. GDP was found to be 1.6%, as compared to 2015 at 2.6%.[4] Investors use the Debt to GDP ratio as an indicator of a country’s ability to pay down its debt, which in turn affects government bond yields and the country’s borrowing costs. In 2015, the United States had a debt equivalent to 104.17% of the country’s GDP for 2015. As a comparison, Germany had 68.3% (as of Dec 2016), Russia had 17.7% (as of Dec 2015), and Canada had 91.5% (as of Dec 2015)[5]. Of course, the general worldwide willingness to invest in a particular country has some impact on the ability to get into debt in the first place. The U.S. has averaged a Debt to GDP of around 62% from 1940 until 2015, however. Will the present Debt to GDP ratio sway Congress to do “the right thing?” The right thing depends on one’s point of view. Regardless of whether more military spending is approved, the onus is upon the U.S. Armed Forces and their suppliers to make the most of what is available and begin to do the right thing for the military, which appears to be intelligent systems and intelligent domain-based architecture design.

Figure 2: U.S. federal debt: total public debt as a percent of GDP. Shaded areas are recessions. Data frequency: quarterly. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.)

Figure 2: U.S. federal debt: total public debt as a percent of GDP. Shaded areas are recessions. Data frequency: quarterly. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.)

Additional military projects and programs, a discussion on NATO, mergers and acquisitions for those serving the MIL/AERO space, and more are covered in depth in the 2017 State of the VITA Technology Industry report by Ray Alderman.

LynnetteReese_115Lynnette Reese is Editor-in-Chief, Embedded Intel Solutions and Embedded Systems Engineering, and has been working in various roles as an electrical engineer for over two decades. She is interested in open source software and hardware, the maker movement, and in increasing the number of women working in STEM so she has a greater chance of talking about something other than football at the water cooler.


[1] http://www.vita.com/resources/Documents/VITA%20Reports/2017-04%20State%20of%20Industry%20Report.pdf, page 5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., page 1.

[5] United States Government Debt to GDP  1940-2017 | Data | Chart | Calendar. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2017, from http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/government-debt-to-gdp

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