Right place, right time, right action. Marketers have pursued this concept for decades to reach their customers where they are, at the exact time they need something. When this strategy is successful, a customer makes the purchase. Thousands of algorithms and an entire machine learning industry have emerged to use data to influence customers in this fashion.

In the world of national defense, the concept takes on a completely new meaning. What does it mean for warfighters to be able to take the right action, in the right place, at the right time? New data streams continue to crowd the modern battlespace, growing the need for connectivity and operation across ever-larger disparate networks. Systems must be upgraded simply and smartly to bring state-of-the-art capabilities to the fight. These massive challenges complicate a warfighter’s ability to make the right choice at the right time, limiting their ability to quickly interpret a full battlespace picture.
BAE Systems’ FAST Labs™ R&D team is looking to deliver that full picture through an approach called full-spectrum electronic warfare, or full-spectrum EW. This allows the warfighter to use every portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to their full advantage. “The defense community has traditionally focused on single, stove-piped segments of the spectrum to sense, detect, and respond to threats,” said William Mennell, technical area lead on the FAST Labs team. “However, warfighters should leverage all portions of the spectrum, including optical and infrared, to better inform future decisions.”
BAE Systems is integrating radio frequency (RF) and optical EW solutions to help warfighters make the most of their technology, at whatever moment and in whatever scenario they find themselves. The actual execution of that integration is where the magic happens – and much of that magic occurs on the Multimodal Sensing and Response (MMSR) team in FAST Labs. “Multimodal sensing and response” means bringing data together from multiple sensors, across previously disparate or novel systems, to perform more (and increasingly diverse) response functions than previously possible. This occurs in conjunction with reductions in size, weight, and power (SWaP) to minimize platform integration impact.
To set the stage for a multimodal future, the MMSR team looks at all aspects of military systems and how they interact – spanning sensors, signal processing, data fusion, resource management, embedded autonomy, and constituent software frameworks. Working with industry, warfighters, and research labs to assess everything from requirements and software to sensors and processing hardware, the MMSR team is leading the development of integrated capabilities that enable our warfighters to operate dynamically across the electromagnetic spectrum.
Like many complex problems, the solution starts with the right team organized in an efficient way. To realize a full-spectrum EW vision, the team is structured into three cross-collaborative groups that work together to achieve much more than they would alone.
The first group concentrates on modeling and requirements definition—allowing them to understand where to make technological “bets” in new sensor combinations or capabilities. A second group focuses on architecture—exploring the mechanisms by which the sensors are merged together for new capabilities. A third group emphasizes testing and prototyping the payloads, incorporating architectures of the second group to realize the systems suggested in the first group.
So, where does FAST Labs focus its technical and research attention?
  • Maximizing mission performance by using existing sensors operating in different spectra and modes when SWaP-C (cost) is constrained. This often integrates elements of resource management and autonomy with sensing to optimize performance across the spectrum. BAE Systems realizes these concepts in prototype payloads that seek to demonstrate the technological advantage of new sensor combinations.
  • Developing architectural concepts for software and processing hardware to handle complex, multimodal signal chains across different spectra and modes. This may take the form of a novel processing device (e.g., a new mixed-signal or photonic processing chip), or application of an open software architecture to reduce fielding timelines or increase portability. In a very advanced and exciting scenario, multiple modalities may be needed due to the fundamental physics of sensor acquisition. A quantum aperture is a remarkable example—for this sensor, a gas vapor cell is sensitive to RF and probed with a laser (optical) subsystem. This is one case where the sensor itself is multimodal.
  • Developing advanced models and requirements to drive the next generation of sensors and response techniques. This leverages the newest concepts in digital engineering, digital twins, and digital threads to build a vertically integrated simulation and modeling stack. Components in the stack run the gamut, from high fidelity sensor modeling to simulation of military engagements, to explore the impact of new or different sensors.
Full-spectrum leverage is a newer construct that recognizes that in some instances, the total may be bigger than the sum of its parts. Those who adopt this approach will have a decisive competitive advantage against increasingly sophisticated adversaries, and BAE Systems is poised to help them get there.
Nicole Gable
Nicole Gable
Media Relations
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