The nature of warfare is changing, and opportunity is high for government contractors who can rise to the challenge.
“There’s been a fundamental shift under way, from the counterterrorism focus to an emphasis on the near-peer fight,” said AEgis Technologies Group CEO Jonathan Moneymaker. “With new threats come the need for new weapons systems to neutralize those threats.”
The Pentagon is looking to increase capabilities in the event of future conflict with adversaries like China and Russia. An advanced engineering solutions provider to the national security community, AEgis recently landed three contracts for work in “directed energy” systems — colloquially, laser weapons. Moneymaker said there is significant opportunity here for GovCons ready to contribute to this emerging warfighting technology.
Directed energy comes in two main forms: high-energy laser weapon systems and high-power microwave systems. While the science behind this has been in the works for more than four decades, “it’s an idea whose time has finally come,” Moneymaker said.
“All the domains of future warfare, whether space-based operations or more traditional engagements, will be complemented by us having the upper hand in a directed energy ‘laser war’ scenario,” he said. Such weapons could disable enemy satellites, or they could be used to take down swarms of unmanned aerial systems, or UAS.
UAS is a particular focus for AEgis.
“Our customers have expressed a need for innovative approaches to detect, identify, track, engage and defeat small UAS or a swarm of small UAS,” Moneymaker said. The company’s counter-UAS effort includes both land- and aerial-based tracking and targeting tools.
Directed energy is migrating today from the lab bench to practical uses in large-scale weapons systems. It’s a complicated technical challenge that involves not just powering the high-energy blasts but also measuring the impact of those strikes. AEgis has been especially engaged in this latter effort.
Its offerings help to determine the effectiveness of high-energy laser weapon systems at test ranges across the Defense Department, supporting elements like the High-Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator, the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation program and the Air Base Air Defense laser.
“Testing the actual effectiveness, the lethality, of a directed energy weapons system is a very complex science problem,” Moneymaker said. “How much energy is actually propagated through the atmosphere at a specific range on a specific target? How much energy was delivered and what damage inflicted?”
This effort is part of AEgis’s broader focus on full end-to-end weapons systems development. The greatest challenge there is the operability of the technology, taking a concept merely conceptual for decades and turning it into a working weapons system.
“Whether it is the programs we’re attacking, the capabilities we’re delivering, the talent we’re attracting: A core element is that we’re doing things that have never been done,” Moneymaker said. “We’re taking all this research and observation, and transitioning it to current concept of operations, which is very exciting.”
It’s a moving target, in the sense, that the defense community is still developing the guidelines for how such systems will operate. Even as policy evolves, GovCons must wrangle with technical challenges as engineers put in place the mechanisms to ensure the right amount of energy is delivered to achieve the desired effect.
To reach that goal line, AEgis found it critical to have an aligned and centralized focus, Moneymaker said.
“We’re not just trying to incrementally admire the problem or use it as a scientific test bed,” he said. “Our goal is to transition actual weapons systems for the warfighter. That is the piece that has perhaps been missing, that operational focus, and as a leading mid-market company we are uniquely positioned to address that.”
An open field
The directed energy effort, in which DOD is deeply engaged, has a need for a wide variety of GovCon participants. The effort comprises multiple components from diverse disciplines.
“There are a multitude of subsystems that make HEL or HPM systems successful,” Moneymaker said. “There is the laser itself, along with acquisition and tracking systems, beam control aspects — how you manipulate the energy of that beam to shoot through the atmospherics. Derivative technologies such as power management or thermal control also play a key role. You need all of these elements and no single contractor has all the components, so partnership and supply chain become critical.”
While the barrier to entry can be high, the broader GovCon community could potentially contribute to surfacing best practices to support these varied technical needs.
“That’s the collective calling that we need to echo — and we need to do it at the speed of modern warfare,” Moneymaker said. “As we partner together, contractor-to-contractor and contractor-to-government, we align to solve the nation’s hardest problems in this arena.”
While AEgis has been a leader in both research and testing around directed energy, Moneymaker said he sees opportunity for both established and emerging GovCons in this space.
“Directed energy systems represent the one of the core discriminators of future warfare,” he said. “We are proud to have been selected for our recent awards leading these transformative development efforts and look forward to building deeper capabilities into the future.”