Raytheon Plays War Games

By Rich Smith Markets Fool.com

"Shall we play a game?"

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Why, yes. We shall. How about global cybernetic war? That's the game that Raytheon (NYSE: RTN) has signed up to play for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which is the arm of the Pentagon born out of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983,and which is responsible for protecting the U.S. from nuclear attack.

Like a 21st-century Sun Tzu, Raytheon hopes to win battles before they're even fought -- through battle simulations. Image source: Getty Images.

Earlier this month, Raytheon won a contract of unspecified size from MDA, "to develop an automated tool that assesses the effectiveness of using missiles and interceptors (kinetic) and cyber and electronic warfare (non-kinetic) weapons in war games." It's called the Coordinated Cyber/Electronic Warfare Integrated Fires program, or CCEWIF, and it could be of great use to defense tacticians, to strategists, and even to Raytheon itself as time goes on. Here's why.

Armageddon, interrupted

CCEWIF is being developed under MDA's auspices to assist with its primary mission. For example, say MDA discovers someone is preparing to launch a nuclear missile at the United States. Any number of options suggest themselves.

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An attempt could be made to destroy the missile on the ground, before it launches (e.g., with an air strike or Tomahawk cruise missile). Alternatively, MDA could wait for the missile to launch, and destroy it at the most vulnerable point in its trajectory -- the boost phase -- with an interceptor missile or airborne laser. Or MDA could attempt to bring the missile down on re-entry, with kinetic (bullet meets bullet) or explosive weapons. Or it might be possible to defeat the missile without firing a shot, using cyber or electronic warfare means to disrupt the launch or interfere with its guidance.

In various circumstances, with various weapons standing to hand, any one of these options could prove optimal. CCEWIF will be used to simulate the various actions MDA might take and rank the "probabilities of success for using different cyber, electronic warfare, and munition options to take out an enemy ballistic missile before, during and after launch."

Shall we play a lot of games?

And that's just one example. Raytheon's CCEWIF program has the potential to analyze other military situations, not necessarily involving nuclear missile launches. Analogous situations might include threats from space (anti-satellite operations), threats from hostile warplanes (anti-air), or even situations involving hijacked airlines (the 9/11 scenario). If it works as promised, one can imagine CCEWIF analyzing all sorts of scenarios for dealing with any of these situations and being used to pick the optimal solution.

Data generated by CCEWIF could even prove useful to Raytheon itself. Assuming patterns emerge from CCEWIF recommendations, this data could guide Raytheon toward developing the weapons that work best, and away from suboptimal solutions -- giving Raytheon an edge over rivals still wandering down the wrong path.

For example, right now there's a hot debate going on over the efficacy of laser-based anti-missile and anti-aircraft defenses, versus rocket-based defenses (Iron Beam versus Iron Dome.) If CCEWIF simulations suggest that lasers offer the best defense against missiles, then that would argue in favor of Raytheon's investing more money in laser projects. On the other hand, if simulations show lasers to be less effective than traditional anti-missile rockets -- well, that could push Raytheon to cut bait on lasers and double down on anti-missile systems such as Patriot.

Wherever the data dictates that Raytheon should go, that's where it should head. And the data will begin flowing soon. Raytheon plans to deploy its initial version of CCEWIF early next year.

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Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.