Questions and Answers with with Brig. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood

Brig. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, PEO Missiles and Space

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Sept. 2, 2014) — Brig. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, Program Executive Officer for Missiles and Space at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., gave an exclusive interview to Army Technology Magazine on the future of lethality.

What is the rationale for increasing firepower and lethality?

The U.S. Army is undergoing a transformation. After a decade of war, Soldiers and equipment are returning to an environment of declining budgets, drawdowns and a shift in operational focus. The Army is facing difficult decisions regarding force structure and modernization divestment. Unfortunately, the threat continues to increase in complexity as we reset, modernize and transform. These challenges are addressed by the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Force 2025 initiative. Force 2025 will prioritize those technologies that support a leaner, more expeditionary force that exceeds current capabilities, allowing for increased firepower and lethality. In this fiscally constrained environment, modernization decisions will be balanced with technology investments to ensure readiness through the transformation.

How do you see technology empowering Soldiers with greater lethality in the future?

PEO Missiles and Space develops, produces, fields and supports U.S. Army, Joint and Coalition missile systems for air and missile defense, direct and indirect fires and aviation platforms. Several of the weapon systems that we manage include Patriot, Javelin, TOW and Hellfire. There is no doubt that the technologies of our missile platforms will be improved through the development efforts of tomorrow. There are several key areas of critical technology development that will empower Soldiers with greater lethality.

Warhead and fuze integration must be developed further. We need single warheads that are advanced enough to be scalable on demand as the mission situation dictates. In the future, the warhead and fuze development must be combined for a single resultant that will provide flexibility while reducing the burden to the Soldier and increasing the effectiveness of the missile system.

Advanced navigation systems that will fuse the single or dual navigation systems of today must be pursued. We must be able to reach off-board the missile system and draw information from other navigation sources that can aid in longer distance engagements and develop more technologies to improve accurate targeting, especially in the end-game.

The development of propulsion energetics should be accelerated. As we reach out further in distance and trend to faster in speeds, we need to reduce the size and foot print of our propulsion systems. This can be done through material synthesis and burn rate enhancement. While we develop these technologies, weapons must remain compliant with insensitive munitions regulations in the ever changing environment of missile applications.

Speed and amount of processing capacity must be increased. In this area, we should develop processing that will increase precision acquisition, especially at the “end game” of the missile engagement. We need to enhance our auto-tracking capabilities. Increased processing must be tied to the next generations of Seeker technology. If we are to combine our current platforms into a single integrated effort, where we can use any sensor to see the threat and the best missile to engage the threat – we need increased ability to process data in real-time. It requires multi-mission platforms with enough processing power and speed to provide a “defense-in-depth” using networked air, ground, naval and space platforms. This will enhance the speed of decision, reduce the kill timeline and subsequently increase the overall probability of success.

How does the Army promote the lethality knowledge base across the Army?

The Army supports and conducts a number of forums that leverage promising capabilities that solve operational gaps and demonstrate improved lethality. The Network Integration Evaluation is a semiannual field exercise that allows for the integration and evaluation of network and non-network capabilities to influence training, doctrine and organization decisions. Black Dart is an annual exercise that facilitates Department of Defense, Inter-agency, Industry and Academia current and near-term technology demonstrations to support counter-unmanned aerial system defense. Nimble Fire, a series of Operator-in-the-Loop war games conducted by the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization at the Virtual Warfare Center in St. Louis, Mo., supports evaluation of developmental concepts, advanced threats, Joint doctrine and Integrated Air and Missile Defense. These are just a few examples of forums across the community that promote the knowledge base for lethality improvements. Joint exercises with allied partners serve to increase awareness for the coalition forces.

What do you want Army researchers to know?

As we move together, we must foster innovation and accelerate mature technology to enable future force capabilities while exploiting opportunities to rapidly transition technology to the current force. Together, we must have solid, viable plans which effectively synthesize missile science and technology efforts through timely, coordinated study and evaluation of both current and future systems and technologies. This will come in two major parts. First, we must invest in technologies that will allow us to modify our existing system in the near-term allowing us to maintain threat overmatch. Second, we must develop new technologies through revolutionary S&T that will begin a new era of platforms designed to counter emerging air and missile threats. While we develop our collective S&T efforts, we must determine early in the development process which technologies have promise and discard those that will pay no future dividend. And we should never forget that it is a Soldier in the field who is going to fire the weapon and a Soldier who is going to sustain and maintain the weapon. As we develop and transition new technologies, it should be with the goal to provide increased survivability to the Soldier. This will encompass improved accuracy, increased lethality and minimize complexity; all attributes that will ensure his or her safe return at the end of every mission.

Budgetary challenges may impact future operations. How optimistic are you about building the Army of 2025 and beyond?

The current fiscal environment is forcing many difficult decisions. As previously discussed, the Army will be challenged to reset our equipment after a decade of war and balance modernization efforts, while funding near-term and “leap-frog” technologies to transform the force. Force 2025 activities have applied an analytic approach to prioritizing candidate technologies. Each center of excellence has presented and defended their top technology candidates against criteria for efficiency, dominance and expeditionary. The application of an enduring analytic framework/methodology will equitably prioritize candidate technologies across the Army’s portfolios and inform investment decisions to optimize resource allocations. I am confident that this approach will determine the appropriate way ahead to meet the needs of the total Army during this transformation.

Editor’s note: Brig. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood is the Program Executive Officer for Missiles and Space at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. He is responsible for the development, production, fielding, and life cycle management of the Army’s missile and space related systems. Thurgood enlisted in the Army in 1983 as a private first class. He received a commission in 1986 as a distinguished military graduate in Army Aviation from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in business management and communication. He holds a master’s degree in systems management from the Naval Post-Graduate School, a master’s degrees in strategic studies, a doctorate in strategic business and leadership and several professional certificates.