'Smart' Weaponry Gets Brains From Westinghouse Scientist

March 27, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

Gene Strull was really impressed with the performance of the Patriot missile against Iraqi Scud attacks during the recent Persian Gulf war, but he thinks there is still room for improvement in the Army's celebrated missile defense system.

Wouldn't it be nice, he said in a recent interview, "if they could have gotten to the Scuds sooner and have them fall back on


Dr. Strull is an award-winning scientist who heads the Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s Advanced Technology Division, an integrated circuit-production complex in Linthicum. He makes his living by staying a step or two ahead of the rapidly changing electronics technology.

While the Patriots were effective at hitting the Scuds -- which military officials describe as comparable to one bullet fired from a rifle hitting another -- they didn't always hit their target, said Dr. Strull, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering from Northwestern University and is considered one of the nation's leading authorities in advanced electronics.

"Sometimes the Patriot struck the tail" of the attacking Scud, throwing it off course but not destroying the warhead. We have the technology today "to have the Patriot hit the warhead every time," he said.

Looking ahead, Dr. Strull said that defense electronics -- the brains behind the "smart" bombs that went through the front doors ofIraqi bunkers and the night vision sensors that turned night into day -- will continue to chalk up mind-boggling successes in the future.

Offering a sneak preview of things to come, he mentions Westinghouse's development of something it calls a "smart skin" radar system.

Dr. Strull pulls a dime from his pocket, holds it out and says: "We can put a [radar] transmitter and a receiver in the thickness of a dime."

This doesn't mean that battlefield commanders will be carrying radar units in their chest pocket, but it opens the door to building radar systems into the exterior skin of a plane rather than cramming the electronics into the craft's nose.

In addition to saving space, Dr. Strull explained, this approach offers protection by scattering the radar throughout the fuselage, wings and tail of the plane. Whereas a piece of shrapnel in the nose of any of the planes involved in the bombing raids over Iraq and Kuwait could have destroyed their radar systems, anti-aircraft fire through the a "smart skin" plane would likely knock out only about 5 percent of the radar. "The other 95 percent," he said, "would continue to work, and the pilot would hardly notice any difference in the picture on the screen."

One of the more sensitive fields of work at the Advanced #F Technology Division has to do with the production of "radiation-hardened" electronic devices. Military communication equipment made with conventional integrated circuits can be rendered useless by the explosion of a nuclear device in the atmosphere. Special electronics are also needed in satellites that have to operate in the radiation belt that circles the Earth.

Dr. Strull said that the division "is clearly a leader" in this field, but much of the work is classified and he declined to elaborate on this work.

Westinghouse is also one of the companies involved in the development of a new generation of affordable gallium arsenide integrated circuits that are about six times faster than the silicon chips, require about one-fourth the power and have significantly increased resistance to radiation damage.

"The problem," Dr. Strull says, "is they are too expensive. We need a factor of 10 in the reduction of their cost" to make it economically viable to use the new chips in weapon systems and satellites.

Westinghouse, teamed with TRW Inc., is participating in a $500 million program aimed to develop a new production process that will significantly reduce the cost of gallium arsenide integrated circuits. The effort is funded by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which is the research and development arm of the Department of Defense.

The Westinghouse complex off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway near the airport cutoff produces integrated circuits of silicon as well as the high-speed gallium arsenide chips, both the building blocks of electronic components. Its third line of business is the development of night vision sensors. About 60 percent of the work at the complex is devoted to production; the remainder involves in research.

The complex's growth has paralleled the military's increased use of sophisticated electronics. A $50 million expansion in recent years has increased its size more than threefold, to 425,000 square feet. Employment has grown from about 400 in 1982 to about 1,000 today.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.