Through systematic innovation management, HENSOLDT supports its employees in creating a culture of “constructive disruption”: one that motivates them to focus constantly on our customers and look beyond the obvious.
Experimentation and invention may be a part of HENSOLDT’s DNA, but it takes courage to envision and test what is often initially a very rough basic idea. A five-step concept supports employees in becoming innovative: In the first step, they are encouraged to think more creatively and generate new ideas. In the second step, Dr Schrader supports her colleagues in compiling the information they need to flesh out their idea. Once the idea has been passed by the Optronics Idea Board, it is implemented as an innovation project. The idea takes on further contours as a business model concept or minimum viable product (MVP), is modified or is released back into the ideas pool. It is only when an idea has acquired concrete form that it finally advances to become a successful new product or business model – often in collaboration with other business units and customers – in the fifth and final step.
In the process, employees also learn how to use the preferred innovative working and development methods of start-ups, including lean start-up, design thinking, Scrum and kanban boards, and are actively inducted into innovation project teams. The mostly interdisciplinary innovation items give rise to new networks and utilise HENSOLDT’s swarm intelligence. Existing solutions are jointly enhanced, new solutions and application areas are discovered, or innovations serve emerging customer and user needs.
The first successes were not long in coming. More and more employees are utilising the newly created opportunities to activate the rich latent innovation potential inherent in our enterprise. And in summer 2020, a HENSOLDT team even embarked on its first-ever Innovation Expedition. On account of the pandemic, HENSOLDT employees from a wide range of Divisions met virtually with representatives of companies from other industries, exchanging experiences and obtaining insights into how innovations are developed there.
The most important insight: working innovatively requires the courage to jointly embark on an innovation journey and generate new momentum. Thanks to this new innovation concept, HENSOLDT Optronics is taking new paths in order to establish an innovation ecosystem to successfully implement new ideas.
HENSOLDT is already deploying artificial intelligence in many of its products. Our Divisions work together to continually improve and enhance our applications, pooling and sharing the benefits of their diverse experience and perspectives derived from the intelligent use of data – in the spirit of our motto, “One HENSOLDT”.
Every HENSOLDT sensor generates data – radar, UV, infrared or visual spectrum, whether terrestrial, marine, air- or spaceborne. And the more advanced the sensors are, the more data they deliver. This wealth of data, often referred to as “big data”, provides the foundation: “There’s no data like more data”. But it is AI-based analysis and evaluation that brings out the true value of these data.
HENSOLDT understood this early on, and responded proactively with cross-divisional AI initiatives. Direct collaboration with experts outside the company and intensive dialogue with research establishments such as the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, RWTH Aachen University, the University of Ulm and various Fraunhofer Institutes have enabled us to create new networks, new knowledge and new solutions. This exceptionally transparent dialogue with the scientific community has led to highly productive synergies that benefit all parties and divisions alike.
Much as in the Internet of Things (IoT), this entails linking sensors with a newly emerging IT infrastructure. This infrastructure makes it possible to store enormous quantities of data from millions of discrete cases of actual mission scenarios in a structured and reproducible manner and make them usable for machine-driven learning processes under operational conditions. The system can even integrate data on unknown objects of other forces. This shared infrastructure creates two fundamental prerequisites: the creation of a database in which – if desired – HENSOLDT shares in the customer’s data sovereignty and a beachhead to our company’s sensor and data specialists, who, thanks to their sensor expertise, are able to analyse the recorded data and make it available for a new training cycle. In the course of this, the sensors learn to autonomously detect situations and threats using broad-based machine learning techniques.
Once the learning phase is complete, the trained models can be implemented for their missions on the sensor level. In future, such “smart sensors”, integrated in intelligent overall systems, will enable entirely new, partially autonomous applications. The use of AI will make it possible to analyse even complex situations automatically and identify potential threats in real time. HENSOLDT is thus emerging as more than just a vendor of smart sensors: it is becoming a smart systems provider.
Future projects such as the MGCS (“Main Ground Combat System”) or the FCAS (“Future Combat Air System”) rely entirely on “smart and intelligent” sensors in which the evaluation of photo and video data is supported using AI. On its way to becoming a system supplier, HENSOLDT Optronics is already currently working through various evolutionary stages to settle issues such as which technology to use, how to process vast quantities of data and which software and hardware architectures are required.
However, AI is also already being implemented in existing solutions. In the SETAS (“See Through Armour System”), for example, AI combines all-round 360-degree visibility with additional assistance information and automatically recognises objects and anomalies. With “Wide Area Motion Imagery” (WAMI), a combination of cameras and sensors suspended from a balloon evaluates aerial photos directly in the sensor. This allows a surface area of up to 50 square kilometres to be monitored from the air. At the same time, the system records activities on the ground, which may remain undiscovered by even the most attentive observer since there are so many of them happening at once.
Radar systems provide images of the air or ground even when visibility is compromised by clouds, smoke or rain. The high quality of HENSOLDT radars allows an increasing number of objects to be identified. Without the support of AI, the situational imagery produced in this way rapidly becomes confusing or requires a lot of human intervention. Nowadays, automatic target recognition through radar signatures already provides the operator with important support, helping them to focus directly on drones, for example, without being distracted by birds. The tracks of moving targets can be identified more easily and efficiently and can be distinguished from false tracks (false track recognition).
Like visual aerial or satellite photos, SAR radars allow high-resolution ground imagery to be recorded during daylight hours, regardless of weather conditions. Until now, however, these images had to be interpreted by specially trained personnel. This is where AI comes into play. With the help of real and simulated training data, vast areas of land surface can be automatically scanned for relevant target objects to provide a picture of the current threat situation. In this way, simple sensor data can result in high-resolution annotated radar images, which no longer require analysis by trained personnel and can instead be used by just about anyone.
Future fields of application will be characterised by increasingly complex scenarios, in which decisions will need to be made based on large quantities of information within increasingly shorter time frames. Tomorrow’s “smart sensors” will have a crucial role to play in this. In a shared “code camp” with Microsoft, HENSOLDT has already demonstrated what this kind of “smart sensor” might look like.
The fields of application are practically unlimited since the systems learn continuously. For example, airborne reconnaissance platforms can be better protected using various sensors. The mix of LiDAR, radar and electrooptical sensors that is utilised here allows a fused situational image to be created, which is therefore significantly more resistant to disruptive processes. On the basis of overlapping tasks, HENSOLDT clearly benefits here from the rapid developments made in the civilian sector.
As a “spearhead of innovation” in the company, the increased use of AI is also at the heart of the range of HENSOLDT Ventures activities (see 4.1). As an integral part of many projects and products, the technology has proven its potential a long time ago. In this way, the use of AI in counter-UAV systems allows a higher level of automation, making the operator’s work easier. A further application can be found in Edge AI applications – for instance for the close-range control of an interceptor drone.
HENSOLDT’s mission management system for helicopters is an unqualified success. Over 5,000 such systems have already been integrated in helicopters, because they offer so much that other systems just can’t.
For helicopter crews, the coordinated execution of a mission is exceptionally demanding on account of the wide variety of tasks they must perform. Complex mission scenarios in particular intensify the stress on crews. Yet such complex civilian and military mission scenarios, subject to extensive, mission-specific additional parameters, are the rule rather than the exception.
To ensure that pilots, copilots and other crew members are optimally supported, HENSOLDT’s mission management system pulls together all necessary data in a single system. Video, radar and information from a wide range of flight, surveillance, identification, night vision and other sensors are combined with external data such as weather data or data on other aircraft in the operational area to form a coherent whole. The result is a holistic overall system that can network with other systems on the ground, at sea or in the air.
Each crew member receives the information they need “right now” for their respective task via their head-down display or projected directly in the helmet. Pilots are supported in flying the aircraft, copilots have an overview of all sensors, and a third crew member can, for instance, focus entirely on tasking an escort drone. This makes even the most difficult operations a “mission possible”.
HENSOLDT’s mission management system excels not only because of its ability to compile data and information from widely diverse sources. It also offers a flexible link to existing communication systems. Whereas a link to 4G or 5G wireless networks is often sufficient for civilian applications, the current generation of military-grade mission management can communicate via tactical datalinks (TDL) to share data in real time with other mission actors.
Hydrogen is considered a key element for a successful energy transition. With the innovative – and in many areas leading – technologies of NEXEYA, HENSOLDT has now secured access to this strategically important market of the future.
NEXEYA – a HENSOLDT company since 2019 – is a global leader in the development and production of hydrogen-based energy storage solutions and supply stations. NEXEYA’s “Smart Energy Storage Stations” reliably supply remote locations, radar installations, communications antennas and weather stations with energy or serve as local (interim) storage for solar, wind and hydroelectric power. Intelligently integrated in local-area smart microgrids, they bring carbon-neutral energy to buildings, entire industrial plants, ports, airports and districts. Installed aboard emission-free energy ships and being a part of NEXEYA’s GreenHarbour project they supply ships in ports with CO2-neutral electricity. In the defence sector, they guarantee the autonomous operation of data centres and entire bases.
And that’s just the beginning. As members of the French Association for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (France Hydrogène), HENSOLDT and NEXEYA have their fingers constantly on the pulse of development both nationally in France and Germany, and also at EU level. New regulations and strategies open the doors to new markets and applications. The necessary solutions can be implemented and offered rapidly and targeted precisely.
Current projects with great potential include the autonomous complete systems for producing, storing and providing energy, which are already in service. With their vast storage capacity, they offer months of independence from external supply grids. They can be modularly integrated in existing networks even under extreme weather conditions and generate “green” hydrogen with virtually no environmental impact. Linked to form hydrogen microgrids, they additionally offer an economical alternative that can be used e.g. to build a high-performance charging infrastructure for the e-mobility of the future. The integration of fuel cells and the formation of whatever logistics infrastructure may be necessary to transport hydrogen can also open up new lines of business.
Major high-tech players around the world are experimenting with 3D printing. At HENSOLDT, we are already deploying it for development and production – as the global innovation leader some applications.
Today, HENSOLDT has risen to become a global leader in the printing of electronic 3D structures. Our collaboration with the Israeli enterprise Nano Dimension – the number-one in additively manufactured electronics (AME) and printed electronics (PE) – that commenced in 2016 means that HENSOLDT has been playing an active role in significantly improving the stability of the processes for use in future products. However, the actual focus is on developing and fabricating three-dimensional structures within circuit carriers.
Even now, it is apparent that the jointly enhanced technology will enable entirely novel functions and products.
What sounds like one small step will potentially culminate in one giant leap for HENSOLDT, as military sensor solutions demand extremely high levels of performance and reliability, far beyond the capability of commercial-grade components. The new process not only makes it possible to utilise the available PC board space much more efficiently. The electronic structures themselves can also be fitted to the available space without restrictions. The printed components are more compact, yet their performance and integration density are enhanced.
Concurrently, HENSOLDT has for several years been 3D printing plastics to create prototypes. True-to-scale models can be printed simply and rapidly to enable review of design and functionality. This accelerates the entire development process.
HENSOLDT is also using the extremely cost-intensive and time-consuming 3D metal printing regularly in production today. For example, this technology makes it possible to create aluminium radiator elements for radar transmitters that simply cannot be fabricated by conventional means. With their complex cavity structures, they cool more efficiently while at the same time providing electromagnetic screening.
Antennas are usually designed to transmit and receive signals. The new AESA EW from HENSOLDT goes a critical step further. Electronically scanned, it can even jam enemy radar.
Particularly in the military sector, and in aircraft especially, radar antennas are more often “off” than “on”. They transmit and receive only briefly because their signals can be localised. Additionally, a constant transmission power output requires larger device footprints and extensive cooling.
Problem defined – problem solved. The new HENSOLDT AESA EW is equipped with the necessary radiator elements, fabricated in an innovative metallic 3D printing process. Boasting an environmentally friendly coolant, it is also only marginally larger than conventional antennas.
Yet its performance spectrum is significantly expanded. It can not only transmit and receive brief signals, as before. It can receive constantly, and thus intercept enemy signals and even deliberately jam them.
Multiple NATO member states and allies have already expressed keen interest in HENSOLDT’s latest innovation, the product of several years of development backed by decades of experience. Starting with the extremely complex certification process for use aboard aircraft, ship-board and ground deployment are also conceivable.
In the currently planned Eurofighter update, the AESA EW antenna, installed e.g. in an escort jammer pod, could effectively disrupt enemy radar signals to protect the aircraft itself, but also, for example, to shield other manned or unmanned aircraft and ground units from missile attacks by jamming their detection radar. As a low-cost, fixed-location ground installation, the antenna could also function as a stand-off jammer, disrupting radar and communication signals while remaining out of range of attacks.
In sum, the AESA EW antenna bundles the three functions of the Kalætron Attack product family (stand-off jammer, escort jammer and self-protection jammer) together with the conventional receiver function in a single antenna.
The Manta NEO developed by HENSOLDT UK turns the currently existing philosophy for marine radars on its head. The focus is no longer on displaying as much data as possible, but on concentrating on collision warning. This attracts worldwide attention and is well received.
What appears simple at a first glance led to enormous challenges for the developers at HENSOLDT UK. In order to make the current status quo of a “locked” screen display containing a variety of information more flexible, our developers decided to implement a completely new software structure. Based on the Android platform and mobile phone processors, a simplified menu structure has been created. On new multifunctional displays, it provides users quick and easy access to all important information they are accustomed to from using their smartphone displays. More than that, Manta NEO is also suitable for guiding autonomous ships from land.
The primary focus is on the radar display – taking up the entire screen. Via an app-based, intuitive and easy to learn approach, additional navigation devices and data from other sensors can be integrated, configured and displayed as needed.
For HENSOLDT, the Manta NEO opens up access to new markets and target groups in the non-defence sector. In addition to cruise ships, in which the system can also be retrofitted, a first focus is on the booming sector of mega and luxury yachts. With its user-friendly design, Manta NEO meets the wishes of many owners and at the same time satisfies the clients' high security and safety requirements.
As a next step, the market for merchant ships will be targeted, as the system can be integrated on all ships that meet the requirements of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). As the predecessor of HENSOLDT UK, Kelvin Hughes has very good access to and an excellent, long-standing, reputation in the market: one that offers enormous potential, with around 30,000 ships worldwide.
HENSOLDT is a leading supplier in the areas of radar, identification friend-foe, datalinks, electro-optics and defence electronics. High-performance sensors are a key part of maritime mission systems and thus play a vital role in the success of challenging naval missions. Integrated maritime solutions consisting of highly diverse sensor combinations are a prime example of this.
Here too, HENSOLDT’s segment approach once again proves superior. All departments take a cross-Divisional approach to work and act with their focus firmly on customers and prospects and their needs. Long before individual products are selected, our experts systematically discuss operational requirements with customers before offering a corresponding solution spectrum.
Particularly in the area of integrated maritime solutions, HENSOLDT’s acquisitions in France (NEXEYA) and the UK (Kelvin Hughes) have opened up new market potential and customer groups. In addition to the major, broad-spectrum system solutions of the future, smaller, innovative integration of various surface and underwater sensors is now also possible.
LYNCEA, the flexible mission system from NEXEYA, is a perfect example. Modular in design and expandable in steps, it generates a tactical situational picture on the basis of a broad range of inputs: from radar and optronic devices to sonar and electronic warfare elements, and even permits optional integration in NATO datalinks. With its ergonomic, easy-to-use user interface, it is ideal for an extremely wide range of mission scenarios, such as surveillance of maritime areas, combating human trafficking, rescue missions and much more. Available in a range of base versions, LYNCEA is thus ideal for deployment aboard fast patrol boats, deep sea patrol vessels and surveillance units as well as command centres on shore. This flexibility is paying off, as in 2020, NEXEYA became the chosen vendor in its home market, receiving an order to equip deep sea patrol vessels of the French Navy.
Alongside solutions that can be flexibly and efficiently configured to match customer needs, customer intimacy with potential prospects also plays a decisive role. Because in spite of today’s intense globalisation, it remains an advantage when, for instance, a North African customer can be served directly from France (NEXEYA) and an Irish customer from the UK (HENSOLDT UK).