by Christian Sorensen
A relative few people operating in boardrooms and corporate suites make the decisions that steer the U.S. economy. But what if the workers were in charge instead of the executives? How might the military-industrial complex be put to good use? What technology might help us adapt to the changing climate, for example?
Economic conversion involves directing the facilities and human intellect (e.g., engineers, physicists, programmers) of the U.S. war industry toward projects that actually benefit humanity. Analysis of contracting announcements and press releases identifies what Raytheon Technologies (“Raytheon,” henceforth) produces in New England. The manufacturing infrastructure and brain power are primed for civilian benefit.
In Marlborough, Massachusetts, Raytheon makes parts for communication systems, including satellite control terminals and command and control of nuclear weaponry. The underlying components—computer chips, Internet Protocol encryption, fiber optics, diagnostic devices, and software—offer clear civilian utility.
The workers manufacturing communications products possess valuable knowledge, including computer programming, hardware manufacturing, logistics, and engineering. This knowledge and the communications products themselves—from voice communication to data transfer—are immediately applicable to civilian first responders, medical diagnostics, infrastructure overhaul, hardening communications to ensure intraspecies connectivity when the next powerful coronal mass ejection hits Earth, and wildlife monitoring during the current mass extinction event.
Narrower national endeavors could also benefit from communications, as we build a new society and brace for further climate disruption: high-speed internet access for rural communities, medical diagnostics, matching the homeless with vacant homes owned by financial firms, record keeping and review (e.g., social security, basic income, auditing the rich), and coordination when eradicating food deserts, planting local gardens, and rewilding.
Raytheon in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, is researching how to connect disparate warfighting technology. Testing of Cross-Domain Maritime Surveillance & Targeting (CDMaST) has featured remotely-piloted vehicles on the ocean’s surface disseminating information to other seaborne platforms. Another project in Tewksbury is System of Systems Enhanced Small Unit (SESU), which aims to enable a small number of soldiers with limited backup to disrupt technology (“A2/AD”) that prevents the U.S. military from entering an area in large numbers. Meanwhile, Raytheon’s BBN unit in Cambridge has developed a variety of IT products for espionage purposes, including Conversational Speech Transcription & Retrieval System (C-STARS), which automatically transcribes and indexes audio files, and M3S, which collects, translates, and organizes content from media in multiple languages. Instead of being used to connect warfighters and analyze the world’s communications, these technologies can be used to communicate regarding resource allocation, refugee aid, debt relief, environmental remediation, and exploration of the cosmos.
New England possesses production capacity currently dedicated to surface-to-air missile systems. Raytheon workers in Andover and Woburn, Massachusetts, are tasked with creating radar for PATRIOT and THAAD. The fundamentals of these systems are not military in nature: antennae, circuit cards, electrical cabinets, logistics, inventory management, radio frequency exiters, and radomes. Furthermore, radar and the expertise needed to make it are immediately applicable to ship networking and navigation, fortifying coastal and rural infrastructure, and tracking civilian aircraft and space debris.
Each primary component of PATRIOT, for example, has civilian application: the power plant generates energy, the radar detects and tracks objects, the consoles where humans regulate the machinery give graphical representations, the launcher station provides mobility, and the antenna group is essential to communication. (The missile interceptor is a Lockheed Martin product manufactured in Camden, Arkansas. Its fuses, proximity sensors, antenna, guidance computer, telemetry, rocketry, aerodynamic material, and explosives have value in civil engineering, transportation, and space monitoring and exploration.)
Raytheon has a foundry in Andover, Massachusetts, that produces gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium nitride (GaN) components. Corporate executives currently direct the workers to put these semiconductors in military and civilian radar and in jammers used in electronic warfare. A broader application could benefit civilian air traffic control, maritime navigation, satellite monitoring, and photovoltaics. The foundry’s radar components could even work on saving the species from total annihilation: Determining the speed and trajectory of incoming objects is directly applicable to planetary defense against near earth objects.
Raytheon manufactures aircraft engines in East Hartford, Connecticut, and North Berwick, Maine. It also manufactures aircraft parts in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, and aircraft parts and maintenance products in Vergennes, Vermont. Both military and civilian aircraft currently use these parts and engines.
The Raytheon engines produced in New England and used for war (e.g., the PW4062 on Boeing KC-46 tankers, the F177 on Boeing C-17 cargo planes) could power comparable civilian aircraft, including commercial airliners or cargo aircraft on disaster relief and civilian humanitarian operations. Raytheon engines could also power helicopters used in search and rescue, NASA’s airborne science program, wildlife protection, firefighting, and medevac.
Raytheon workers in the aforementioned locations possesses technology and knowledge—engineering and computer programming, ergonomics and forges, hydraulics and pneumatics, lathes, drill presses, and milling machines, devices that convert electrical energy into mechanical movement, programmable logic controllers and human-machine interfaces, computer numerical control and direct numerical control, resource planning software, superalloys, and welding tools—vital to civilian manufacturing.
Indeed, the war industry’s overall infrastructure that currently makes aircraft—precision machining, compounds and coatings to prevent corrosion and ward off metal fatigue, finite element analysis studying heat transfer and structural cohesion, flight system management, quality control, IT analytics, and digital engineering—is ripe for improving public infrastructure and peaceful space exploration.
Reducing the focus on warfare also frees up capacity and funding in order to strengthen such nascent projects as wind and tidal power, and such dreams as improving rail transportation, developing sustainable fuel, and fortifying coastal cities.
The war industry produces technologies that function below the ocean’s surface. There is nothing inherently warlike about any submersible technology or knowhow: antenna controllers; computer processing power; composite materials; drawings and diagrams; technical data; engineers and electricians; hull and mechanical systems; hydraulics that move sensors and valves; local area networks; magnetics and propulsion; robotics and remote-control technology; imaging instruments and sonar; signal processing; and software management systems. All could benefit civilian science, including acoustic, bathymetric, geophysical, hydrographic, and oceanographic fields, which are critical to understanding the planet’s natural processes and changing climate.
Raytheon in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, makes submersible composites and sonar, models the signatures that navies encounter underwater, and develops algorithms for signal processing. Raytheon BBN in Cambridge, Massachusetts, researches underwater communications for autonomous military robotics.
Peaceful civilian projects that could immediately use this submersible technology include aquaculture and fisheries, maritime navigation and trade, mine sweeping and demining, fortifying transatlantic communication cables, search and rescue, in-situ oceanographic data collection, and ship-to-shore communication. Deep-sea exploration is of particular importance: studying how a changing climate is affecting the Earth’s poles; studying plate tectonics and the evolution of life at hydrothermal vents; and examining how sundry composites react to deep-sea pressure, how sonar impacts whale pods and other sea life, and how microplastics harm marine ecosystems.
The military-oriented laboratories in and around Boston attract the brightest minds in computer programming, engineering, physics, and mathematics. They work on artificial intelligence (AI), cyber warfare, data analysis and fusion, media analysis, and sensor connectivity. Raytheon BBN in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is among best of these labs.
The brilliant minds and advanced technology at these labs, if directed fully to civilian purposes, offer much needed aid to our species. Numerous are the medical fields that stand to benefit: Cancer treatment, environmental remediation, gene therapy, immunology, mapping food waste, synthetic biology, and molecular engineering. Energy generation (solar, fusion, fission, photosynthesis) and space exploration (aerodynamics; guidance, navigation, and control; mapping the galaxy) also require brilliant minds, which Boston’s military-oriented labs have in spades.
The minds behind Raytheon BBN’s ARAKNID planning software, which recommends options to military officers based on its analysis of available weaponry and troops, could instead produce software that helps food production worldwide. The software would recommend options to farmers (based on soil quality, weather patterns, climate conditions, and available machinery) about what to plant, when to harvest, and when to rotate crops. Software would still offer “significant tactical advantage,” except it would nourish life instead of extinguishing it.
Workers’ technological mastery stands ready to help humans adapt to a changing climate: high-performance computing to monitor heatwaves and droughts and examine biodiversity loss; acquisition management software for local and state governments to use in humanely sourcing sustainable technology; and engineering (structural, civil, mechanical, geotechnical, electrical, environmental) for addressing lead contamination in the water supply and rapidly prototyping infrastructure technologies.
Unlike products from other industries, the public cannot eat, consume, play with, learn from, or interact with most of what the war industry creates (e.g., fighter jet, submarine, spy satellite, bomb, espionage software, tank). The production capacity and the brains behind all such technology, however, could benefit us all.
Workers at the war industry’s facilities and respective local communities are most qualified to make and implement suggestions regarding economic conversion. They know the inputs and the machinery better than anyone. With enough political will in New England state houses and a job guarantee from U.S. Congress, New England could quickly refocus war-industry production to addressing infrastructure, a changing climate, and much more, thereby improving conditions for all humankind.