In 2022 Elon Musk was asked about the similarities between war and business. He said in both cases the rate of innovation was strategically key. If you face an enemy and you have a technological advantage, the longer the war goes on, the more likely your opponent will catch up. You need to innovate and adapt your solutions faster than your opponent. The objective is to create technology domination which will result in a lopsided victory.

Four “objects” have been brought down in the past week by our aircraft.  We are witnessing America’s defense industry innovating at an unprecedented rate. It is likely that part of this quick innovation is credited to the military incorporating machine learning and artificial intelligence within its operations processes and we will summarize the indicators leading us to this belief. Prior to January 28th, NORAD could not pick up these objects, but by February 12th we shot down four. What changed?

Three of the objects were shot down with new Air Force F-22s and the fourth was shot down by a 30-year old Air National Guard F-16. All aircraft used the Aim 9X Sidewinder missile. What do they have in common? Their radars. The F-22s have the Northrup Grumman AN/APG-77 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and the Minnesota National Guard just upgraded their block 50 F-16C aircraft with the brand new AN/APG-83 (AESA) radar in December 2022 along with the Litening targeting package.

The new AESA radars use many transmitter/receiver modules which are interfaced with the antenna elements and can produce multiple, simultaneous radar beams at different frequencies. The information is fed through software to provide the pilot with “relevant” target information, and it ignores information deemed “irrelevant”; like small birds, and…. balloons.

Both of these radars were originally designed to spot, track, and engage hostile cruise missiles, not balloons made of synthetic material with no relative motion to the wind. The balloon data would have been filtered out to reduce pilot information overload. The radars were designed to essentially spot a Ski Nautique at top speed on a river while ignoring a leaf floating with the river.

It’s probable that our intelligence agencies vacuumed information from the first Chinese spy balloon as it floated across our country. The resulting cache provided millions of data points on how different energy frequencies interacted with the balloon. By applying machine learning on the data sets, it’s likely we found patterns such as the algorithms needed to identify, track and shoot down a synthetic material balloon. Since 95% of the software used in the F-22’s radar is the same as the new F-16’s radar, the algorithms were used to update the targeting in both systems and now America’s air defenses can see Chinese spy balloons.

Innovation and adaptation at Elon Musk speed.

Whether or not we are winning is dependent upon how China responds.