Tucson’s Raytheon Missile Systems is on a roll.
The company’s Tomahawk and Paveway missiles are the weapons of choice for the U.S. military in Iraq.
Its Standard Missile 3s and its Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicles are the backbone of an elaborate plan to defend the United States and its allies from enemy attacks.
Raytheon Missile Systems, a unit of Waltham, Mass., defense contractor Raytheon Co., now is the world’s largest supplier of guided missiles and the largest private employer in southern Arizona.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and subsequent invasion of Iraq, Raytheon has racked up billions of dollars in new government contracts that have doubled company revenue to more than $4.5 billion a year.
Louise Francesconi, Raytheon Missile Systems’ forward-thinking president, isn’t satisfied. She’s obsessed with reinventing a peacetime role for the wartime powerhouse and new niches for the company inside an increasingly high-tech U.S. military.
Francesconi, 53, the defense industry’s highest-ranking woman, has been on a mission to diversify Raytheon’s products and make the company more responsive to its customers since she took the helm in 1996.
The company is looking to leverage technology that can guide a missile to a target in space into a range of new products for national defense and space exploration.
The projects include guidance systems for spaceships, protective force fields for airports, weapons that shoot light and radio waves, and satellitelike robots that seek out and ram enemy missiles in space.
And those are just the projects the tight-lipped defense contractor can talk about.
“If anyone is going to invent us out of business, I want it to be us,” said Michael Booen, Raytheon Missile Systems’ vice president of advanced missile defense and directed energy weapons.
‘Bike Shop’ innovation
The company has no intention of abandoning the guided missiles that have been its bread and butter since industrialist Howard Hughes founded the business in 1951, Francesconi said.
But she added that new technology, changes in the way wars are being fought and political pressure to rein in defense spending and get out of Iraq are mandates for change that the company can’t ignore.
To come up with new products, Francesconi has created an “innovation tank” comprising two groups of about 650 people who are focused on developing new technologies for use on and off the battlefield.
Many products are developed at a Tucson research facility she started called the Bike Shop. There, engineers and machinists develop prototypes of products and existing weapons that have been modified to meet the changing demands of urban warfare.
Francesconi has been focusing Raytheon’s sights beyond the Department of Defense.
Raytheon sees a bright peacetime future for itself at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and is bidding on a key contract there that could get its foot in the door.
Raytheon wants to build the avionics and guidance system for NASA’s Ares I crew launch vehicle that will carry astronauts into orbit when the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010. NASA is expected to award a contract for the Ares I rocket guidance system before the end of the year.
“NASA is a perfect fit for us,” Francesconi said.
Position: Vice President Raytheon Co.; President Raytheon Missile Systems.
Compensation: $1.02 million.
Education: B.S. economics, Scripps College; M.S. business administration, UCLA.
Career: 1975 to present, various positions at Hughes Aircraft Co., its subsidiary Hughes Missile Systems and its successor Raytheon Missile Systems.
Community: Director, Tucson Medical Center HealthCare and Tucson Airport Authority. Member, national board of advisers for the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona.
Notable: For three years, Francesconi earned a spot on Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” list.
Raytheon is not turning its back on the Defense Department, but the demands of that client, too, is changing.
The next generation missiles will be able to be reprogrammed from the ground and gather and disseminate information while in flight.
Technology also is changing the nature of weapons. Instead of bullets, they will fire directed beams of light and radio waves.
So-called directed energy is a major area of research and development for Raytheon and a field where the company has taken the lead.
The company’s prototype laser weapons can destroy a mortar at 500 meters and, someday, may be able to take out aircraft and enemy missiles.
Its Vigilant Eagle Airport Protection Systems is a protective microwave dome that covers large commercial airports and airbases and protects planes in the airspace from terrorist attacks. The microwaves scramble the heat-seeking sensors on shoulder-launched missiles, diverting them from the target.
Another developing product called Silent Guardian is a focused radio beam that penetrates the skin creating an intolerable heating sensation. The sensation causes the targeted individuals to “instinctively flee or take cover.”