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Executive Spotlight: Vectrus Chief Engineer Michael Smith Discusses 5G Evolution, Rise of Electromagnetic Spectrum Sharing & More

The rise of electronic warfare, or EW, has fueled an increase in demand for electromagnetic spectrum operations and capabilities across the GovCon landscape. This heightened demand is manifesting in increased interest and investments in 5G-enabled technologies, smart facilities, Internet of Things and more as spectrum sharing becomes more prevalent in defense and civilian applications.

To learn more about the future of 5G, the rise of spectrum sharing and the promise of emerging technologies, we spoke with Michael J. Smith, vice president of engineering and digital integration programs and chief engineer at Vectrus. Read Michael’s full interview below.

GovCon Wire: Michael, what significant changes or trends are you seeing in your industry as the demand for spectrum sharing becomes more prevalent, and how is that impacting your work at Vectrus?

Michael J. Smith: “With a growing demand for spectrum, it becomes more important to ensure reliable communications across all spectrum dependent systems. The proliferation of spectrum dependent systems amplifies the need for real-time awareness. This requires intelligent approaches to designating spectrum assignments and usage. Vectrus is engaged in helping our clients better understand and maneuver in the highly congested and often contested electromagnetic environment.

As we all know, spectrum is a finite resource, so there have been several initiatives to make additional portions of the spectrum available to meet the growing commercial needs. Through spectrum auctions, like the AWS-3 and America’s Mid-Band Initiative Team (AMBIT), the government is providing opportunities for commercial carriers to occupy certain subsets of spectral bands that were previously held in reserve. With AMBIT, the government made available 100 MHz of mid-band spectrum to be used for 5G development. So, in addition to our spectrum engineering and analytical support, Vectrus intends to leverage its experience in digital transformation, logistics and base operations to provide 5G-enabled applications to automate and integrate smart warehouses, smart installations and smart flight lines of the future.”

GCW: Can you expand on 5G? How is the federal government harnessing 5G today, and how is Vectrus supporting government adoption of 5G?

MS: “5G opens the door to the deployment of high bandwidth, low latency data transmission applications. The government is sponsoring several 5G testbed initiatives, creating spaces for prototyping new approaches to solve data intensive problems and to explore the advantages and efficacy of using private versus federal versus commercial-based networks. The Department of Defense is investing in and exploiting the benefits of 5G to enhance its technology and information dominance. 

Vectrus has invested in its own convergence space in its Network for Integration, Connectivity, and Experimentation lab — we call it our NICE lab — to create new applications and solutions that improve operational efficiencies for our clients, as a leader in the logistics modernization and Internet of Military Things arenas. 5G is a key enabler in our integration of smart technologies. At NICE lab, our engineers are developing a prototype for smart warehousing. We are employing robotics, augmented reality and RFID, and we’re integrating automated storage, environmental sensing and video surveillance over 5G. Our work at NICE demonstrates Vectrus’ strength in providing converged solutions by implementing emerging technology to overcome limitations of traditionally manual systems and processes.

And of course we’re looking at other 5G-enabled applications such as flight line asset tracking and other mobile and expeditionary capabilities as they relate to base operations around the world. Vectrus was also selected to develop a 5G-enabled smart warehouse for the Naval Base Coronado in San Diego. So we’re working with our commercial 5G partners to transform a legacy warehouse into a fully tech-enabled operation that integrates engineering solutions, people and processes to improve operational readiness and to support the Navy mission.”

GCW: So Michael, I’m curious to get your opinion on what’s on the horizon for 5G. As technology advances, we’re already hearing about 6G and NextG. From your perspective, where do you think 5G is going next?

MS: “Technology is advancing at an unbelievable pace, and with this advancement, we see exponential growth in the amount of data produced and consumed within our client’s ecosystems. This demands greater capacity to transmit, manage, secure and protect that data as it’s transformed. The need for higher throughput, faster uploads and downloads, cybersecurity and data segregation is enormous. So it’s imperative that investment continues to support the development of devices that can operate in these spectral bands as well as the ability to take advantage of some of the unique techniques that are afforded us as a result of the 5G, 6G, NextG initiative — things like network slicing — that will benefit the secure co-use of networks by various users. Whether it’s 5G, 6G or NextG, a robust R&D investment is still needed to ensure that the systems we envision and build today are able to meet the evolving world changes. And the level of interconnectivity and the ubiquity of wireless devices demands that we have a communications backbone that’s flexible, scalable, resilient and secure.”

GCW: Speaking of technology, what emerging technologies do you think will have the greatest impact on the public sector in the next few years?

MS: “AI/ML is where I think we’ll continue to see development, with high demand for data in real time and greater reliance on 5G. The use of AI/ML and things like mixed reality — combinations of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) — hold a lot of potential for smart implementations in the public sector. Smart cities, autonomous vehicles, autonomous navigation and vehicle-to-vehicle communications seem just a few steps from ubiquity. These technologies are the realization of the capabilities 5G to NextG portends to deliver. When you look at the public sector, there are an increasing number of applications that rely on enhanced data storage, secure data management and high volume data throughput. Having access to shared spectral bands to provide reliable 5G to NextG networks ensures these requirements can be met and provides greater data sharing and delivers timely information for decision making and improved situational awareness for end users.”

GCW: I want to hear more about your role at Vectrus. Can you talk about your work leading Vectrus’ Electromagnetic Spectrum Engineering program?  

MS: “Vectrus is a leader in providing next-generation electromagnetic spectrum operations capabilities for our Navy clients. Our engineers deliver solutions and services that promote electromagnetic compatibility of shipboard systems and help to mitigate ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore interference. We employ agile DevSecOps techniques to deliver spectrum management applications that support our client’s mission execution. 

Vectrus also provides analysis and support to help our clients better understand the impact of either vacating or sharing specific spectral bands. This is all part of the spectrum sharing, spectrum relocation and spectrum reallocation considerations, and it entails understanding everything from physics to policy in order to navigate the trade space through a thorough analysis of alternatives. To accomplish this, Vectrus is engaged in the development of state-of-the-art analytic tools and optimization algorithms. Vectrus also intends to remain at the forefront of employing artificial intelligence and machine learning to help clients optimize their spectrum operations.”

GCW: As Vice President of Engineering and Digital Integration, can you tell me about your growth strategy for the EDI line of business?

MS: “Engineering and Digital Integration (EDI) will continue to provide services and solutions that focus on delivering next-generation spectrum engineering and digital transformation capabilities. I’ve talked about our spectrum engineering work, but the potential in our digital transformation portfolio is an equal part of our growth campaign. Vectrus’ system-of-systems engineering and employing zero trust architectures, complemented by advanced data analytics and adaptive visualization tools, allow us to achieve enhanced situational awareness and informed decision support for our clients. This capability underpins Vectrus’ convergence environment approach which finds intelligent solutions to traditional manual labor challenges. The ecosystem in which our clients operate is fueled by data, so Vectrus focuses on harnessing that data and synthesizing it to arrive at actionable information that leads to smart decisions and more efficient processes that meet our clients’ mission challenges well into the future. So the continued effort to explore and exploit the spectrum engineering space, as well as our focus on digital transformation across our various client portfolios providing IoT-like solutions, I think is our primary focus for growth.”

GCW: What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone pursuing an executive-level position in today’s competitive market?

MS: “I will answer that question from a techie perspective because that’s where I live. Trying to make the transition from being a techie to an executive is sometimes challenging because your tendency is to delve deep into the weeds, to appreciate the underlying physics. I think to be successful as a tech executive, you’ve got to get to the point where you not only understand the tech, but also understand the big picture. It is getting to that point where you can see the OV-1, the Overview One graphic of the problem-space with all the various components and how to deliver a solution to a specific client problem in the most efficient cost effective way, while at the same time, maintaining focus on meeting corporate objectives for growth and revenue. And so from a techie executive perspective, learn to trust the other smart talent around you, as you provide leadership and a roadmap that addresses the broader client base and business needs.”

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