Dr. Barry Alexia is director of strategic technology at Rockwell Collins‘ government systems business.
He started his career with Hughes Aircraft Company in the 1980s, where he worked on the U2 spy plane.
Raytheon acquired Hughes in 1998 and he continued there until he returned to his native Iowa to work for Rockwell Collins almost four years ago.
The 25-year industry veteran recently caught up with ExecutiveBiz, and touched on Rockwell’s involvement in the FAA’s NextGen 2020 program, how the company stays at the cutting edge of technological advancements and what makes for a successful contracting executive.
ExecutiveBiz: What is your company’s role in the SE2020 project that the FAA is conducting?
Dr. Barry Alexia: Rockwell Collins is sub to a consortium of companies that are pursuing the greater SE2020. We have specific technical technology areas that we will be actively pursuing when those IDIQ areas come up for review. So, we take our marching orders essentially from the prime on this particular–or from the consortium on this particular case.
ExecutiveBiz: What products do you help develop in the advanced technology center?
Dr. Alexia: We have three major areas that we focus on, advanced radio systems, embedded information systems and third area is communication navigation systems. That is an extremely high level as far as information is concerned.
ExecutiveBiz: What is your role as the head of strategic technology?
Dr. Alexia: My role is to look out over the long-term growth aspects of the various technologies, what is the next generation comm navigation capability, for example, or what the next generation radio is as far as antennas are concerned.
ExecutiveBiz: How does Rockwell Collins differentiate itself from the competition in the cyber security marketplace considering how crowded the marketplace has become?
Dr. Alexia: Over the past few years a lot of our competitors have purchased a number of smaller cyber security companies to begin to build up their expertise in this area. Rockwell thinks–although we’re not a company that intends to go after some of the big enterprise cyber security issues, we do have a history of working and levering expertise in the embedded domain. To define our strategy and how we think we can be competitive in this area, I’ll refer to some of our work within formal methods. Rockwell has been a recognized leader for years in the area of formal methods or more specifically the practical application of developing high assurance systems.
When I say formal methods I mean coming up with mathematical proofs or some reasonable high degree of assurance that an application is developed the way it’s intended to be. We’ve previously applied a lot of this expertise within the embedded domain in safety. So, for example developing autopilot systems or flight management systems where you have a high degree of criticality, however, those same principles apply to the security domain as well. As we enter into the realm of cyber security and ensuring that our products are secure in the future we intend to continue to leverage our background in formal methods to ensure that any of our products are developed to the highest assurance.
ExecutiveBiz: Do you think the U.S. military and the rest of the federal government are doing enough to ensure secure communications?
Dr. Alexia: I think they’re still trying to determine what that really means as far as secure communications. You receive reports whereby the bad actors have a capability of jamming communications with some extremely low technology that’s essentially available at a radio supply store. So, I think we’re still trying to understand as company, as a country and as a DoD, I think they’re still trying to understand how to identify what it means to have secure communications. The fact that you can still jam certain data links or just basic wireless communications still identifies that there’s vulnerabilities in the system itself.
ExecutiveBiz: How are contractors, and specifically Rockwell Collins, helping keep government communications technology at the cutting edge?
Dr. Alexia: Well, we at Rockwell Collins we split our IRAD funds 70/30 where 70 percent of our funds go to support our business units, and the remaining 30 percent supports long-term growth or technologies. That 30 percent allows us to really go out and take a look at what could be called DARPA hard activities to try to identify where the gaps are as far as communication capabilities are located.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve worked in three large government contracting firms in your career. What are some of the similarities you see in the most successful executives?
Dr. Alexia: I think what identifies a successful executive is the fact that they understand the strategy of where the customer would like to take an idea. Again, this is from a technology perspective. You need to understand where the technology gaps are in a certain application. And as that application continues to grow, or you want it to continue to grow, you need to be able to leverage your technologies to support those gaps or to fill those gaps. Again, I think the successful individual is being able to understand the current application and then understand what the gaps are, not only the gaps of tomorrow, but the gaps really well out into the future two to three years out and being able to express that understanding to your customer base or to your DoD customer.