NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Boeing’s entrant for the Navy’s MQ-25 tanker drone competition will incorporate technologies from its recently acquired subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences, the company’s head of its Phantom Works advanced tech and prototyping division confirmed Monday.
But Mark Cherry, who was named the vice president Phantom Works in October, isn’t giving up any information about Aurora’s contribution to the program until the Navy awards a contract this summer.
“We’re in a competitive situation so we wouldn’t want to tip off our competitors,” he told Defense News in his first interview in his new role. “The ability to leverage Aurora, we do it in ways that make sense in terms of putting us in a good competitive position.”
While Cherry gave no hints as to which Aurora technologies could be adopted in MQ-25, the company specializes in a couple key areas. It’s well known as a pioneer of unmanned aircraft like the ultra-long endurance Orion drone, as well as autonomous tech such as robotic copilots. It also manufactures advanced materials and aerostructures and has developed experimental aircraft concepts.
As the former president and chief operating officer of Aurora, Cherry is intimately familiar with the company’s product line and capabilities. But as Phantom Works’ head, he will have to expand his aperture to a wider product range that includes satellites and space platforms, fighter aircraft and munitions — a task he says is “really exciting.”
“One of the things that Leanne [Caret, CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security] challenged me on when I came in was to ensure that Phantom Works was the Phantom Works for all of Boeing Defense. So one of the things we did was make sure we had touchpoints with all of the different organizations within Boeing Defense as opposed to focusing on one particular sector.”
The Marine Corps’ program — which goes by the unwieldy name of Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Aircraft System Expeditionary or MUX — could be a key test of Boeing’s ability to break down those silos.
The service in March released a request for information for MUX, seeking out insight from industry on long-range, ship-based unmanned rotorcraft that could be used for surveillance, as a communications relay and as armed support for manned aircraft.
That kind of a platform could be helmed by several of Boeing’s divisions, but rather than passing over MUX to the company’s rotorcraft or autonomous systems business, the intent is to work collaboratively as requirements evolve, Cherry said.
“The touch points we’ve established will help us streamline what’s the right answer for the Marine Corps for that need,” he said. “We’re doing that as an integrated approach.”
Cherry also said he wants to reevaluate how Phantom Works functions, and make changes where it makes sense to keep the organization agile.
After he assumed leadership of Phantom Works, “we did a lot of things in terms of moving out quickly and looking at process as very added. And that’s one of the things that we’re taking a hard look at is where process is actually adding value and where process we might need to look at doing some things — it might be — a bit differently,” he said.
That’s not to say that Phantom Works’ structure or processes are currently unwieldy or overly bureaucratic, but “whenever you’re in a large organization, you have to challenge paradigms,” he said. “You have to take a look at and see what does make sense and what doesn’t make sense.”