AUGUSTA, Ga. — During a season of leadership shakeups across U.S. Army acquisition offices, Brig. Gen. Ed Barker feels right at home.
In June, Barker was named the boss of the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, or PEO IEW&S, at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. He served as the office’s deputy for the previous two years.
Barker succeeds Mark Kitz at the development hub for everything related to Army jamming, spoofing, spying, intelligence-gathering and navigation. He spoke with C4ISRNET about his priorities and potential portfolio growth Aug. 15 on the sidelines of the AFCEA TechNet Augusta conference in Georgia.
Portions of the discussion below were edited for length and clarity.
What goals are on the immediate horizon for you as the new leader at PEO IEW&S?
We have a 100-day plan. A lot of it is looking at what we’re going to do. Think of it in terms of a battlefield circulation. Going out, talking to our counterparts, our strategic partners and letting them know, ‘Hey, I’m in the seat.’ That type of thing.
Some of that has been a lot easier since I was the deputy for two years. It’s assuring them that the path we are on, with the relationship and stuff, is still intact — no big changes or anything like that. And then initial outreach to the workforce. You know, a couple of town halls, introducing me formally as the PEO and sharing your strategic vision and goals and your thoughts on where things are going to go.
The other part of that is: After being the deputy for so long, for two years, I was really invested in what Mark Kitz was doing as the PEO. I didn’t want to show a lot of light between the path that Mark had us on and myself and my vision.
But what I did have to say was that, in the end, we’re constantly assessing ourselves. We have to constantly be looking out to the future, looking at the program objective memorandum, looking at upcoming requirements, looking at the world, in general, when it comes to the strategic environment. So what do we have to be focused on? And we are continually asking, ‘Are we prepared for that?’
So we’ve kicked off a couple of things to assess ourselves and see ourselves a little better. From a study standpoint, we are giving program managers some homework, so to speak, and kind of laying out, ‘Hey, these are things I want you to look at.’ Then, in late September, we want to come together and have some sessions to start to mesh all this together to have more of a collective understanding and a collective view of what we think the future looks like and what we need to prepare for. That’s going to trigger a lot of things, right? It triggers programmatic work. It triggers what we need to do from a talent-management standpoint.
Two of my central themes, aside from the stakeholder management and understanding our strategic partners, is organizational agility and building that organizational agility, both from an overall structure and process standpoint, but then also from a talent-management standpoint. Those are the two things coming out of that, that I want to start to be able to shape, and understand better, going into the future.
What programs or projects, like a Terrestrial Layer System or something similar, are you most interested in or excited about?
Well, you’ve seen our portfolio, you know how broad it is. There’s just so much goodness across it.
The thing that really comes to mind, though, is: You look at what Army Secretary Christine Wormuth’s talking about, one of our imperatives, and that’s deep sensing. We take a lot of comfort knowing that we are one of the ones going to be primarily responsible for that, making sure that we can understand the deep fight, or whatever the fight is at echelon, whether that’s in Europe or the Pacific.
It’s always comforting to know that leaders understand the importance of what you’ve been doing for decades now and putting that at the forefront. In the end, when you think of that, we’re enabling all these priorities. We’re anxiously awaiting to see how her imperatives develop when it comes to the things that Army Futures Command is doing and any adjustments they may make on the cross-functional team side or anything like that.
We’re welcoming the conversation about deep sensing because we know we’re ready to contribute. And that impacts all those programs that you’ve hit on, Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node, TLS. There’s a lot of opportunity there.
How do you see the IEW&S portfolio evolving over the years? Is it an increased focus on deep sensing? More money on jammers?
In all instances, it’ll be somewhat cyclical as to what the priorities are.
Obviously, electronic warfare right now is the big lesson that we’re taking away from all the actions within Europe. We have to take every opportunity to shape what we’re doing and inform those requirements and inform the capabilities.
The paths that we are taking, from an other transaction authority standpoint and the mid-tier acquisitions, those are perfect, I think, for this type of environment. It allows us to iterate as we learn, that kind of campaign of learning. At each event, we should learn something and then inform either the technology or what the Army needs to do across the rest of the DOTMLPF and as an institution. That’s probably the biggest thing.
The other thing we need to really be accountable for is you’re seeing all this stuff when it comes to halt and fix on the network side of things. And not just the network, but capabilities at large and command and control.
We’re prepared to understand. We’re participating in and informing all the different tabletop exercises that are out there, that require us to be a part of it. But informing where the Army wants to go, when it comes to what they’re going to do, by echelon, I don’t think that changes our paths, necessarily, on any of the efforts.
With TLS or TITAN as examples, I think what that means is they may end up at a different echelon, and there may be more or fewer at that echelon, as the Army goes to this more centralized management, and then pushing those capabilities down to the brigade combat team. I think we need to be prepared to adjust for that, across the portfolio.
What was the handoff like between you and Mr. Kitz? You guys worked closely before, and you still do, because now he’s leading PEO Command, Control and Communications-Tactical.
Mark and I go way back. I’ve known him since 2010, and we worked together multiple times on different things. The last two years was just a blessing, to have two guys that really saw things very similarly and had very similar approaches when it came to leadership and not being afraid to get after tough problems.
The beauty of all the different transitions — as you saw happen — was mine was probably one of the easiest, honestly. I was the deputy for two years, and I joke and say that I have a lot of culpability for what’s been going on with regard to decisions. So it would be disingenuous of me to have anything other than support for the pathway we’re on.
But there is definitely a different level of responsibility that the PEO has that the deputy doesn’t have. That ramp up was really me trying to understand and really grasp some of the things that I didn’t always see that, maybe, were taking up more of his time. Now I understand that more after being in the seat for about 45 days. Things like being the approving official for the networks and stuff.
Mark helped me navigate that. And, like I said, the fact that I was a deputy helped quite a bit, because I know that, as part of his transition, he was taking on a whole new portfolio. I tried to be very conscious of that and make sure that he had the right amount of time to get into the seat at PEO C3T.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.