The Air Force’s acquisition directorate has created the new position of chief architect to help manage the development of new capabilities through “families of systems,” and has hired Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory’s national security analysis director for the position, the service said March 8.

Preston Dunlap officially started in the role this week, the Air Force confirmed in a Friday statement to Defense Daily. “He will create and manage family of systems trade space, design margins, and define interfaces and standards to ensure interoperability across domains in permissive to highly contested environments,” the statement said.

The Air Force has hired Preston Dunlap, JHU APL’s national security analysis executive, as its first ‘chief architect.’ Photo: JHU APL

Dunlap’s first duty will be to lead the development of the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), the planned follow-on effort for the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) program. The JSTARS recapitalization program was canceled in the fiscal year 2019 defense budget.

Dunlap joined APL in 2014 as a national security fellow in the National Security Analysis Department, where he oversaw cross-cutting initiatives and built partnerships within the laboratory and across government, according to the laboratory. He became the executive for national security analysis in 2016.

Before arriving at APL, Dunlap served for over 11 years in the Senior Executive Service in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as a director of program analysis, chief of staff to the director of cost assessment and program evaluation, deputy director of the Simulation and Analysis Center, and deputy manager for information management and analysis.

Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, previously told reporters that the chief architect would be working on “tech-push prototype programs” and helping to refine the trade space between the separate prototype efforts.

While ABMS is not the only program Dunlap will be working on, “this is one we really need to succeed on because the ABMS mission is important,” Roper said in a Feb. 6 media roundtable at the Pentagon. “Maybe the right solution is heavy space, light air — maybe it’s heavy air, light space — but we need someone between the program and the mission or else we’ll have to prematurely pick where we are in that trade space without a lot of information to back it up.”

Roper’s own history as the acting chief architect of the Missile Defense Agency between 2010 and 2012 was the inspiration for the role, he said at a Feb. 28 media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

“If you’re working a missile defense kill chain, you’ve got a radar, you’ve got an interceptor and you’ve got a kill vehicle, [and] all of them have to work together to kill the missile,” he said. “They’re all run by different programs… and you’re constantly trading the performance you’re seeing with the mission.”

The chief architect could next tackle the Air Force’s next-generation air dominance portfolio, and the service could likely hire additional architects to assist, Roper said.

“I predict we will fill the quiver faster than he will be able to execute,” he said