ASEC, Receives The Patuxent Partnership’s Member of the Year Award

ASEC, Receives The Patuxent Partnership’s Member of the Year Award

In a speech last week during The Patuxent Partnership’s annual members dinner at Historic St. Mary’s City, Rear Adm. Paul Sohl talked at length about the national defense strategy laid out by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and how it ties back to what goes on at Naval Air Station Patuxent River and the defense industry in Southern Maryland.

“For decades, we have operated when we wanted, where we wanted, how we wanted,” Sohl said May 23, paraphrasing lines from the summary report of the national defense strategy. Sohl is the commander of Operational Test and Evaluation Force in Norfolk, Va.

“Today, every domain is contested — air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace,” according to the summary report.

“We have grown accustomed to overmatch,” Sohl said. “We have always been the big kid. No longer.”

He went on to say that “our homeland is the target” and “America has no pre-ordained right to victory on the battlefield,” quoting from the defense strategy report.

In response to the changing environment, Sohl noted the importance of rebuilding readiness and building a more lethal force.

“What is our partnership doing today to increase the lethality of our warfighting force?” he asked, throwing the question to an audience of hundreds, including many Navy officers and defense contractors.

As an acquisition officer, Sohl said he has learned over time that there’s nothing more powerful than a military and civilian workforce working together.

“There’s nothing that we can’t do,” he said.

Noting the goal is to reform the defense department’s business practices for greater performance and affordability, Sohl said the military needs more adaptability.

“We are not adaptable. Our processes aren’t,” he said. “Our fleet wants it fast. … We can’t shift fast enough.”

Military officials have long noted that the process of delivering new capabilities to warfighter has taken too long.

Operating “in the speed of relevance,” Sohl said success no longer goes to the country that develops the new technology first, but rather the one that integrates it and adapts it to its way of fighting.

“We are sucked into perfection. We love it,” he said. “Meanwhile, it’s not in the fleet. That’s a problem.”

The reason, Sohl said, comes down to “fear, plain and simple.”

“Fear of failure. Fear of change. Fear of losing the very things we built up over the last 10 years,” he said. “We’ve got to change.”

Noting the Memorial Day weekend was coming up at the time when he spoke last week, Sohl asked everyone in the crowd to think about the service members who paid the ultimate price.

“They can’t fight anymore. We have to fight for them,” he said. “Don’t leave here tonight without making a commitment to yourself to do something different tomorrow.

Firm earns award

Also at last week’s dinner, Aviation Systems Engineering Co. was named The Patuxent Partnership’s Member of the Year.

“In the last year or more, ASEC has demonstrated extraordinary support of the TPP mission and gone above and beyond with involvement in community service,” Bonnie Green, executive director of The Patuxent Partnership, said in a release.

“We thank ASEC for their strong culture of service and investing in building and retaining top quality talent right here in Southern Maryland,” she said.

Vincent Bellezza, president of ASEC, said in an interview Tuesday that “we are humbled and happy” to receive the award.

In a collaboration with TPP, ASEC developed and expanded a quadcopter training program for more than 75 high school students, parents, coaches and mentors from Southern Maryland.

Initiated by TPP through a STEM-for-All grant from the Office of Naval Research, the program teaches students theories and practical components of unmanned aircraft systems operations and flight, according to a release from TPP.

ASEC developed curriculums and training materials and its employees volunteered to teach as instructors for the program.

“We taught them how to operate them, what the rules are, and the privacy [issue],” Bellezza said.

By the end of the program, Bellezza said the students “all want to be Dino,” the company’s UAV pilot who is the instructor.

Last year, the company also established a scholarship for high school graduating seniors pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering and math.

Bellezza said the company asks applicants to write a paper and come in for an interview. The company gives out a first price of $1,000 and a second price of $500.

The employees who graded the papers and conducted the interviews “were extremely impressed by the quality of kids in Southern Maryland,” Bellezza said.

As the defense industry needs more engineers, especially more female engineers, he said their scholarship process shows them “maybe the future is bright.”

Founded in 2004, ASEC has a total of 210 employees, 120 of whom are based in Lexington Park. The $32 million business specializes in development, test, acquisition and delivery support for military and civilian unmanned and unmanned aviation missions.

The company is also branching out into the commercial world, and a lot of the work is related to drones. Owning several drones, Bellezza said in a previous interview that the company has contracts with power and railroad companies.

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By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somdnews.com May 30, 2018