NAVAIR

A STRIKING CAREER: Precision Strike Weapons group honors acquisition leader with roots in its community

KEITH SANDERS, Assistant Commander for Acquisition/Program Management;
BIO: Bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University, master’s from George Mason University. Joined the civil service in 1971; appointed to the senior executive service in 2003; after college, briefly worked for Pratt & Whitney before becoming a Navy civilian. He has held positions at Naval Weapons Support Center, Crane, Ind.; the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; and a variety of leadership roles at NAS Patuxent River; 
ON TACKLING TOUGH PROBLEMS: “I was never in a position to choose to work on a tough problem. They kind of found me. You have to understand the root causes before you try to solve that problem. If you just start trying to solve the problem without really understanding what’s making it happen, you can spend an awful lot of time and money guessing wrong”;
ON FINDING YOUR CALLING: “Like most young people, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I grew up. I recommend they find themselves a meaningful role doing things they find challenging. Helping your team succeed has a beneficial side effect of furthering your opportunities. Find something you enjoy. That’s the key.” (U.S. Navy photo)

KEITH SANDERS, Assistant Commander for Acquisition/Program Management; BIO: Bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University, master’s from George Mason University. Joined the civil service in 1971; appointed to the senior executive service in 2003; after college, briefly worked for Pratt & Whitney before becoming a Navy civilian. He has held positions at Naval Weapons Support Center, Crane, Ind.; the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; and a variety of leadership roles at NAS Patuxent River; ON TACKLING TOUGH PROBLEMS: “I was never in a position to choose to work on a tough problem. They kind of found me. You have to understand the root causes before you try to solve that problem. If you just start trying to solve the problem without really understanding what’s making it happen, you can spend an awful lot of time and money guessing wrong”; ON FINDING YOUR CALLING: “Like most young people, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I grew up. I recommend they find themselves a meaningful role doing things they find challenging. Helping your team succeed has a beneficial side effect of furthering your opportunities. Find something you enjoy. That’s the key.” (U.S. Navy photo)

Nov 26, 2012

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Commander of the Naval Air Systems Command, Vice Adm. David Dunaway congratulates Assistant Commander for Acquisition Keith Sanders on receiving the 2012 Richard H. Johnson Technical Achievement Award at a gathering Nov. 15 at the Tides Restaurant near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. (U.S. Navy photo)

Commander of the Naval Air Systems Command, Vice Adm. David Dunaway congratulates Assistant Commander for Acquisition Keith Sanders on receiving the 2 ...

NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. — When neuropsychologist Roger Wolcott Sperry conducted his split-brain studies, he probably wasn’t considering “whole-brained” thinker Keith Sanders.

The assistant commander for Acquisition, Sanders integrates left-brained analysis and right-brained thoughtfulness to manage 99 Acquisition Category II to IV programs – a portfolio of roughly $2 billion – for the Naval Air Systems Command.

It’s a role he’s held since 2010, one that requires him to be intuitive, innovative and visionary – decidedly right-brained functions, but not a creative stretch for someone who ran track in high school, played the trumpet in a jazz band and enjoys wildlife photography. For most of his 41-year federal government career, however, Sanders’ profession required the cerebral focus that neuroscientists would have labeled left-brained thinking.

He has worked on nearly every air-launched weapon in the DoD inventory. His early development efforts for the Advance Bomb Family (ABF) were the first serious attempt to improve general-purpose bombs and inertial guidance kits for bombs since the Mark 80 family was conceived in the 1950s. ABF did not survive, but it influenced nearly every subsequent direct-attack weapon in the Navy and possibly the world.

Though Sanders shifted his professional focus from building bombs to building consensus, the weapons community never forgot his contributions. On Nov. 15, the Precision Strike Weapons Association, a coalition of defense industry, government and academic experts, honored him with its 2012 Richard H. Johnson Technical Achievement Award at a restaurant near Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

“Keith has enjoyed a remarkable career, nobly serving our great nation for more than four decades -- touching the acquisition or life-cycle support of virtually every major strike weapons program,” said Andy McHugh, chairman of the Precision Strike Association, who also works as the director of Business Development at Tekla Research. “Keith is very deserving of this recognition and it will be an honor to present this award to him in front of family, friends and members of the precision strike community.”

THE VOICE OF REASON

“Keith worked on some of the same programs Dick Johnson [the award’s namesake] did,” said Steve Roemerman, president of Lone Star Aerospace, an analysis and systems engineering company, who has known Sanders for more than 20 years. “Keith is someone who takes a systems approach to understanding what facts matter. That kind of systems thinking helps him navigate complex and difficult problems. When a group of people are facing a difficult set of challenges, he’s one of the voices who help people find a consensus on how to overcome problems or challenges.”

Known for his trademark humility, Sanders’ simple response when notified that he earned the trophy was “Gee whiz. Who would have thought?”

“So much time had passed,” he said. “I never saw myself as a noteworthy character in these efforts. I definitely feel ownership and pride from these efforts, but it was always as part of a team. … In addition to JSOW [Joint Standoff Weapon] and JDAM [Joint Direct Attack Munition], I’m particularly proud of being part of the Tomahawk Block IV program. The networked capability that Tactical Tomahawk introduced in the early 2000s — those were both very significant contributors to the strike capability of the U.S. and its allies. … Tactical Tomahawk made it possible for the on-scene commanders to redirect a weapon that was in-flight to a higher priority target, so that brought the time frames down significantly. Basically it took Tomahawk from being a weapon that was mostly strategic, down to being a true tactical tool for the special-operations teams.”

While Sanders saw himself as more of a footnote in the development of precision weapons, others saw him as the headline.

“For 40 years, Keith has contributed to the evolution of precision strike systems, beginning with the Mark 80 series, laser-guided bombs, to the more sophisticated systems, like JSOW, JDAM and JASSM,” NAVAIR Commander Vice Adm. David Dunaway told those gathered at the restaurant. “He has been on the leading edge of helping our Navy progress from launching several aircraft with multiple bombs to ensure target destruction, to launching one aircraft with multiple precision-guided weapons that can neutralize targets with little or no collateral damage. He has a long history with the Naval Air Systems Command; and it is my honor to go to work with him every day.”

Rear Adm. Mat Winter, program executive officer for the Navy’s Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons program, called Sanders a “great American.”

“Keith’s selfless dedication and commitment to weapons excellence has ensured our warfighters have had and continue to have the reliable, capable, cost-effective warfighting tools to fight the fight and win,” said Winter, who worked with Sanders in the Precision Strike Weapons Program Office (PMA-201). “His presence in the weapons and energetics arena will be felt for many decades to come."

Retired Rear Adm. Bert Johnston, a former NAVAIR vice commander who worked with Sanders in the Conventional Strike Weapons Program Office, recalled Sanders as “the perfect teammate.”

“In addition to knowing everyone in the business, Keith knew how to work with them all and, most importantly, knew what was important to them,” said Johnston, who is now a defense industry consultant. “There were numerous times that Keith and I would have a discussion about where we needed to go, and the next day he would have a meeting or conference call scheduled or actions assigned to press ahead. It was obvious that Keith supported the warfighter.”

LEASH AND LATITUDE

Sanders credited his mentors, from both the Navy and the defense industry, for his professional development.

“Rear Adm. Jack ‘Jocko’ Chenevey, [former program manager in PMA-201] gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had, in terms of trust and a long leash and latitude,” Sanders said. “He selected me as his deputy shortly before he left PMA-201.”

“Keith had a very easy manner of leadership and a superb reputation within the Navy and Marine Corps weapons communities,” said Chenevey, who has since retired. “The PMA-201 portfolio was very diverse in terms of the technologies and the field activities we had to support us. No one had a better grasp of these factors than Keith. His knowledge of the conventional air-to-ground weapons business was invaluable in our management of the development and sustainment programs.”

Longtime colleague Earle L. Rudolph Jr., vice president of Market Development MBDA, said Sanders has provided both naval aviation and the U.S. Air Force with the tools needed to “fight and win” for more than 20 years.

“[Keith] was integral to the success of JDAM, GBU-24 and JSOW in PMA-201,” Rudolph said. “He was the go-to lead to make a troubled program work, to solve management and technical issues. … He took fleet aviators and made us understand that our contribution at NAVAIR was as important as what we did in the air.”

For Sanders, the development of sophisticated weapons systems has been like transforming science fiction to science fact.

In his books, novelist “Tom Clancy talked about doing things with air-launched weaponry, with satellites, aircraft. In practice, that wasn’t really achievable, but this community has dedicated itself to making it real,” Sanders said. “And through the efforts of many companies and government weapon centers, those capabilities today have truly been achieved and transformed how the Defense Department prosecutes its kinetic engagements. This group of companies and government organizations are involved in the business of weapons systems -- emphasis on systems -- because it involves satellites, aircraft all kinds of sensors and mission planning. The ability to deliver surgical strikes is something this community made possible. Not only the ability to do the strike, but to do it on an urgent basis. That’s where the miracles happened.”

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