BATTLESPACE Editor, Julian Nettlefold interviewed Chris Wiltsey, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Curtiss-Wright Defense Electronics Segment
“How did you come to work at CW?” The Editor asked.
“I’ve been with the company for nearly 20 years, during which time I’ve held a variety of general management positions. Currently, I am the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Defense Electronics Segment, and based in Los Angeles, California, at one of the Segment’s cornerstone business units. I grew up in the storied aerospace industry of Southern California. After graduating from U.C. Berkeley, where I studied Electrical Engineering/Computer Science, I formed my own business, which I ran from the time I was 25 until I was 40. After that, I’d made up my mind that if I were to work for a company, it would have to have an entrepreneurial spirit and culture. A gentleman, named Ron Rambin, whom I’d met through my father, had founded a company called Vista Controls, located north of Los Angeles. Over the years, Ron became a mentor to me and to a number of my peers. After he sold Vista Controls to Curtiss-Wright in 2001, a new facility was built, and when I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony in 2003, Ron took me aside and told me I should consider coming to work for Curtiss-Wright. He told me that he’d really enjoyed the two years since the acquisition, and he believed that good things could happen for me there. My conversations with Ron and others convinced me that at Curtiss-Wright I’d find the entrepreneurial environment I was seeking, and he succeeded in getting me to come on board a couple of months later. Over the course of my career, now eighteen years and counting, my first take on the company has stayed true – it’s what keeps me enthusiastic about the work.” Chris Wiltsey said.
“Can you describe the role you have there and the people you manage.”
“I’ve held a variety of General Manager positions at Curtiss-Wright, beginning in early 2005 when I was offered the opportunity to serve as GM of a new acquisition in San Diego, California. After that, I moved a handful of times, both in the U.S. and in Europe, each time taking on larger positions and responsibility for a growing number of businesses. Currently, 1/3 of the businesses that I manage are located in the UK/Europe. Where I first started, Vista Controls, which is now part of Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions, was a pioneering commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) based systems integration house for defense customers. Since then, as the COTS model has evolved from industry evangelism to Government mandated approach, Defense Solutions has experienced astounding growth, both organically and through the acquisition of best-in-class suppliers. This has provided me with great opportunities over the years, in a variety of different locations, to learn the business.
The people I manage are primarily business or business group GMs, as well as a number of direct reports that are in charge of functional areas in the division, such as finance, contracts, sales and operations. It’s an exciting time for Defense Solutions, as many of these people have come to Curtiss-Wright through acquisitions, and while some people have been with Curtiss-Wright for many years, a number are also reasonably new in their current roles, just as I am. We are a leadership team that’s energized, full of new ideas, and excited to be where we are.”
“Can you provide details of your products?”
“Curtiss-Wright is a U.S. based company with a global footprint. We have a long history in the Defense Electronics industry, having been leading suppliers in the COTS embedded electronics business and mainly ITAR-free, for more than a decade before 1994. That’s when then Secretary of Defense William Perry issued the landmark COTS Initiative memo that launched the military’s use of open standards electronics.
- 901D Naval Enclosure systems and Naval consoles: Electronic system solutions with all electronics and subsystems integrated and ready for software installation
We continue to maintain a leadership role in the industry, and our expertise has helped shape the definition of open standards for the military since the very beginning. Some of the most important standards that we support today, in alignment with the DoD mandate for the Modular Open System Approach (MOSA), include SOSA, CMOSS, and OpenVPX. We support deployed platforms across all services, with solutions that deliver optimal performance in harsh military environments, whether in the air, on the land, or at sea.”
“Can you describe your product range?”
- With the addition of PacStar, CWDS now provides network connectivity solutions that range from inside the platform to the edge of the tactical battlefield
“Our products fall into four major categories: COTS Embedded Computing, Turnkey and Applications Ready Solutions and Software, Tactical Battlefield Communications, and Instrumentation and Control. Most of our products can play in all domains.
Augmenting our broad portfolio of highly engineered electronics are a variety of software products, including support packages, high performance computing, secure networking tools, and data visualization software, to name but a few. The importance of these offerings to our electronic products is clearly evidenced by the fact that our software engineering force represents approximately half of our total engineering population.
More recently, the so-called “tri-services memo” of January 2019, issued jointly by the offices of the Secretaries of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, directed that a MOSA be reflected in all future requirements and programs. This memo has put Curtiss-Wright yet again in a leadership position for the next generation of Defense Electronics products, and this year we have already begun fielding, to great acclaim, solutions aligned with the latest new standards currently in development.
- The DTS1 is an example of a high-density storage solution that supports encryption to protect data-at-rest
Our technology and solutions catalog is both broad and deep, and because our products and product lines aren’t purpose-built for narrow dedicated applications, every platform type provides us with multiple opportunities. This allows us to compete across the full spectrum of the defense market’s platforms and applications rather than just narrow vertical segments. Additionally, because multiple product categories are applicable to the same platform, we can deliver full systems to military platforms with ever expanding scope. For our customers, the more our products can be integrated together to create a more complete system solution, the more compelling we are as a supplier to all the armed services.”
“Can you outline the growth in your product portfolio?”
“As our product portfolio has grown dramatically over recent years, we are even better positioned to provide our Defense customers with higher value complete system-level solutions, rather than a subset of components. Increasingly, our customers have come to recognize that the lowest risk for their programs results from choosing a single trusted, proven vendor to deliver as much of their system as possible. This approach significantly de-risks the many integration challenges that might arise when sourcing products from multiple vendors, and allows us to maximize our content on platforms.
- CWDS is an industry leading supplier for flight data recorders
The Defense Electronics segment continues to align the growth of our technology solutions, whether organically or by addition through acquisition, so that our new product offerings are as compelling for new defense platform starts as they are for life extension programs for the military’s priority platforms. We have an especially broad customer base and systems architecture expertise, with decades of experience derived from 2,200+ customers and 3,000+ programs. This rich history and experience make us a highly valuable partner for our customers when architecting the optimum solution for their application.”
“What is the secret of your success with regard to plug-and-play systems?”
“We are platform agnostic: Since our open standards-based products are not overly tailored to specific platforms or applications, we can architect and provide high-performance systems rugged enough to perform in any environment for any deployed platform.
“In addition, we have an expansive range of IP. Our pace of development is impressive. We’ve released more than 500 new products over the last ten years, and we’ve added more than 20 completely new product lines in just the last 5 years. These are not just additional products, but complete new product lines that enhance, broaden, and deepen our catalog.
- Curtiss-Wright system architects design fully integrated rugged open architecture systems
Our engineering workforce spans all functional requirements, with critical IP and deep engineering expertise from 600+ Hardware, Software, Systems, and Security Engineers. Also, we have established processes that maintain and pass along our deep knowledge history to each new wave of engineers we bring onboard. This ensures that our valuable DNA and expertise is preserved as we welcome new engineers into the organization.
- Curtiss-Wright supports video applications with advances video management systems and rugged touch-screen LCD displays designed for military platforms
Our products are designed to deliver the highest performance and operate in the harshest military environments. We’ve accumulated over 30 years of proof that our products meet and exceed the most stringent military performance and ruggedization requirements thanks to our expertise and industry leadership in system architecture, materials science, and packaging. Our products are designed for these requirements from the beginning, and are always size, weight, and power optimized; we consider this a key differentiator in our market.
Also, we have established the industry’s best practices to ensure Longevity of Supply of our products, addressing supply chain, obsolescence, end-of-life, and counterfeit detection challenges, to ensure that our products can support the extremely long lifecycles required of deployed military systems.”
“What are the main markets for your products?”
- PacStar’s product line brings enterprise-class Cisco-based networking to the battlefield
“We are highly focused – in the high 90% range – on defense. Our highly engineered solutions are designed for military applications where high performance and a high level of ruggedization are both required. Although a smaller part of our overall business, commercial aerospace production rate recovery is another market driver that we are tracking.”
“Who are your main customers?”
“Our main customers are US and NATO government agencies, such as the DoD and MoD., prime contractors and sub-prime contractors. We enjoy working with all the main system integrators, for many of whom we are fortunate to be regarded as strategic suppliers and have formed long-term partnerships. Our customers, when they architect a solution on their own, may get exposed to solving a particular type of problem some dozens of times. In comparison, since we architect solutions for all of our hundreds of customers, we have amassed experience for each system problem 100s, if not thousands, of times. We have truly “been there and done that” – countless times. That means we know many ways to solve system architecture problems. Our value proposition starts with the fact that our vast experience enables us to leverage all the benefits of that accumulated knowledge to the advantage of each customer. But our value propositions don’t end with the system or product architecture. It continues at every step in the process, from realizing the working solution to passing qualifications, through deployment, and lifecycle management.
- Curtiss-Wright’s Parvus product line includes ultra compact rugged mission computers and network routers/switches
As one example, the quality, high performance, and reliability of our industry leading system-level flight test instrumentation solutions has led customers to increasingly select them, not just for the flight test program, but for deployment in operational applications, opening significant new program opportunities.
Our customers view us as a trusted, proven leader in the market. They trust us to deliver a highly reliable product that works on time and on budget. And they trust us to support them as expert system architects, leveraging our large catalog to provide an optimized solution for their unique applications.”
- CWDS’s Drive Technology facility is a leading supplier of high precision modular turret stabilization solutions. These upgradeable aiming and stabilization systems provide the highest degree of motion control and stability available on the market for battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and remote weapons stations
“What of the future, new technology etc, R&D spend?”
“We continue to deploy a healthy, well-managed R&D budget aligned with the military’s highest priorities and our international customers’ strategies. Using our deep understanding of the emerging trends in the market, we direct our investments at a holistic system level, across the breadth of our portfolio, to ensure we generate the greatest cumulative returns, all conducted by our R&D engineering resources in the USA, Canada, UK and Europe.
- CWDS is the world’s leading supplier of open architecture modules including 3U and 6U OpenVPX processing, networking, FPGA, GPGPU, Graphics & Video boards
The Defense Electronics segment continues to align the growth of our technology solutions, whether organically or by addition through acquisition, so that our new product offerings are as compelling for new defense platform starts as they are for life extension programs for the military’s priority platforms. Curtiss-Wright Corporation has put in place a new Operational Growth Platform that drives growth by establishing tools and best practices for innovation, strategy, M&A, and commercial excellence. We also leverage Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s Innovation Council, participating on the executive review committee, where new initiatives are nurtured and managed through a formalized five stage process, taking them from original idea to launch.
Our R&D Committee, that I chair, meets every week to review the R&D pipeline across the entire segment, following all projects from initial concept to product release, to ensure that we deliver the most compelling and relevant technology to our customers. We balance our investment across our portfolio, and we deliver every product as soon as the underlying technology is available in order to lock up positions with our customers. In the last 12 months alone, we’ve reviewed over 70 project proposals. Many of these projects are currently in development and will result in released products this year and next.
While the R&D committee manages the product development pipeline, our CTO Council monitors new technology, technology differentiation, and technology disruption developments to keep our teams informed on all of the choices available for their product architectures. We remain committed to a robust and well-managed R&D investment that delivers compelling technology meeting the highest priority needs of the military.”
“How do you monitor progression in overseas sales opportunities?”
“We are tracking several key market drivers we believe will shape the future of our business over the next several years. Obviously, the future defense spending plan, specifically the investment accounts, will have a significant impact on our customers’ buying behaviors. Although this is significant at a macro level, other factors have as much or even more impact. The global threat environment driven by geopolitical instability continues. Many daily news stories highlight the need for continued investment in combat system modernization to provide battlefield overmatch through technology exploitation versus force structure. The U.S. Department of the Navy’s 30-year Naval Shipbuilding Plan, driving towards a 355 ship modernized Battle Force, will also provide us with many opportunities in coming years. The UK is an established market for us, and the themes contained in the recent Defence and Security Industrial Strategy (DSIS) and the Integrated Review (IR) publication are resonant with our technology vision and strategic direction, so we will continue to find and secure opportunities in major programs such as Tempest, Ajax, Crowsnest and Challenger.
In recent years, we have seen a huge increase of opportunities requiring alignment with the MOSA. We will continue to lead the market with products complying to MOSA standards, and we will continue our legacy of taking a leadership role in their development.
The requirement to secure data on deployed platforms has become increasingly important in recent years. We continue developing technologies to protect critical data residing on and transmitted by our deployed systems and applications, using advanced cyber, encryption, and other trusted computing and protection techniques.”
“The pace of change on the battlefield and the emergence of multi-domain operations seems to be the main focus?”
“Very much so, Emerging requirements in the battlefield are also a continued focus for us. As new types of platforms emerge, such as Hypersonics, unmanned, autonomous and intelligent systems, our position in these applications will continue to grow through the alignment of our solutions to the unique needs of these new platforms.
Our Swiss operation, a leader in high precision electric turret drives makes us well positioned to take advantage of the trend to establish electrification solutions to meet the future demands of the military.
Providing network connectivity to the tactical edge of the battlefield is another high priority. Under the integrated Tactical Network program, pre-planned upgrades for netcentric battlefield solutions are being performed on a bi-annual basis. Formerly, our long history in the connected battlefield was primarily focused on intra-platform solutions. With our recent acquisition of PacStar, we have added substantial expertise and market leadership for secure inter-platform communications, which greatly extends our segment’s reach across the entire connected battlefield. The resultant expansion to our product portfolio made possible by the addition of PacStar’s technologies provides us access to $5 billion worth of top U.S. DoD priority opportunities.
Our customers view us as a trusted, proven leader in the market. They trust us to deliver a highly reliable product that works on time and on budget. And they trust us to support them as expert system architects, leveraging our large catalog to provide an optimized solution for their unique applications. We’ve been proven over and over again as a partner, across thousands of programs. We’ve been here for a long time and we continue to perform at the highest levels. We’ve built extensive relationships with industry and government, and we are proud to have set the standard for longevity of supply.”
“Do you work in partnership with your customers?”
“Very much so. We are in an optimal position to support US and NATO government agencies as they seek to accelerate the fielding of key technologies for insertion into existing systems to deliver technological overmatch to the battlefield. As new types of threats emerge, we will be ready for these as well. A recent U.S. Government Accounting Office memo highlighted the need for increased DoD investment for technologies able to provide Assured Position, Navigation and Timing (A-PNT).
As an example of our MOSA innovation, we recently demonstrated an A-PNT hardware architecture on a ground vehicle to the DoD with great success. This achievement was resulted from our investment in developing rugged open standards-based subsystems that integrate complementary position, navigation, and timing services to augment or temporarily replace GPS when lost or denied, as well as identifying when adversaries attempt to deliver spoofed GPS data.
To address MOSA opportunities, we will innovate products that follow open standards and provide the most compelling technologies to our defense customers. We will maintain our leadership role in development of these standards and we will continue to be one of the first COTS suppliers to market with new MOSA aligned system solutions.
We have a long legacy of excellence in intra-platform data communications. With the addition of PacStar, we’ve greatly extended our reach, with solutions for inter-platform communication, to the tactical edge of the battlefield. What’s more, our combined security solutions for protecting data-at-rest and data-in-motion squarely meet today’s security requirements. One exciting example of how PacStar continues to lead innovation in the tactical battlefield is the continued expansion of capabilities in their Secure Wireless Command Post product family that extends network connectivity to the soldier. Initially connecting soldiers from expeditionary forces via Wi-Fi, their solutions now enable sensitive data to be connected to phones and tablets using cell phone technology, vastly extending the distance and reach to soldiers at the tactical edge of the battlefield. These solutions provide a great example of how innovation has effectively created an expanded market for our products and services.”
“Has the acquisition of PacStar been a game changer?”
“Absolutely. the widely recognized ease of use which enable PacStar products to be rapidly deployed have made them an industry favorite, and our battlefield communications story has become much more compelling and complete with their addition to our business.
We also collaborate extensively within the segment. The addition of PacStar immediately extended our Commercial Solutions for Classified and Common Criteria data protection capabilities from protection of data-at-rest to protection of data-in-motion. Further enhancing this expansion of our capabilities, we have already begun planning the migration of PacStar’s techniques to a broad portion of our other product portfolios for very little incremental cost.
We also continue to expand our opportunities in the Naval Shipbuilding market. Our long-established relationships supporting Nuclear Navy instrumentation and Control programs continue to strengthen. With our recent acquisition of 901D, we’ve broadened our available naval platform opportunities, both for additional surface vessels and in the growing market for unmanned underwater vehicles. The UUV applications have also started providing great opportunities for our businesses that provide small form factor electronic subsystems. In addition to opportunities on non-nuclear platforms, we are also seeing early interest on some non-Naval vehicles, where 901D’s rugged chassis are applicable. 901D also adds new opportunities across the segment for integrating our products into their enclosure solutions, establishing yet another path for selling to our customers.
As with PacStar, 901D is now essentially integrated into the Defense Solutions division. They are fully integrated into our sales channel, our Business Development group, and all other functional disciplines. And importantly, we have avoided introducing any friction into their ability to execute on their strategies. Instead, we have only augmented and added to their ability to operate in their markets.”
“Is Curtiss-Wright’s expertise as a COTS supplier a benefit to your supply chain activities?”
“Yes, as a COTS supplier, managing our supply chain is critical. We have increased the centralization of our supply chain management, leveraging our 30-year legacy of expertise in this discipline. Importantly this year, amidst the well-reported challenges of widespread component shortages, we have so far successfully mitigated every lead-time challenge that has arisen, and we are expecting to finish the year with no material impact to our sales as a result of any component shortages. We are also actively leveraging our supply chain management expertise across other segments of the corporation.
We encourage collaboration among our Sales and Business Development staff as well. As a result, staff cross between Defense and Commercial/Civil markets, between foreign and domestic, and between nuclear and non-nuclear Navy. This enables us to apply, quite easily, relevant products and technology from one market into any other. Our family of Fortress crash-protected flight recorders, designed and developed in the UK, provides a great example. Initially designed for military platforms, these super rugged products have recently seen big wins with Honeywell in the commercial market, and we have great expectations for leveraging Honeywell’s relationship with Boeing. In the defense market, we recently had a large win for Fortress with the T-6 Texan II Trainer aircraft. The very same core technology is being applied in both of these quite different markets.”
“How do you see the future?”
“In summary, we have a long history and well-established reputation in the Defense Electronics industry, having been a leader for several decades. We will continue to grow our leadership position in delivering products and services aligned with the MOSA. We will continue to grow and expand our product catalog and become an ever more compelling system solution provider across all military markets, platforms, and programs. And finally, we will continue to align our strategies to support growth in whatever budget environment we find ourselves in, as we have successfully done over the past many years.”
Chris Wiltsey is a candidate for the 2021 Businessperson of the Year.
Chris Wiltsey is the Senior VP/GM of the Defense Solutions division at Curtiss-Wright, which includes responsibility for multiple business units located in several countries across North America and Europe.
Chris has been with Curtiss-Wright since 2003, initially as Director, Product Line Engineering, in Santa Clarita, CA followed by 7 years in San Diego, CA as VP of Curtiss-Wright’s Intel SBC and Embedded Systems IPT, 4 years as VP/GM back at Santa Clarita, and then 4 years as VP/GM of the Aerospace Instrumentation group.
Chris holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from University of California, Berkeley, and completed the Queen’s Executive Business Management program at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.