Michael D. Griffin, the new Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, may be the most intellectually gifted public servant in the entire Trump Administration. He holds seven academic degrees in applied physics, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering and other demanding fields. When he was selected to head NASA in 2005, he was working on an eighth degree in computer science. He has occupied senior positions at some of the world's most respected aerospace research organizations.
You could probably plug Griffin into any technical job in the government and get good results. But the area where he is best known is space. How well known? A 2010 survey by the Space Foundation ranked him as one of the nation's most popular space heroes. You usually have to be an astronaut to achieve that kind of honor. And there's one other thing about Mike Griffin -- he's not the kind of team player who will go along with a bad plan for the sake of unity. When he sees something he doesn't like, he asks a lot of hard questions.
Which is why the Air Force officials overseeing the Pentagon's space program better be scrubbing their PowerPoint presentations for when the new Under Secretary comes calling. If there's a problem in their plans, Griffin is likely to find it, and fast. I'm betting that it won't take long for him to start probing how the Air Force backed into its current, high-risk strategy for assuring access to space when it already is using launch vehicles with perfect performance records that can reach every national-security reference orbit.
United Launch Alliance's Atlas V launch vehicle has a perfect launch record, but its first stage uses a Russian engine. The Pentagon's new tech chief will need to decide whether and when it is prudent to shift to a new engine and vehicle combination ULA is proposing.
The new launch strategy got kick-started when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Congress discovered that the most heavily used rocket in the military launch fleet depended on a Russian-made engine for its first stage. Congress directed that the Pentagon cease relying on Russian technology by 2022, and proceeded to fund the development of new American-made rocket engines.
In the aftermath of Ukraine, it seemed kind of crazy that the U.S. was relying on Russian technology to launch spy satellites and other critical spacecraft. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Forbes magazine website.