Executive Interview: Dave Young, Chief Technology Officer, CAES
1. The U.S. private equity firm Advent International bought CAES’ parent Cobham plc in January 2020. How did Advent change the CAES corporate structure and direction?
Advent International’s purchase of Cobham brought some very exciting changes to CAES customers and employees. First and foremost, CAES was positioned as an independent U.S.-based company focused on developing world-class electronics for the defense and aerospace industry. Advent pulled together a world-class board of directors and brought in new leadership to help grow the company by developing next-generation electronic systems to meet the evolving national security threats.
2. After the acquisition, Mike Kahn was recruited as CAES CEO and president, and you joined as the chief technology officer (CTO) in January 2021. What is your role?
Mike has brought a new direction to CAES, and it is exciting to have the opportunity to move our business forward in such a short time.
As CTO, I am responsible for all of the outward-facing elements of the company. This includes understanding our customers’ missions along with design challenges and the technologies and solutions that CAES can provide to help them meet their goals. To do that, I lead a diverse group of professionals across the business development, communications and marketing, advanced technology, strategy and government relations disciplines.
My team is responsible for understanding our customers’ needs, as well as development timelines and putting together solutions to meet those requirements. Each of our employees, Mike and myself are all focused on the future of CAES and ensuring that we are a leading aerospace and defense (A&D) supplier and a partner-of-choice for our customers.
3. Give us a snapshot of CAES today: your overall business, locations, major product families, targeted market segments.
I am proud to say that CAES successfully surpassed $1 billion in revenues this past year, by solving problems for our customers on land, sea, air and space. CAES offers design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities to our industry partners in the advanced electronics domains. From standalone microelectronics to complete radar and electronic warfare subsystems, CAES is unique in our ability to provide world-class electronics that survive in some of the most demanding environments. We provide many electronic solutions in aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and satellites. CAES products designed into a variety of platforms, from the James Webb Space Telescope to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. We manufacture all of our products within the United States and have nearly 4,000 employees throughout our 13 locations in the USA, along with offices in Mexico, United Kingdom and Sweden.
4. What is the core competency that ties your broad product portfolio together?
CAES has significantly grown over the last few years due to commonality of purpose among our businesses and employees, as well as our steadfast commitment to quality, innovation and supporting our customers as well as the warfighter. We work tirelessly to be able to provide our customers with highly reliable systems regardless of the environment and invest heavily to bring next-generation technologies to market. Those systems can range from standard waveguides and cabling to full, single board computers and integrated transmit and receive arrays for some of the highest performing radars in the marketplace. In my mind, when you think complex advanced electronics, you should immediately think CAES!
5. As you look to the future, where are you aiming for CAES to play in the A&D market, i.e., from component to system?
At CAES, we are looking to expand our product portfolio in the space market, in particular to take advantage of increased computing and SWAP (size, weight and power) requirements among next-generation space systems.
Hypersonics and advanced missiles are also areas where CAES can lead due to our longstanding expertise and capabilities, as we manufacture products that are very small yet can sustain the high temperatures and accelerations required by hypersonic weapons.
6. What are the technologies you’re working on that will enable this positioning and your continued growth?
We are particularly proud of some of the advances in microelectronics we have made to enable next-generation reprogrammable satellites, as well as bringing additive manufacturing to the RF world through 3D printed antennas and waveguides.
CAES is currently building out a new 3D printing lab in our Exeter, New Hampshire facility dedicated to manufacturing complex waveguides and antennas for military and space applications. As we look forward to the lab’s opening in April 2022, we are seeking additional ways to integrate more additive manufacturing throughout our CAES product portfolio.
We continue to increase investments in technologies across the company, upgrade our machinery, hire the best technical talent we can find and push our IR&D to new levels.
7. You've announced several strategic engagements and acquisitions in the past year. Tell us about them and how they fit your strategy.
To remain a world-class electronics partner, we know that in addition to the improvements and initiatives we have been making internally, there are synergistic opportunities that allow us to grow our business and better meet our customers’ needs.
In 2021, we announced several complementary partnerships, including collaborations with SWISSto12, bringing their 3D technologies and expertise to CAES; as well as SkyWater, a U.S.-based trusted foundry, to manufacture American semiconductors. We also acquired Colorado Engineering, Inc. (CEI), an incredibly talented group of engineers and scientists in Colorado Springs who are experts in advanced technologies and bring new capabilities to the CAES portfolio such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Most recently, we announced a partnership with Lattice Semiconductors to help provide radiation tolerant FPGAs to the space industry.
We are already seeing early success from these partnerships, and we look forward to more opportunities ahead.
8. What is your view of the A&D market over the next several years—production programs, new starts, upgrades—and how does that affect the outlook for CAES?
Unfortunately, adversarial threats to our warfighters, nation and allies and adversaries continue to emerge and do so in new and different ways. For example, space is no longer the sanctuary from threats that it once was and is emerging as a contested environment along with air, sea and land. As a result, defense manufacturers need to develop solutions that can withstand, operate and succeed in this largely unchartered military landscape.
With the combination of our space heritage and longstanding expertise in radiation hardened and high reliability technology, microelectronics, RF and electronic warfare, CAES is well-positioned to take advantage of this market shift. In fact, with the electromagnetic spectrum itself now being contested, I expect new programs to emerge with electronics requirements that far exceeded those of legacy systems. Our next-generation platforms need to be smarter, faster and able to survive in environments never imagined before. As a result, CAES has focused its R&D investments on meeting these emerging demands, and we are pleased in what we are seeing in new programs.
9. Technology development is hard to manage. What have you learned about successfully moving a new technology to production readiness?
Technology development is only hard to manage if you assume 100 percent success. One philosophy that we try to instill in our team is that to be a pioneer, you must explore the unknown and move beyond your comfort zone. Here at CAES, we approach hard problems with multiple success paths and with sufficient investment to see them through.
Our engineers and scientists are excited to take on new challenges, and development projects are moving faster and with more agility than I ever thought possible. Our technology teams are empowered to own their individual outcomes, and we have seen some great successes as a result.
10. Tell us about your background and what led you to CAES.
Growing up, I learned from a self-starter Marine who decided to start his own business. My Dad drove me to always strive for excellence and to not be scared of the unknown. That allowed a boy from upstate New York to travel down south to get a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech because, well, rockets are cool.
I started my career engineering with AFRL and NASA before joining Northrop Grumman and then Lockheed Martin. I had many incredible learning opportunities across my career, which included being a chief engineer, lobbyist, program manager and international business development executive and advanced technology lead. My experience with the primes helped me understand the end mission as well as the issues prime contractors can have executing some of the most demanding development and production programs.
After living in seven states with over a dozen moves over my career, my family led me back to Virginia, where I found the perfect opportunity at CAES. We have a great team with unparalleled capabilities to help almost every prime contractor develop their next-generation capabilities. I am excited over what the future holds for CAES and, hopefully, some of your readers will join us on the ride!