2018 NDIA Survivability Symposium Awards

By: Robert Gierard

Each year, the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Combat Survivability Division (CSD) recognizes superior contributions to combat survivability by presenting awards for leadership, technical accomplishment, lifetime achievement, and excellence in a young professional. This year’s awards, which were part of the annual NDIA Aircraft Survivability Symposium on 6–8 November 2018, were presented at the Naval Postgraduate School’s (NPS’s) historic Herrmann Hall in Monterey, CA.


Figure 1. 2018 Combat Aircraft Survivability Symposium Awards at NPS. From Left to Right: Laura Trench, Lee Venturino, Robert Wirt, and Lou Colangelo.

In response to the heavy aircraft and aircrew losses incurred during the conflict in Southeast Asia, the Joint Technical Coordinating Group on Aircraft Survivability (JTCG/AS) was formed in the early 1970s with a major goal of establishing aircraft combat survivability (ACS) as a new design discipline. The timely intersection of this goal with an energetic, young NPS aerospace engineering professor named Robert Ball, as well as forward-thinking leadership at NPS and the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), resulted in the first formal graduate-level course on ACS. Dr. Ball‘s ACS course eventually led to two editions of a seminal text, The Fundamentals of Aircraft Combat Survivability Analysis and Design, which became the foundation of 4 decades of NPS and JTCG/AS-sponsored courses across academia, industry, and Government.

In recognition of these efforts and Dr. Ball’s long-time contributions as an educator, author, and mentor, the CSD was pleased this year to present a commemorative award to the quintessential survivability expert. Dr. Ball was then invited to assist in recognizing this year’s recipient of the Young Professional Award, which was named in his honor.


The Young Professional Award— which was first given last year—is presented to an early- to mid-career person (35 years of age or younger at the time of award) who has made a significant technical, analytical, or tactical contribution to any aspect of aircraft survivability.

This year’s award was presented to Ms. Laura B. Trench, a young engineer, leader, and recent Deputy Program Manager of the Virtual Warfare Center at Boeing Phantom Works. In her 7 years at Boeing, Ms. Trench’s roles have evolved from laboratory device/ system testing to flight testing to large-scale simulation and analysis of complex system-of-systems concepts involving all aspects of Red and Blue survivability and lethality. In addition, her leadership responsibilities have grown from Lab Test Engineer to Test Integrated Product Team (IPT) Lead to System Integration & Test Director to Deputy Program Manager of the Virtual Warfare Center.


The Technical Achievement Award is presented to a person who has made a significant technical contribution to any aspect of survivability. It may be presented for a specific achievement or for exceptional technical excellence over an extended period. Individuals at any level of experience are eligible for this award.

Figure 2. The Robert Ball Award Commemoration Ceremony. From Left to Right: Jack Rau, Boeing Division Board Member; Dr. Ball; Laura Trench, Boeing Phantom Works; and Mark Cherry, Boeing Phantom Works Vice President and General Manager.

Mr. Lee “LV” Venturino, President and CEO of First Principles Inc., was recognized this year for his sustained technical leadership in the balanced development and application of stealth and electronic warfare technologies, both as an Air Force officer and as the founder and CEO of his systems engineering consulting company. Mr. Venturino has successfully integrated these technologies into numerous weapons systems, from ballistic missiles to numerous very low observable (VLO) aircraft—most notably, the F-35. With more than 30 years of flight testing and defining electronic attack/electronic protection operational requirements, he has also become a key member of numerous Defense Science Board (DSB), Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (AFSAB), and Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) studies.


The Leadership Award is presented to a person who has made major leadership contributions to combat survivability. The individual selected must have demonstrated outstanding leadership in enhancing overall combat survivability or played a significant role in a major aspect of survivability design, program management, research and development, test and evaluation, modeling and simulation, education, or the development of standards. The emphasis of this award is on demonstrated superior leadership over an extended period of time.

Mr. Louis A. Colangelo, Deputy Mission Area Executive for Precision Strike at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), was recognized this year for his sustained leadership in the integration of electronic attack capabilities into U.S. aircraft programs and combat operations. Mr. Colangelo’s long association with the EA-6B and EA-18G programs, at both Grumman Corp-Aerospace & Electronics Group and JHU/APL, have labeled him as the “technical conscience” of the program. His expertise then widened across the entire offensive strike kill chain, resulting in his current position as APL Deputy Mission Area Executive Precision Strike. He has been recognized for his many contributions to DSB and OSD/Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) studies, NAVAIR trade studies, source selections, and analyses of alternatives. In addition, Mr. Colangelo has been described by OSD leadership as a “star player” for his highly respected expertise and “superb analytic products” in support of electronic warfare and aircraft vulnerability.


The Lifetime Achievement award is presented to a person who has made significant technical and leadership contributions throughout his/her professional career, spanning many or most of the numerous facets of aircraft combat survivability. This award is nominated by the CSD Executive Board and is intended to recognize an individual’s lifetime of accomplishments and dedication to the aircraft survivability community and to the aircrews we serve.

Mr. Robert “Rowdy” Wirt, Technical Director, Directorate of Special Programs, Secretary of Air Force (SAF/ AQL), was recognized this year for his more than 33 years of active duty and civil service support to U.S. Air Force and Navy aviation programs, as well as to the U.S. intelligence and air combat survivability communities. He has provided leadership and expertise in low observable (LO) and counter low observable (CLO), electronic warfare, and aircraft survivability technologies, as well as all source threat analysis and net assessments. He has also been directly involved with survivability and lethality improvements to the B-2, F-22, F-35, and many other classified weapon systems. Furthermore, as the current technical director of SAF/AQL, he has been a senior technical advisor to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, as well as the Department of Defense LO/CLO Executive Committee in matters concerning the department’s most sensitive and highly classified air, space, and cyber capabilities.


Finally, the winner of this year’s NDIA Survivability Symposium Best Poster Paper Award was Ms. Tara Bell from the Special Operations Forces (SOF) Rapid Capability Development and Deployment, who submitted a paper on the Chemical-Biological Aircraft Survivability Barrier (CASB) (shown in Figure 3). In addition to submitting the paper, Ms. Bell and her team brought a prototype of the CASB, which was a first at the NDIA Survivability Symposium. The CASB was developed in response to a U.S. Special Operations Command requirement to sustain tactical force operations with the focus on regenerating multiple sorties intratheater before transitioning to intertheater redeployment. The Air Force and Army Special Operations Commands will employ the CASB to protect the interior of the DoD’s critical airlift assets from cross-contamination by chemical/biological (CB)-contaminated personnel and equipment under transport. This tactical arm of airlift airpower comprises high-demand, low-density, and expensive assets. Accordingly, the loss of any single asset from a CB-contaminated event would result in the effective loss of that asset.

Figure 3. CASB Stowed Inside a Large Helicopter (Photo Courtesy of Crystal Bowman, Dugway Optics

Congratulations to Dr. Ball and to all of the 2018 Combat Survivability awardees for their many accomplishments and contributions.


As always, it’s not too early to consider who among our ranks is deserving of recognition next November at the 2019 NDIA Aircraft Survivability Symposium in Monterey. Is there someone in your own staff/ organization who has demonstrated technical or leadership achievement in the survivability community? Also, is there someone among your early-to-mid career staff who has demonstrated a flair for the survivability discipline and is deserving of early recognition?

The CSD will publish award nomination deadlines and submission procedures later in 2019, but there is no need to wait. Interested nominators should contact Awards Subcommittee Chairman Robert Gierard at robert.a.gierard@raytheon.com or 310-200-1060 for more information or to discuss the nomination process in greater detail.


Mr. Robert Gierard is Chairman of the NDIA CSD Awards Committee.