REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – The future for Dr. Brian Smith has always been missiles.
“My whole life this is what I wanted to do,” Smith said. “A lot of people don’t know, but I knew exactly as a little kid what I wanted to do. I was lucky.”
That luck has turned into a successful career supporting the Warfighter as the Army’s senior research scientist, or ST, for radio frequency sensors, located at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center.
“An ST is the Army’s leading expert in that field and is called on to give non-biased advice to senior leadership,” Smith said. “While I physically sit at AvMC, I’m an Army resource, and a lot of times called upon not only by the Army, but other services.”
Born in St. Louis, Smith moved to Huntsville – the “Rocket City” – when he was only two weeks old. It was a move to support his father’s Army career that was formative, as the work at Redstone Arsenal at the time heavily revolved around missiles. He graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where he received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in electrical and computer engineering. He also received his Master of Business of Administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a Sloan Fellow.
After 32 years at DEVCOM AvMC, Smith was selected as the ST for radio frequency sensors in 2017.
“The Army, in air defense and long range precision fires, requires radars to detect targets and track our munitions,” Smith said. “I work on the modernization of the Army’s radars to meet the air and missile defense missions, and long range precision fires, as well as radars that are used for targeting or identification of opposing forces. It’s the advancement of radar technology to meet these Army needs.”
Ensuring the Soldier has what they need to fight the battles of the future, is what drives his work, Smith said.
“This is not the ‘Science Project Command,’ we’re here to support the Warfighter,” Smith said. “I work very heavily with the Air and Missile Defense Cross-Functional Team and with PEO Missiles and Space. All of this technology doesn’t do a whole lot of good until it gets in the hands of the Warfighter. That’s something I have worked very diligently at, to make sure everything we’re doing is relevant to the Army mission.”
It’s a mission he cannot complete on his own, and the partnerships he’s formed over the years contribute to his love of the job.
“We get to work on cutting-edge technology with the other services, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the national labs – that collaboration and work with others is eye-opening and really benefits the Army,” Smith said.
Part of the role of ST is to mentor junior members of the workforce, an aspect of the job Smith also enjoys. He serves as the deputy activity career program manager for CP-16, engineers and non-construction, which means mentoring and approving training and individual development plans for some 2,000 scientists and engineers at AvMC.
“A key part of what senior leaders need to do is bring up the next generation,” Smith said. “I encourage people to find a field that they’re passionate about. Once they do that, the rest of it is easy. If you’re passionate about it, it’s not a 9 to 5 job – you will go the extra yard, you will get advanced training and take developmental assignments, possibly outside your current area. You will be involved with other organizations – especially the other labs, DARPA, universities – and get out and see the world. Whatever you do, strive to be the best technical expert in your field.”
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.