REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Aug. 14, 2023) – The U.S. Army is in a period of transformative change – and so is its main missile and aviation technology hub.
But the mission remains the same, says the next director of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, Dr. James Kirsch. Kirsch will be formally appointed as director in a ceremony Aug. 17.
As a longtime leader in the formation, Kirsch understands possibly better than anyone, the challenges of modernizing not just the technology that will protect the next generation of Warfighters but the processes that will bring that technology to bear.
“The mission of AvMC has not changed,” Kirsch said. “We're still here to do the best we can do in terms of providing the investments in science and technology to enhance the future capabilities, while at the same time supporting development of current capabilities and sustaining those capabilities once they're in the field. Fundamentally, our people’s jobs aren’t changing. What I am looking at is how do we establish a digital ecosystem that enables them to do their job more efficiently and more effectively -- not changing their jobs but giving them better tools to do them.”
A Huntsville native, Kirsch earned his bachelor’s and master’s in electronics engineering, and his doctorate in optical science and engineering – all from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The Army was a familiar world to him, having grown up as the son of a Soldier.
Kirsch started his civil service career in 1984 and has spent a majority of it within the Center. When asked if he had ever envisioned himself as a leader of the largest tenant on Redstone Arsenal, one with a 12,000-strong workforce and a $4-billion-dollar budget, Kirsch quickly said, no. The closest that he ever possibly dreamed in those early days was to become a director, which he achieved in 2019 when he was named to the Senior Executive Service and took the helm of the Software, Simulation, Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate.
Kirsch said that during his tenure as S3I director, and even more so now as Center director, his main priority is supporting the people of AvMC. They are also his biggest challenge in today’s post-pandemic hybrid work environment, as new team members are integrated into the formation.
“How do we ensure the continuity of the workforce in an environment where the competition for that talent is incredibly tight? And not just for scientists and engineers, but in almost every job you have out here. How do we compete in that market? And the other piece of that is the nature of the workforce is changing. The hybrid work environment is becoming much more prevalent. How do we continue to build teams? How do we continue to mentor people?”
As an AvMC leader, Kirsch has had a firsthand view of how the mission has not changed, but has expanded in scope and size, as has the Center.
"We've been around for 60 years,” Kirsch said. “And we've made some incredibly important contributions to the Army and to the nation's defense. What is it we need to be preparing for, so that we're still making those contributions for another 60 years? We have to be much more collaborative, not only internally within the Aviation & Missile Center, but externally with the other DEVCOM centers and potentially other services.
“Because we're not talking about an Army fight. We're talking about a joint fight, and everything is going to be predicated on what that Joint Force can do.”
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.