Steering APL’s Undersea Warfare Mission Area
When Lisa Blodgett joined APL in 1991 (with a B.S. in electrical engineering from Purdue), her interests were in signal and image processing, as well as control systems. Her first assignment was performing laboratory measurements and computer modeling in an electro-optics group.
Her early career goal was to become a technical program manager. She’s done that and more, moving up the career ladder through a variety of positions. Since moving to the National Security Technology Department, she’s been a project manager, section supervisor, group supervisor, branch head, and Program Area Manager for Applied Maritime Technologies. She also earned master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering, as well as technical management, from JHU.
As chief of the Laboratory’s Undersea Warfare Mission Area (becoming APL’s first female Mission Area Executive in 2007), Blodgett focuses on four critical challenges within a very broad area: Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Submarine Security and Survivability, and Ocean Systems and Maritime ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) each encompass long-standing APL programs. The newest one, Maritime/Port Physical Security, focuses on projects where NSTD experience and capabilities are addressing post-911 issues.
ASW—depriving the enemy of effective use of its submarines—remains the linchpin of sea control, according to Blodgett. “Effective ASW capabilities will be the essential element of our success in future crises and conflicts.” The Navy’s SSBN Security Technology program is APL’s largest, longest-term undersea warfare program; APL has been the Navy’s lead laboratory in this area for more than 30 years. “Given our staff capabilities, we could conceivably make positive contributions to almost every aspect of each of the four areas,” she says. “The real challenge is to identify key areas where APL is uniquely qualified and to prioritize tasks and focus our talents to address these areas.”
The Challenge of Managing a Mission Area
The breadth and variety in the mission area keeps Blodgett on her toes. While the mission area centers on long-established programs, the work “. . . is constantly changing. It’s a challenging and dynamic environment,” she says. “Many tasks are re-competed every year or two, requiring us to maintain a competitive edge. We have a strong S&T component to our work, focusing on identifying the gaps in USW systems, proposing research and advanced development tasks to address those gaps, and then transitioning the solutions to acquisition programs. Most of the programs are very fast-paced. For example, we perform rapid prototyping under aggressive delivery schedules of several months. APL tends to have strong operational knowledge of systems and their use by the warfighters. This knowledge helps to focus our work on providing systems and solutions that are relevant and address important operational problems.”
Leading a mission area requires a broad view, where she’s working to develop the overarching strategy for the mission area and developing the execution plan for that strategy. “This means balancing the focus on current programs with the planning for future tasking. Ultimately, all programs within the mission area need to map into the overall strategy.”
The need to balance work, family life, and personal interests presents a different kind of challenge for Blodgett. “My personal strategy involves a strong partnership with my spouse in terms of splitting the family/home-related responsibilities. APL’s flexible work schedules and the ability to perform some work from home certainly help also.” One of the important components in her busy life is fitness. “I’ve always enjoyed sports,” she notes. “With my current work and family schedule demands, I find running to be a great sport—I’m able to do most of my runs in the early morning hours. The exercise is great, and it provides incredible stress relief.”
Hiring for the Mission Area—and NSTD
Because USW spans many technical disciplines, hiring is both a challenge and an opportunity. Blodgett has been involved in recruiting and hiring, a critical challenge for the department’s managers. She says “NSTD seeks staff who are technically deep in at least one or two key areas and who have the interest and motivation to increase their breadth of knowledge across the large set disciplines. We provide opportunities for our staff members, even junior staff members very early in their careers, to interact with the sponsor community and peer organizations. We therefore look for candidates who are very competent technically, self-motivated, and have strong communication and interpersonal skills.”
Blodgett’s advice to engineering and technical grads is based on her own experience, as well as the variety of work in her department: “When searching for a job, look for one that will challenge, interest, and motivate you.” And she wants people to know “we’ve got those kinds of jobs here in NSTD.”