Charles Chase, Former Head Revolutionary Programs at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, now Head of the UnLab, on A&D’s Place in a New Business Model for Global Challenge Engagement

by | Dec 21, 2020

I have nominated this talk by Charles Chase as NCW’s ‘Featured Post of 2020’, because it embodies so much of what our ‘Call To Action’ campaign this year has been about: addressing global challenges head-on through the untapped power of the Aerospace and Defence industry.

First some disclosure: Charles is a good friend. We met during a workshop that he and his partner Kate McKinnon put together at MIT in January 2019. We share many common interests, not least on the subject of consciousness and breakthrough technologies, including concepts, we both hope, that will one day take human beings to the stars. So, it wasn’t too hard – despite so much amazing content amassed at NCW in the course of the year – to nominate his as the talk that embodies what CTA is all about. Charles, as they say, has already ‘walked the walk’ on this.

It was my NCW colleague, Bert Hunter, ably abetted by another NCW workmate, Shahid Mughal, who put the NGL Webinar series together and staged it during July 2020. The five seminars spoke to many themes that are central to the idea of ‘global challenge engagement’ and culminated in a session on global challenges themselves, which I was fortunate to take part in.

The NGL Webinar, as with our ongoing CTA campaign itself, was aimed at raising awareness around untapped A&D technologies and skills – already paid for by governments and tax-payers – as resources that can help pull together cross-sector efforts to act on climate change, first and foremost, but other challenges, too, including food and water security, environmental degradation, global poverty and other sources of suffering – even conflict itself. These, the webinar explored, are themes that resonate deeply with the Millennial and Gen Z generations now entering the A&D sector – or thinking about whether to. So, why not place them front and centre of a ‘new A&D agenda’?

Charles explores all this in his ten minute presentation – and more. In it, you will hear about some of the activities he has been working on at the UnLab, his new venture, alongside DARPA and the Office of Naval Research. Some of these – concepts for harnessing energy, as well as tech, in effect, that emulates that on the Starship Enterprise – are truly revolutionary and command attention in their own right.

But Charles also makes the point that technologies and skills already developed within the sector are ready to act on global challenges now. His ‘Moonshot’ programme at LM identified many of these a few years ago – techs like energy storage, tidal energy and water desalination. But, as we have flagged all too frequently at NCW, it’s not the technologies that are the issue – but the lack of a mechanism, a business model, for pulling them into the ‘real world’. This has to change in the months and years ahead.

Charles advances ideas on how to overcome this inertia and I am hopeful that, after the jolt the world received in 2020, 2021 will be the year that out-of-the-box thinking becomes the new normal. “A&D has the skills to work on high-risk breakthroughs to address global challenges,” Charles concludes toward the end of his talk. “The question is, will they?”