Kresa assumed his present position in 1994 after Northrop acquired Grumman Corporation. He held the same trio of titles at Northrop from 1990 to 1994, and was president of Northrop from 1987 to 1990. Kresa served in a series of other executive positions before becoming Northrop's president. He joined the company in 1975 as vice president and manager of the Northrop Research and Technology Center. Before coming to Northrop, Kresa served with DARPA, where he was responsible for broad applied R&D programs. From 1961 to 1968, he was employed by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, where he worked on ballistic missile defense research and re-entry technology. Kresa holds a B.S., M.S. and E.A.A. from MIT, all in aeronautics and astronautics.
The defense industry is consolidating into a relatively small number of large, very capable firms. Northrop Grumman will surely be one of the survivors of this process, and Kent Kresa believes his company can look forward to an exciting future.
Design News-What are your goals for Northrop Grumman?
Kresa: Our acquisitions last year of Grumman and Vought put us in a much stronger position to achieve the strategic goals we've expressed repeatedly in the last few years. Those goals are to remain a key player in defense, to increase our position in commercial aerostructures, to leverage our core competencies into promising new areas, and to improve our performance to gain the financial strength to maximize value for our shareholders. We've consolidated our operations, and all five of our divisions were in place, on schedule, at the start of 1995: B-2, Military Aircraft, Commercial Aircraft, Electronics and Systems Integration, and Data System and Services.
Q: Can you please explain the concept of "core competencies" and their importance?
A: A core competency results from the integration of people, technology and capital to create competitive advantages in growth-oriented businesses. Core competencies are seen by customers as essential to a company's products; they are difficult to replicate elsewhere, and they contain the potential for new product development as well as enhancements to existing products. Northrop Grumman's core competencies are air vehicle design and systems integration; aircraft manufacturing; defense electronics; advanced composites; and applied acoustics.
Q: What sort of career prospects can the defense industry offer engineers now and in the foreseeable future?
A: In light of the changes and uncertainties in the defense industry over the last few years, we face a new challenge to convince young people that our work is just as exciting and important as it has ever been. The current struggle in the industry is to cut costs ahead of the expected sales reductions, as well as streamline operations. If we can succeed in that effort, then there is a future in defense-in electronics and systems integration, precision weapons, and military and commercial aircraft-even if it's filled with challenges.
Q: If today's defense engineering and production teams are broken up, how long would it take to replace them?
A: In the case of the B-2, the nation invested 15 years and $24 billion in technology, skilled personnel, facilities and equipment to design the B-2 and deliver the first operational aircraft-that's the kind of time and money involved. The industrial base that produced the most advanced aircraft in the world is a national asset. The thousands of men and women who have worked on that program possess talents and skills every bit as unique as the aircraft they build.
Q: How will Northrop Grumman manage to survive and succeed in this time of significantly reduced defense spending?
A: We feel strongly that we will not only survive, but continue to play a leading role in defense. Our core competencies are closely aligned with critical technologies identified by key U.S. military and civilian officials. Regional scenarios in the post-Cold War era considered likely by military planners will place a premium on surveillance, battle management, long-reach strike aircraft and precision weapons. When these systems are linked, the result is what we call a surveillance precision strike capability. Perhaps more than any other company, Northrop Grumman understands what surveillance precision strike systems are all about.
Q: What role does software play in the systems you've named, and other operations at Northrop Grumman?
A: Software is critical to virtually all business activities related to aerospace, from systems integration to defense electronics and battle management. Northrop Grumman is one of the nation's leading integrators of information systems, as is evident by our role as prime integrators for the B-2 and the Joint STARS surveillance and targeting system. The B-2 is the largest software development project in aircraft history. Joint STARS is another massive software-controlled system which uses some of the most sophisticated algorithms ever produced. We have a formidable software capability that provides information services and system solutions for our own programs as well as public and private customer.