Directed Energy leader recaps time in AFRL, looks ahead to Space position
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFRL) — Dr. Kelly Hammett, who has led the Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate for the past six years, departed AFRL June 6 for his new assignment as director of the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (SpRCO), both located on Kirtland AFB.
“I will miss bragging on the Directed Energy team, and all that we accomplished in the six years I was in the director’s seat,” said Hammett.
Hammett’s work in directed energy programs and his path to leadership of some of the U.S. Air Force’s legacy high energy laser, high power microwave and electro-optic systems began much earlier, though.
“I grew up internal to AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate and have been part of the directorate on and off for 25 years, and so when I took the position of director in 2016, I knew what worked and what didn’t, allowing me to work on fixing the most important things,” Hammett said. “I already had relationships with many of the members of the workforce, and as director I was in a position to reward, mentor and grow them with a variety of opportunities.”
Hammett said as the Air Force spokesperson for directed energy, he had the opportunity to brief several secretaries of the Air Force and chiefs of staff along with many other prominent decision makers across the Department of Defense, where he advocated for change and support of directed energy programs in multiple areas.
Before taking on the role as director, Hammett served four years as the directorate’s chief engineer, helping to solve a number of challenges in programs such as the Electric Laser on an Aircraft, or ELLA; the Airborne Laser Testbed, or ALTB; the high power microwave CHAMP system; and tackling the Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing, or AMOS; site’s sustainment and modernization program, along with other challenges.
Hammett discussed what he considers his top three accomplishments over the past six years.
“We delivered the USAF’s first-ever operational directed energy weapons,” he said. “As part of the Air Force Directed Energy Experimentation campaign, AFRL characterized and deployed four directed energy counter unmanned aerial systems to overseas locations – three Raytheon High Energy Laser Weapon Systems and the AFRL Tactical High Power Operational Responder (THOR) system – we built THOR in-house in 18-months, a record breaking time. As part of these efforts, AFRL secured the Secretary of Defense approval for operational use of all systems.”
Hammett is also proud to say all total, his team “built and field-tested 10 new systems that didn’t exist before 2016.”
Being a leader of more than 1,200 military, federal civilians and on-site contractors with an annual budget of $355 million is a test at any time, but it was a particular challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hammett considers meeting and exceeding the day-to-day and long-term operations during that trial another highpoint in his tenure.
“Successfully shepherding the directed energy team through the COVID-19 pandemic has to be at the top of my list of accomplishments,” Hammett said. “Although not a planned goal, our leadership team agilely responded to [COVID-19] with mission focused, prioritized work efforts and resource management that kept us the only AFRL technical directorate to meet the Office of the Secretary of Defense execution goals in fiscal years 2021 and 2022.”
To do this, Hammett said he and his team instituted phased in-person work attendance, rolled in telework and significantly upgraded IT and network capacity to support the hybrid workforce. He said the directorate had zero at work instances of COVID-19 transmission during the two year period, that they accomplished major program objectives and appropriately handled duty travel for hundreds of the staff safely and effectively.
Hammett’s third top accomplishment focuses on the workforce environment, a workforce with whom he has always had an open door policy.
“I prioritized accountability, transparency, fairness and ensuring effective leadership for our team members,” he said. “Every year, for the last six years, we’ve seen a rise in employee satisfaction, and that is something I’m very proud of.”
To add one more significant milestone, Hammett includes his work with the Maui-based AMOS site, also called AFRL Detachment 15, until it was renamed recently.
“Putting and keeping Maui on a path of financial stability and technical excellence is a major source of satisfaction for me,” Hammett said. “I was proud to speak of the AMOS team’s achievements on May 26, when the AMOS site was activated as the 15th Space Surveillance Squadron, where it is now recognized officially as both a research and development site under AFRL and an operational site under the U.S. Space Force. I could not be more proud of our Airmen and Guardians at Maui.”
In looking at the future of the Air Force’s directed energy weapon systems, Hammett had these thoughts.
“I would like to see the Air Force determine the directed energy weapons we need, and establish a buy plan for the right mix of systems to meet the nation’s mission requirements, particularly with regard to the base defense mission, but also other mission areas,” Hammett said. “This will offer our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Guardians the protection they need and deserve from the directed energy systems our strategic competitors are developing.”
In September 2020, AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle appointed Hammett to a dual role as the deputy technology executive officer for Space, leading the enterprise-level portfolio management for space science and technology, a responsibility he held for 14-months. This appointment further equipped Hammett to take on the position as director of the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, a direct reporting unit of the U.S. Space Force. Hammett will be responsible for developing and delivering space operational capabilities to the joint force warfighter at an accelerated rate.
“I’m really excited about the new opportunity and the trust being placed in me to lead the Space RCO team as they deliver new capabilities to the U.S. Space Force that are desperately needed to fill important warfighter gaps,” he said.
Hammett expressed his gratitude to the Directed Energy workforce.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your dedication, support and excellence in executing our very important mission,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of all we’ve accomplished together over the last six years, really 13 years, and I’m honored to have served as your director.
“I will really miss the great people, teammates, tech, labs and friends I’ve built up here over the years,” Hammett added. “I won’t be going very far, so I’ll still be available to continue close relationships and attend special events as warranted. I wish the directorate rapid and unending success in continuing to develop, mature and transition affordable DE technologies to our warfighters — our sons and daughters in uniform desperately need what you provide.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: www.afresearchlab.com.