Pentagon hires directors to oversee key research and engineering portfolios 

By Justin Doubleday / September 27, 2018 at 3:22 PM

The Pentagon has brought two key officials into the fold of its new research and engineering organization, where they will collectively oversee nine key technology areas. 

Milan "Mitch" Nikolich is the director of defense research and engineering for research and technology, a Pentagon spokeswoman told Inside Defense. In that position, he oversees the assistant directors for microelectronics, cyber, quantum science, directed energy, and machine learning/artificial intelligence, respectively, according to a chart outlining the Pentagon's research and engineering directorate. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approved R&E's structure, as well as that of the new acquisition and sustainment office, in a July memo.

Nikolich's duties also include supervising strategic technology protection and exploitation, which includes the Defense Microelectronics Activity, as well as the Defense Technical Information Center. 

He does not yet have a Defense Department biography posted online, but web archives show Nikolich was a board member at the George C. Marshall Institute, a now-defunct conservative think that advocated on space and missile defense issues, among others. 

Meanwhile, Jim Faist is the director of defense research and engineering for advanced capabilities. The chart shows Faist oversees the assistant directors for networked command, control and communications; space; autonomy; and hypersonics, respectively. The Pentagon's deputy director for mission engineering and integration, and the deputy director for developmental test and evaluation will both report to Faist as well, according to the chart. 

Faist's DOD biography states he will also provide “independent technical risk assessments of major acquisition programs.” Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin mandated the independent assessments for major programs in June.

According to his biography, Faist was chief engineer at both Northrop Grumman and Harris Corporation. He had also worked at Schafer Corporation, Trident Systems Incorporated, and System Planning Corporation. Faist served in the Air Force as a weapon systems officer and an electronic warfare officer in the F-4D/E Phantom II fighter aircraft, his biography states. 

The Pentagon is expected to announce more appointments to the office of USD R&E soon. Griffin has made determinations “for the majority” of the assistant directors (ADs) who will oversee each of the technology areas, as well as deputy directors listed in the new organization, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza told Inside Defense.

“The ADs will be tasked with leading the development and execution of modernization roadmaps, in coordination with the full department,” she wrote in an email. “To maintain the privacy of these individuals as they proceed through their hiring processes, we are not yet prepared to release their names. We will be welcoming them to OUSD(R&E) in the coming months.”