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Will Roper
Official portrait, 2019
13th Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics)
Incumbent
Assumed office
February 1, 2018
President Donald Trump
Deputy Darlene Costello
Preceded by Darlene Costello (acting)
Director of the Strategic Capabilities Office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense

In office
August 2012 – February 2018
President Donald Trump
Barack Obama
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Christopher B. Shank[1]
Ballistic Missile Defense System Architect of the Missile Defense Agency[2]

In office
May 2010 – August 2012
President Barack Obama
Missile Defense Advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics

In office
August 2009 – August 2010
President Barack Obama
Personal details
Born William B. Roper Jr.
Nationality American
Residence Alexandria, Virginia
Website ww3.safaq.hq.af.mil

William B. Roper Jr. is an American physicist and foreign policy strategist serving as the current Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, often referred to as Acquisition Czar.[3][4][5][6]

Education[edit | edit source]

Roper attended Georgia Tech in 1998 for a Bachelor of Science in physics with a minor in mathematics, graduating summa cum laude in 2001, graduating in three years as both a Truman scholar and a Coca-Cola Scholar.[7]

He returned to Georgia Tech for a Master of Physics degree the following year, graduating as a presidential scholar summa cum laude in 2002.[7]

In 2002 Roper was selected as a Rhodes Scholar, and began study at University College, Oxford for a Doctoral program in Mathematics with a focus on String Theory and quantum mechanics.[2][8] During his doctoral program, he was selected for a National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship.[7] His doctoral supervisor was John Wheater, and he defended his dissertation "Boundary States in Conformal Field Theories on the Annulus” in July 2009.[9][10]

Missile Defense Agency[edit | edit source]

From January 2006 to May 2012, Roper joined as technical staff at the MIT Lincoln Lab in Bedford, Massachusetts, attached to the Missile Defense Agency.[2][7] In 2009 he was made part of the Missile Defense Advisory Committee within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, serving as a missile defense advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.[11] He would go on to become Acting Ballistic Missile Defense System Architect at MDA from 2010 to 2012 while a part of Lincoln Lab. While in that role, he developed 11 new systems, including the current European Defense architecture, advanced drones, and several other classified programs.[11]

Strategic Capabilities Office[edit | edit source]

From August 2012 to February 2018, Roper was the founder and director of the Strategic Capabilities Office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.[7] The office he created imagined new and "often unexpected and game-changing"[7] uses for existing and aging government and commercial systems. When he was discovered and hired by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the program he was slated to lead was conceived as a way to extend the shelf-life of technology and systems which were falling behind the cutting edge, but Roper saw the potential of the material available to the office, and led the program in a different direction, creating a skunkworks for future warfare which innovated radically new ideas from disused and surplus systems.[12] Under his tenure, the office achieved numerous success and accolades, and grew from an annual budget of $50 million to more than $1.5 billion as of 2018. He led the office to tackle new and diverse concepts including hypervelocity artillery,[13] multi-purpose missiles, autonomous fast-boats, smartphone-navigating weapons, big-data-enabled sensing, 3D-printed systems,[13] standoff arsenal planes, fighter avatars, missile defeating hypervelocity rifles,[14] and fighter-dispersed swarming micro-drones[15] which formed the world’s then-largest swarm of 103 systems.[13] Ideas fomented under his tenure are now seeing widespread implementation across the Department of Defense.[16]

Roper reviewing a Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle concept at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 2017.

One notable failure of the program under Roper's leadership came when activist employees at Google demanded the company abandon the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Function Team working on artificial intelligence solutions to information ingestion issues, better known as Project Maven because of objections to the militarization of technology.[17][18] As the Defense Department reeled from the loss of the project's prime partner, it drove Roper to go further in pursuing a diverse array of organizations of all sizes to meet growing military demands for cyber innovation.[19] He took a leading position on tackling the issue, serving on the Cloud Executive Steering Group and Defense Modernization Team.[7]

Roper left the program when he was promoted to Assistant Secretary. He was briefly succeeded by Chris Shank before a fight over the future scope and scale of the program between Capitol Hill and the Pentagon led to a reshuffling of the entire office, a move led by then-Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan which Roper briefly attempted to resist because of his skepticism of Shanahan's goals for the scalability of the office.[20][21]

Assistant Secretary of the Air Force[edit | edit source]

In 2018, Roper was tapped to become the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition, Technology, & Logistics) in charge of $40 billion and 465 discrete programs. Roper's tenure with the Department of Defense has been seen by many as transformative, and he has gained a reputation for aggressive, unconventional, forward looking approaches.[22][23][24]

Roper with Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett and Elon Musk

A primary goal for Roper in his tenure with the Air Force has been the acceleration of the development and acquisition process. He has advocated the use of military investment funds to foster disruptive innovation through immediate funding to a growing pool of small contractors who rely on guaranteed cash to make concepts or programs feasible.[25] For Roper, the main goal is "stealing time back from our adversaries."[26] He argues that globalization means that the old Cold War ways of domestic government-led innovation are obsolete, replaced by a commercial driven future where everyone has access to the same resources and technological approaches, but must move quickly to capture the fleeting first-mover advantage - and then continually repeat the process as the window of advantage he believes has been permanently shortened.[26]

He has pioneered the creation of a quick moving Air Force contracting team designed for small capital and startups called AFVentures, and events called "Pitch Bowls", an idea borrowed from Silicon Valley startups pitches to venture capital.[25] Through them he is attempting to eliminate obstacles of lengthy DoD contracting and award processes which hinder small and unfunded projects through the use of same day funding awards via PayPal, starting at $158,000. On an ongoing basis the Air Force will then make further installment payments over time, in an attempt to deliver confidence in liquidity to outside stakeholders.[19][27] He has also worked with new prime contractors at a larger scale, particularly in continuing to foster competition which can benefit the Air Force between National Security Space Launch newcomer SpaceX and their more well established competitor United Launch Alliance, a partnership between industry giants Lockheed Martin Space and Boeing Defense, Space & Security.[28] That competition has raised eyebrows in an industry which has become heavily consolidated in recent years, as the Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office, Missile Defense Agency and fledgling Space Development Agency all describe a need for significant launch capacity in coming years.[28] Roper also expressed interest in one of SpaceX's other products, the Starlink satellite internet constellation as a platform for the SDA.[29]

Roper donning a pressurized flight suit for a flight in the U-2 Dragon Lady

Among other ambitious projects he has undertaken, Roper has attempted to turn the failures and delays of the long-beleaguered KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tanker project into an advantage by weaving fully autonomous operation capabilities into its redesign.[30] He prioritized development of more effective multi-domain operation tools like Joint All Domain Command and Control and replacing JSTARS with the Advanced Battle Management System. He has also argued for the utility of disaggregated Low Earth Orbit constellations as a way to exploit more applications for space based technology beyond only high orbit or deep space craft.[26] Roper is also a major proponent of hypersonic weapons and has attempted to bolster their development in the Air Force, fielding the more ambitious but "superior" AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) over its conventional rival, and demanding innovative manufacturing including use of 3D printing from parts suppliers, accelerating prototyping.[13][13][31][32]

In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Roper has helped facilitate the use of the Defense Production Act with industry partners, supporting the defense industrial base in the pandemic-led recession and speeding up the production of life-saving medical equipment.[33]

Since the creation of the United States Space Force in December 2019, Roper has assumed a role in two highly classified programs within the service to build so-called e-satellites - "a Toyota-like satellite"[34] designed be a radically simplified, reliable, hard-wearing deployable craft eschewing traditional requirements like cleanrooms and expensive shielding, designed and engineered entirely within a digital environment before being produced in volume at low cost.[34]

Ropers approach while unconventional, seems to be paying off for the Air Force. At the Air Force Foundation's Air, Space, and Cyber Conference on September 15, 2020, Roper shocked the defense world by announcing that the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program - the program to field a new sixth generation fighter jet surpassing the capabilities of todays fleet of fourth and some fifth generation aircraft - has already produced a working demonstrator of a 6th generation air superiority jet fighter years sooner than anyone expected. The program was accelerated by advancements in what Roper calls "the “holy trinity” of digital engineering, agile software development and open architecture"[35] vastly reducing development and production time. “We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world,” Roper confirmed to Defense News, “and we broke records in doing it."[35][36][37][38]

Strategic thinking[edit | edit source]

According to Roper, he spent "a lot of time" in his formative years leading SCO at the Department of Defense learning and honing his strategic thinking under the tutelage of legendary Pentagon strategist Andrew Marshall, a vanguard thinker and iconoclast better known as "Yoda" who retired from the Pentagon at age 93 after serving uninterrupted as director of the Department of Defense's Office of Net Assessment from 1973 to 2015.[26] Students of Marshall such as Roper have often gone on to achieve great renown and influence, earning the cohort the moniker "alumni of St. Andrew's Prep".[39] Prior to Marshall's departure, Roper was appointed to the Department of Defense's 2018 National Defense Strategy Steering Group, helping to write the penultimate strategic assessment of U.S. posture and priorities. It is one of the first major U.S. strategy documents to state plainly the return of peer competition with the United States.[40] Insight into the role Roper may have had in guiding that document's remarkable departure from previous strategy emerged when he was asked by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission about the threat of China's rise as an adversary, to which Roper opined "China's great strength is their patience. I admire that about them. And I fear that in them. But our great strength is we can change quickly. We can innovate quickly. I'd bet on innovators every day."[26]

Roper views the space domain as the most pressing concern for future conflict. He favors a strategy of cooperation over competition with rivals, particularly China - which he calls "one of the seminal challenges that we’re going to face in this century" - but argues that perhaps the only way to accomplish cooperation is through credible deterrence in space, assuring mutual understanding that "warfare in space is a war where everyone loses."[12][26]

Personal life[edit | edit source]

Roper resides just outside Washington, D.C. in Alexandria, Virginia.[41] He is married.

Honors and awards[edit | edit source]

  • Council on Foreign Relations Stephen M. Kellen Term Member Program, 2014 - 2019.
  • National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship Selectee.[2]
  • Georgia Tech Presidential Fellow.

Notable works[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Chris Shank > U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE > Biography". https://www.defense.gov/Our-Story/Biographies/Biography/Article/1590906/chris-shank/. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Congressional Research Service (March 14, 2018). "Congressional Biography of William Roper". https://congress.gov/115/meeting/house/108005/witnesses/HHRG-115-AS28-Bio-RoperW-20180314.pdf. 
  3. Jr, Sydney J. Freedberg. "Space Force Nears Year Mark, Acquisition Remains A Quagmire" (in en-US). https://breakingdefense.com/2020/10/as-space-force-nears-one-year-mark-acquisition-remains-a-quagmire/. 
  4. "Roper's Six Keys to Century Series Success" (in en-US). 2019-11-27. https://www.airforcemag.com/ropers-six-keys-to-century-series-success/. 
  5. Bennett, John T. (2005). "Experts debate nominee's management style: FINDING ACQUISITION FIXES MOST PRESSING ISSUE FOR WYNNE, ANALYSTS SAY". pp. 1–11. ISSN 2164-8174. JSTOR 24793176. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24793176. 
  6. "Acquisition Czar Orders 'Deep Dive' into Raytheon's Restructured OCX Contract" (in en-US). 2014-12-12. https://spacenews.com/acquisition-czar-orders-deep-dive-into-raytheons-restructured-ocx-contract/. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 "Dr. Will Roper U.S. Air Force Biography". https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Biographies/Display/Article/1467795/dr-will-roper/#:~:text=DOWNLOAD%20HI-RES-,Dr.,for%20Acquisition,%20Technology%20and%20Logistics.. 
  8. "2015 Donor List, University College Oxford". https://www.univ.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Report-of-Gifts-and-Roll-of-Donors-15-16.pdf. 
  9. Roper, W. B. (2008). Boundary states in conformal field theories of the annulus (Ph.D. thesis). University of Oxford. https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.670069. 
  10. Porter, Mason. "Mason Porter's Curriculum Vitae". https://www.maths.ox.ac.uk/system/files/users/cvs/porter_cv012615.pdf. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Will Roper Biography, USCC". https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Dr.%20Roper%20Bio.pdf. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Blank, Steve (2020-10-19). "Technology, Innovation and Modern War — Class 6 — Will Roper" (in en). https://medium.com/@sgblank/technology-innovation-and-modern-war-class-6-will-roper-9a712dbc8399. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Insinna, Valerie (2018-07-30). "The US Air Force's top acquisition exec talks hypersonic prototypes and more" (in en-US). https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/farnborough/2018/07/27/the-us-air-forces-top-acquisition-exec-talks-hypersonic-prototypes-and-more/. 
  14. Sherman, Jason (2016). "SCO aims to flip the script on missile defense with hypervelocity gun". pp. 1–12. ISSN 2164-814X. JSTOR insipent.32.14.01. https://www.jstor.org/stable/insipent.32.14.01. 
  15. Mehta, Aaron (2017-08-08). "DoD weapons designer: Swarming teams of drones will dominate future wars" (in en-US). https://www.defensenews.com/smr/unmanned-unleashed/2017/03/30/dod-weapons-designer-swarming-teams-of-drones-will-dominate-future-wars/. 
  16. Trevithick, Joseph. "All Of The Navy's Arleigh Burke Destroyers Will Get Hypersonic Missiles Top Official Says". https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/37182/all-of-the-navys-arleigh-burke-destroyers-will-get-hypersonic-missiles-top-official-says. 
  17. "What is Project Maven? The Pentagon AI project Google employees want out of" (in en-US). https://globalnews.ca/news/4125382/google-pentagon-ai-project-maven/. 
  18. "Google Won't Renew Controversial Pentagon AI Project" (in en-us). Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. https://www.wired.com/story/google-wont-renew-controversial-pentagon-ai-project/. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "The Air Force Wants to Give You Its Credit Card" (in en-us). Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. https://www.wired.com/story/will-roper-air-force-interview/. 
  20. "Why is a House panel trying to get rid of one of DoD's most successful offices?" (in en-US). 2018-04-26. https://federalnewsnetwork.com/defense/2018/04/why-is-a-house-panel-trying-to-get-rid-of-one-of-dods-most-successful-offices/. 
  21. Mehta, Aaron (2018-04-25). "House committee explores ending Strategic Capabilities Office" (in en-US). https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2018/04/25/house-committee-explores-ending-strategic-capabilities-office/. 
  22. Thompson, Loren. "Coronavirus May Be Opportunity For Air Force Technology Chief Roper To Impact U.S. Industrial Base" (in en). https://www.forbes.com/sites/lorenthompson/2020/04/03/air-force-technology-chief-roper-responds-to-an-unfolding-crisis-in-the-us-industrial-base/. 
  23. "'Surprising Capabilities' Guru Tapped to Lead Air Force Acquisition" (in en). https://www.defenseone.com/business/2018/01/surprising-capabilities-guru-tapped-lead-air-force-acquisition/144940/. 
  24. "Acquisition chief calls for disruptive agility, new digital paradigm" (in en-US). https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2350344/acquisition-chief-calls-for-disruptive-agility-new-digital-paradigm/. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 "Roper Unveils AFVentures, Announces Nearly $1B in Small Business Contracts" (in en-US). 2020-03-18. https://www.airforcemag.com/roper-unveils-afventures-announces-nearly-1b-in-small-business-contracts/. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 26.5 Roper, William (April 25, 2019). "Testimony before the U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing on "China in Space: A Strategic Competition?"". https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/April%2025%202019%20Hearing%20Transcript.pdf. 
  27. "Roper: Defense Acquisition in 'Uncharted Territory'" (in en-US). 2020-03-23. https://www.airforcemag.com/roper-defense-acquisition-in-uncharted-territory/. 
  28. 28.0 28.1 Hitchens, Theresa. "ULA, SpaceX Nab 5-Year NatSec Launch Contracts" (in en-US). https://breakingdefense.com/2020/08/ula-spacex-nab-5-year-natsec-launch-contracts/. 
  29. TESMANIAN. "U.S. Air Force Acquisition Chief is impressed by SpaceX Starlink's performance during Live-Fire exercise" (in en). https://www.tesmanian.com/blogs/tesmanian-blog/starlink-airforce. 
  30. McLeary, Paul. "Air Force Eyes 'Autonomous Tanker' For KC-46 Follow-On: Roper" (in en-US). https://breakingdefense.com/2020/09/air-force-eyes-autonomous-tanker-for-kc-46-follow-on-roper/. 
  31. "Roper: The ARRW Hypersonic Missile Better Option for USAF" (in en-US). 2020-03-02. https://www.airforcemag.com/arrw-beat-hcsw-because-its-smaller-better-for-usaf/. 
  32. "Roper Sees High-Low Mix for Hypersonic Missiles" (in en-US). 2020-05-14. https://www.airforcemag.com/roper-sees-high-low-mix-for-hypersonic-missiles/. 
  33. "Will Roper Biography". https://www.fedscoop.com/bio/dr-will-roper/. 
  34. 34.0 34.1 "Roper: Space Force could save money and time with digitally-designed satellites" (in en-US). 2020-09-23. https://spacenews.com/roper-space-force-could-save-money-and-time-with-digitally-designed-satellites/. 
  35. 35.0 35.1 Insinna, Valerie (2020-09-15). "The US Air Force has built and flown a mysterious full-scale prototype of its future fighter jet" (in en-US). https://www.defensenews.com/breaking-news/2020/09/15/the-us-air-force-has-built-and-flown-a-mysterious-full-scale-prototype-of-its-future-fighter-jet/. 
  36. Newdick, Thomas. "The U.S. Air Force Has Secretly Flown A Demonstrator For Its Next-Generation Fighter". https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/36431/the-u-s-air-force-has-flown-a-demonstrator-for-its-next-generation-fighter. 
  37. "Revealed: US Air Force Has Secretly Built and Flown a New Fighter Jet" (in en). https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2020/09/usaf-jet/168479/. 
  38. D'Urso, Stefano (2020-09-15). "The U.S. Air Force Has Secretly Built and Flown A Full-Scale Demonstrator Of Its Next Generation Fighter" (in en-US). https://theaviationist.com/2020/09/15/the-u-s-air-force-has-secretly-built-and-flown-a-full-scale-demonstrator-of-its-next-generation-fighter/. 
  39. Schudel, Matt. "Andrew Marshall, Pentagon's gnomic 'Yoda' of long-range planning, dies at 97" (in en-US). Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/andrew-marshall-pentagons-gnomic-yoda-of-long-range-planning-dies-at-97/2019/03/27/cde33692-509a-11e9-88a1-ed346f0ec94f_story.html. 
  40. "What Is the National Defense Strategy?" (in en-US). https://www.defense.gov/Explore/Features/Story/Article/1656414/what-is-the-national-defense-strategy/. 
  41. Roper, William (nd). "William Roper LinkedIn". https://www.linkedin.com/in/williamroper/. 
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 Roper, Will (2015). "Will Roper Biography 2015". https://cdn.govexec.com/media/jeffs/dotechsummit/roper_bio.pdf. 
  43. The American Rhodes (2002). "2002 Rhodes Scholars". https://www.americanrhodes.org/assets/attachments/Scholars-Elect_2002_(TARS).pdf. 
  44. "One Rhodes Scholar will get 2-year break from Army life" (in en). https://tulsaworld.com/archive/one-rhodes-scholar-will-get-2-year-break-from-army-life/article_52aaef6c-8610-5dd6-ac93-e98b3e27c3b5.html. 

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