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Here’s what the CEO of NoVa’s Arcfield sees in defense tech’s future

Arcfield CEO Kevin Kelly is making bets on hypersonic technology and an emphasis on cybersecurity at his 1,300-person company in Chantilly.

Kevin Kelly, CEO of Arcfield.

(Courtesy photo)

With proximity to the Department of Defense (DoD) and a whole lot of funding to go around, defense tech has long been a staple of the DMV’s tech scene. As some huge industry players are making the area their new home base, it’s probably not going anytime soon.

Still, that doesn’t mean that the industry isn’t constantly evolving, with new technology being explored daily. And for NoVa’s Arcfield, the latest in defense is a piece of technology known as hypersonics (not to be confused with hyperspace, though we’ll happily chat about “Stars Wars” theories any day).

Arcfield, a 1,300-person company based in Chantilly, focuses on DoD and intelligence missions. Kevin Kelly, its CEO and chairman, said it focuses largely on space systems, engineering systems, integration modeling and cybersecurity.

For Kelly, who joined the company in November but has spent approximately 30 years in defense tech, the industry’s next big chapter lies in hypersonic technology — loosely defined as any missiles or other aircraft that can fly over the speed of sound (or over Mach 5, for a more formal one). He sees these weapons as a threat since they can be launched from submarines, the air and the ground. They can also make rapid course changes, which complicates the ability to track them. This is where tech comes in: He’d like to see more testing for the product and work on tracking those from other corners of the world, since a few other countries have demonstrated using the technology.

“If you’re going to intercept a pass in football, you know where the pass is coming from — it’s coming from the quarterback,” Kelly told “You can somewhat predict where it’s going. There’s only a finite number of receivers out there. That corollary doesn’t play well in the hypersonic missiles.”

Hypersonic has been around for a few decades, according to Kelly, but this is the first time it’s gotten serious attention. He first heard about it in the mid-to-late 90s, but there wasn’t a significant investment in the technology at the time.


“We’re going to hear a lot about hypersonics. It’s an area where the world is going to be investing heavily,” Kelly said. “As with any threatening technology, the United States defense industry needs to provide a technological unfair advantage to the best degree that we can. So I would anticipate [that] much like Arcfield, our colleagues in the industry are going to be investing quite a bit.”

But hypersonic isn’t the only thing going on in defense tech. As a whole, he views the industry as one that’s slowly shifting from solutions communications to an asymmetric warfare environment. And, as always, cyber is still huge in all aspects to protect communications.

Defense building, he noted, is one industry that continues to be needed by the federal government, remains largely technical in nature and helps new developers build their careers in a relatively stable environment. It’s an industry, too, that he thinks is relatively insulated from the recession, and he encourages new technologists to get involved — including at his own company.

“One of the most important things about defense and intelligence, in general, is they’re really well funded, high-tech environments,” Kelly said. “If you’re looking to develop your skills in data science, if you’re looking to develop your skills in laminar flow dynamics, thermodynamics or software development or spacecraft or next generation, material science, you name it. There is every career path that you can find in this area”

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