Aerojet Rocketdyne: the evolution of aerospace and defense technology

Aerojet Rocketdyne: the evolution of aerospace and defense technology

With 20 years’ experience within information technology, Alan Avakian, Senior Director of IT at Aerojet Rocketdyne, has spent most of his career in the aerospace and defense industry. “I started out as an application developer, working in technologies ranging from the mainframe to client/server and web. Other technical roles I have had include database administration and project management,” says Avakian. “After working with programmers and internal customers, I branched out into other more specialized disciplines including reporting and ERP. At a certain point, I had to make a career choice between technical and management tracks, and chose management in the end for the opportunities. With guidance from others, I went back for my Masters of Business Administration and transitioned to managing my own department before becoming a Director and Chief Technology Officer.”

Avakian describes Aerojet Rocketdyne as “an innovative world-class developer and manufacturer of advanced propulsion and energetics systems for customers including the US Department of Defense, NASA and other agencies and companies, both in the United States and abroad.” Its vision is to further develop the brand and leverage its experience to provide the most cost-effective, on-schedule and reliable products in the industry. 

Over the last two years, Avakian has seen the aerospace and defense industry evolve significantly, with multiple new trends emerging fast such as: additive manufacturing, solar electric propulsion, cybersecurity and cloud technology.

“Additive manufacturing, hypersonics, and solar electric propulsion are key innovation areas for Aerojet Rocketdyne. We are also developing propulsion systems to utilize high-performance ‘green’ propellants. Green propulsion systems are an alternative to conventional chemical propulsion systems that use hydrazine propellants for a variety of applications, including next-generation launch vehicles and spacecraft,” says Avakian. 

John Jackson is the Chief Information Officer at Aerojet Rocketdyne and has extensive experience in cybersecurity and cloud technologies. In the Information Technology arena, Jackson mentioned that “there’s a much bigger focus on security and the new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) that was released in January. An accredited third party assessor will independently assess whether internal information systems of companies that perform DoD work (including suppliers) have the required cybersecurity controls in place to meet the assigned cyber maturity level.” With new levels of security in cloud, Jackson is also seeing companies shifting to this technology. “Cloud solutions now meet the stringent security requirements of our industry, so companies are now starting to pivot.”

Further discussing data security, Jackson explains the company’s own efforts since 2018 to develop its data security methods. “Keeping up with the ever-increasing security threats for people who want to steal your data, while also meeting the new industry compliance standards such as the CMMC, are core challenges when it comes to data security as it changes so fast.” At Aerojet Rocketdyne, the company has a threat hunting program which allows the company to proactively measure its security posture rather than only relying on traditional threat management measures such as firewalls. In addition, “we are currently embarking on an Enterprise Information Management initiative to establish a data governance program. This program will assist with the standardisation and integration of data and metrics across the enterprise.”

When it comes to the innovative evolution of the company, Avakian explains that over the last two years the company has “pivoted from a traditional IT architecture which relies heavily on on-premise infrastructure to a hybrid architecture.” In particular, Avakian highlights the company’s adoption of cloud technology, microservices and robotic process automation (RPA). “Over the last couple of years we have transitioned our Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system from an on-premise solution to a cloud provider. Our data is housed in a FedRAMP data centre with around-the-clock support.” In addition to the cloud, the company has begun conducting an RPA proof-of-concept with its Finance department. “This will reduce costs, eliminate input errors, speed up business processes, and will be integrated with applications. Our hope is to expand the program once we have proven out the technology and business model.”

At an operational level, Avakian also explains the company’s development of a business relationship management team, as well as its healthy transition towards a balanced outsourcing and in-house operations approach. “We started with realigning some of our existing talent as well as recruiting new people with a background in IT and business liaison skills,” comments Avakian, who has seen huge benefits from establishing the team. “Our customers love the fact that they have an IT representative that is aligned to them.” When it comes to balancing its outsourcing and in-house operations, Avakian highlights that “it’s a challenging opportunity as there are benefits and use cases for both methods. Our approach is to look at the IT area and then assess which approach or combination best meets our requirements in relation to levels of control, security considerations, cost model and growth.”

With these developments, Avakian has seen “the ability of the company’s IT systems to grow with the business, enabling faster turnaround of key enhancements which were not achievable before without significant investment in time and money.” For example, Microsoft has been helping Aerojet Rocketdyne to “leverage Microsoft Dynamics for our CRM. We will also be using Microsoft’s Office 365 and Azure for storage later this year.”

Reflecting on the company, Avakian sees the company’s biggest strength being its people and drive towards innovation in everything that it does, particularly having seen the company expand its presence to drive innovation. Avakian concludes that the company’s “NASA Space Launch System (SLS) – America’s next-generation heavy-lift rocket, powered by Aerojet Rocketdyne – and the company’s propulsion which plays a critical role in SLS’s ability to successfully launch the heaviest, largest, and most valuable payloads to deep space” is an example of one of the company’s biggest successes to date.

Alan Avakian