Boeing: Leading with Innovation and Shared Values

Steve Nordlund
Steve Nordlund, Vice President and General Manager of Phantom Works, The Boeing Company

Ideas come into fruition when assisted with innovation that can disrupt the niche with its relative productivity and performance. Newer technologies are introduced to the world with each passing day, and a few of these technologies break the barrier in the autonomous and unmanned vehicle industry with their pioneering approach. With the inclusion of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, renowned organizations are intertwining cognitive potentials to develop vehicles capable of performing tasks that were once just a mere thought. Exploring such possibilities, Boeing is creating history and rooting itself as an early innovative adapter in the autonomous industry.

Boeing’s rich history in aerospace continues to lead in technology and innovation, deliver for its customers, and invest in its people and future growth. As an experienced executive in the aerospace and tech industry, Steve Nordlund, the Vice President and General Manager of Phantom Works, oversees advanced research and development organizations, developing new businesses, and entering new markets.

We at CIO LOOK came across Boeing in our expedition to find Top 10 Innovative Companies in Autonomous & Unmanned Vehicles.” We got into an insightful conversation with Steve to know his experience and methodologies that contribute to making Boeing the world’s largest aerospace company and leading provider of commercial airplanes, defense, space and security systems, and global services.

Below are the highlights of the interview.

Give us a brief overview of your company, its mission, and the key aspects of its strong foothold in the aviation industry.

As a leading global aerospace company, Boeing develops, manufactures, and services commercial airplanes, defense products, and space systems for customers in more than 150 countries. As a top U.S. exporter, the company leverages the talents of a global supplier base to advance economic opportunity, sustainability, and community impact. Boeing’s diverse team is committed to innovating for the future and living the company’s core values of safety, quality, and integrity.

Describe your top-notch offerings that address the need of your customers.

With near-peer threats and budget constraints, customers are looking for affordable solutions that are effective in increasingly contested environments. The modular, multi-mission autonomous systems Boeing has developed provide seabed to space capability for our customers – with connected sensors and systems undersea, on the surface, and in the air.

In the air, we have a full range of autonomous systems offering intelligent, persistent, and efficient solutions for a range of customers and missions worldwide. For example, the MQ-25 unmanned/uncrewed aerial refueler will be the U.S. Navy’s first operational, carrier-based unmanned aircraft – offering robust refueling capability and potential for growth as a digitally designed and developed aircraft.

The Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) is a new uncrewed aircraft that will be a force multiplier, using artificial intelligence as part of a smart human-machine team with other platforms. With next-gen affordable stealth capability, ATS can fly with advanced fighters to see and shoot first. This is true “air power” for 75% less cost to buy and 90% lower cost to fly. Also, longer range and more efficient ground attack operations are enabled with ATS because of a combination of artificial intelligence and autonomy. An all-digital design and advanced autonomy allowed us to quickly progress from firm configuration to first flight in record time. The result is modularity and flexibility, so we can also outpace the threats.

On the sea, long-endurance, autonomous maritime vehicles offer new ways to gather data and conduct missions in the ocean and communicate across domains to deliver actionable intelligence. Our offerings include products such as Wave Glider, an autonomous surface platform, and Echo Voyager, a fully autonomous extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle.

What makes your company a preferred choice among your clientele over other competitors?

Boeing’s autonomous offerings are the digitally advanced, simply, and efficiently produced, and intelligently supported products customers need now. And there’s a convergence where these systems aren’t solely used for military missions but could be used for commercial applications like freight/logistics. We’re building them, testing them under real-world conditions, and working with our customers to integrate them into their operations across all domains now. By using digital engineering, modeling, and simulation, our autonomous solutions can be designed, assembled, and tested virtually thousands of times before any metal is ever cut – creating new paradigms in affordability, efficiency, and quality. As we continue delivering cutting-edge autonomous technologies and capabilities, digital engineering ensures we stay ahead of challenges and take advantage of new opportunities.

From a business leadership perspective, what is your opinion on the impact of the current pandemic on the aviation sector and the related market?

The pandemic has impacted the aviation sector, including reduced demand for products and services and increased supply chain instability. As an industry, we have faced these challenges head-on and continue to work closely with our partners and suppliers.

In your opinion, what could be the future of the aviation market post the COVID-19 pandemic? And how are you strategizing your company’s operations for that future?

While we still have a way to go before we see a full rebound, it is encouraging to see the commercial market improving, enabled by continued vaccine distribution and an increase in travel demand. Going forward, we are continuing to monitor case rates, vaccine distribution, travel protocols, and global trade as key indicators for recovery.

In what ways have you or your company contributed to the community?

Through purposeful investments, employee engagement, and advocacy efforts, Boeing supports community partnerships and programs that align with our business, create value and help build better communities worldwide. Boeing charitable programs drive positive, lasting change in the communities where our employees and their families live and work. We work to create opportunities that inspire our future, empower our heroes, and strengthen our homes, with a focus on advancing racial equity and combating systemic racism.

What are your future aspirations? Where do you see your company in the next five years?

Autonomy is at the heart of the future in aerospace and defense because it expands human capability – through smarter systems, more efficient operations, and enhanced safety for our customers. With digital designs and advanced manufacturing techniques, the sky is no longer a limit as we continue to grow our portfolio and capabilities through autonomy. There’s also a convergence where these systems and the technology behind them aren’t limited to military use but could also be used for commercial applications in certain scenarios.