Manny Mora's job is to look into the future of the defense industry and find business opportunities.
Shrinking defense budgets, especially the threat of automatic military spending cuts in January, make his job rather challenging these days.
Mora is senior vice president for strategic business development and integration at C4 Systems, a business unit of one of the largest U.S. defense contractors, General Dynamics.
C4 Systems is behind the effort to equip soldiers with what's called a "tactical Internet" on the front lines. The Army is testing it at Fort Bliss and expects to deploy the system to Afghanistan next year.
It's also created a network of EDGE Innovation Centers where industry, academia, non-profits and government entities experiment with new technologies. The centers, including one that recently opened at Fort Bliss, are designed to get new technology to soldiers on the front lines faster.
Mora has more than 25 years of engineering and management experience in the defense electronics industry. He was born and raised in El Paso's Lower Valley and graduated from New Mexico State University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1983.
He moved to Arizona where he worked for Motorola and began his career at General Dynamics as an engineer more than 10 years ago. Now he directs mergers and acquisitions strategies at C4 Systems and is responsible for strategic planning. He serves on the board of directors of the Hispanic College Fund.
El Paso Inc. photographed Mora last week at the Border Management Conference and Technology Expo in El Paso, where he talked about border security.
He spoke to El Paso Inc. by phone from his office in Arizona about defense contractors and the looming fiscal cliff, radar work at White Sands, new technology for the border and bringing that new kind of Internet to the front lines.
Q: The Defense Department's budget is shrinking and there is the threat of far deeper cuts in January - the "fiscal cliff." How is General Dynamics adapting to this new fiscal reality?
We diversify. Beyond the Defense Department, there are other sectors that can benefit from what General Dynamics does. We make technology work in a user's hands, and that's the same whether you are a soldier or an agent.
That's how we are going to survive the defense cuts. We are applying some of our experience and know-how to other agencies such as NASA and Customs and Border Protection.
As an example, there is a large ground station at White Sands Missile Range, just north of El Paso. It helps track satellites in orbit. We now have the contract with NASA to modernize that station. It is about 40 years old.
We also started working on a program at White Sands Missile Range called the Range Radar Replacement Program.
They fire a lot of missiles at White Sands, and they have very sophisticated requirements for radars that track those missiles so they can evaluate their performance. Those radar ranges are about 40 or 50 years old.
Q: Can you give me a sense of how concerned defense contractors here in El Paso are about the defense cuts and the threat of automatic spending cuts?
Defense contractors here are concerned about sequestration happening, but it is such an unknown that we can't plan for it. We know that there has been a continuing resolution for the 2013 budget. However, we know exactly what it looks like and can plan.
When you talk about sequestration, we don't know what that looks like and what is known is only speculation so it is almost impossible to plan for it.
Q: The Obama administration told defense companies not to give advance notices of potential layoffs due to sequestration even though layoff notices are typically required. Is that something General Dynamics has had to contend with in El Paso?
No. It is impossible to predict the impact sequestration will have, but the programs we are working on with the Army here are very important programs and well funded.
Q: You mentioned working with Customs and Border Protection.
As you know, there has been a priority put on protecting and defending our borders and an effort to put more agents on the border and to deploy more technology. As a result of that policy discussion, Customs and Border Protection has been working on putting more technology along the border.
That technology consists of putting up radars and cameras and communications equipment on towers. It would give agents the ability to look out and detect traffic for miles, upward of seven to 10 miles, and provide this picture of movement along the border.
There is a series of programs that are being solicited by Customs and Border Protection. One of them is called Integrated Fixed Towers. General Dynamics C4 Systems has partnered with EADS, a European company, to bid on that program and bring some of our technology, some of our experience, into implementing some of that technology.
We understand how dangerous their job is, and our priority is to give them that ability to detect what is around them, keep them out of harm's way and still allow them to do their mission.
Q: Where will these new surveillance towers be located?
The first towers will be deployed in parts of the Tucson sector in Arizona, including Nogales, Sonoita and Douglas. It's about 50 towers and six command centers.
Q: How many miles?
It will cover about 240 miles.
Q: Why would they build them first in the Tucson sector?
That's one of the less urban areas. Because it is just a lot of desert, you see a lot of the drug trafficking and a lot of the human trafficking there.
Q: Might the towers come to Texas?
Once they deploy there, they are going to look at extending that into other sectors, including Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.
Q: I know we have some cameras on the border here in El Paso, but what you are talking about sounds a bit different.
Yes, this will not only be cameras but radar that can detect a car or even an individual out in the desert.
Q: Didn't the Department of Homeland Security try something similar?
There's a system that was deployed years ago called SBInet, you may remember that. It was the first attempt by the Department of Homeland Security to deploy this type of technology, and it didn't work out so well.
The Department of Homeland Security shut the program down and has gone out to industry to find what kind of technology is available now.
Q: Has General Dynamics or EADS built a system like this before?
An example of one large system we have deployed that's somewhat similar is a program for the Coast Guard called Rescue 21. It's a system of towers along the entire coastline of the United States, the Great Lakes, Guam and Hawaii. It detects boaters moving out about 20 nautical miles and can also detect boaters in distress.
Our partner, EADS, has deployed border surveillance systems in Europe and the Middle East. So we would be bringing the best of the radars that have been deployed in Europe and the Middle East, the best cameras, to the border here.
Q: What does General Dynamics do at Fort Bliss?
We've been very active at Fort Bliss for over 10 years and work very closely with the Army. Our presence has grown over the last five years when the Network Integration Evaluation began.
The Army is going to be fielding a tactical Internet. It has been testing and perfecting the network for some time.
What this network looks like is a lot of equipment on vehicles and command posts and soldiers; so now when a unit deploys into a rough environment, say to an area of Afghanistan with no infrastructure, they form their own Internet. It allows them to communicate with each other, their command center and even back to the United States. We're the prime contractor on that.
In May, we opened up the EDGE Innovation Center at Fort Bliss. A team from General Dynamics is working with other industries and small companies to see how their technology can be integrated into the larger tactical network.
We also help the Army as they train soldiers to use the network, and we get feedback from the soldiers on what they like and what they don't like.
Q: The Army is somewhat notorious for its manual libraries and complicated systems. How easy will this networking system be to use?
Something we have put a lot of thought into is how to make it easy for the soldiers to use. While these systems can become very complex, we are working hard to tame that complexity and have put a lot of effort into understanding how the soldiers interact with the systems.
We look at what information the soldiers really need and whatever is not important we hide away.
Q: It sounds like some of the things we do every day on smart phones. But I imagine it's challenging to create a similar mobile network on the front lines where cell towers are nonexistent, power is scarce and the enemy is working to hack or destroy the network.
There are tremendous challenges. You can't just erect a 4G tower over there; the enemy will take it down right away. You have to create your own network. So now a lot of the complex systems built into those towers and network operation centers here are built into the Army vehicles.
The equipment also has to work in austere environments - dust, rain, high temperatures and low temperatures. We also have to worry about the size of these systems. You have to design the systems so they don't draw too much power, and we work a lot on the size and the weight.
When we put this equipment on a soldier, we don't want it to burden him with a bulky, heavy load.
Q: When will a brigade go to war with this new tactical Internet?
You're seeing it now. The first version deployed to Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. But it's only meant to be a static network and doesn't work when the soldiers are moving around in vehicles and such. We expect the new mobile network will deploy to Afghanistan in early 2013. That's really the first one to come out of the network integration testing here.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.