The Air Force has announced that it has chosen Greg Zacharias to serve as the next Air Force chief scientist, an appointed expert who will be focused on a range of issues to include autonomy and unmanned aircraft as well as directed energy and hypersonic weapons, service officials said.

Zacharias is a scientist with an extensive background, including time as an Air Force attache for the Space Shuttle program at NASA, member of the National Research Council and senior executive scientist at Raytheon. He now serves and the president and senior scientist at Charles River Analytics based in Cambridge, Mass.

Zacharias, who holds a PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT, has been a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. He will be poised to help advance UAS technology for the services, as he chaired a Air Force study of unmanned aircraft operations in irregular warfare, service officials said.

Outgoing Air Force Chief Scientist Mica Endsley, said the service will need to stay sharply focused on agility in light of rapid global technological change.

“We can’t just plan for one scenario which was the case in the Cold War — we have to plan for a whole range of scenarios because technological changes are happening much more rapidly.  I don’t know what technology will be here I just know it will be better than we have today,” she told Military.com in a recent interview.

Endsley, who helped oversee Air Force strategic plans for technological advances in autonomy, nanotechnology and hypersonic weapons, said the service will need to develop algorithms and technologies which allow for greater modularity.

Modularity is an often used Pentagon phrase intended to connote the ability to adjust and change rapidly to accommodate fast-emerging technologies. Software, computers and even platforms can be engineered for greater modularity such that they can integrate new software, hardware, sensors, electronics and weapons systems as they emerge.

“We need to develop something that is valid 40 years from now,” she added.

The service is now immersed in efforts to develop hypersonic weapons, laser technology and greater autonomy for a range of platforms. The Air Force also plans to massively expand the range of missions currently performed by unmanned systems to include more manned-unmanned teaming.

Upon completion of her term, Endsley will return as president of SA Technologies, a Marietta, Ga.-based technology firm.

“It has been a tremendous opportunity to serve as chief scientist across our enterprise and help find ways we can better serve our technology efforts. I hope I have been able to help address some of the challenges and problems with our science and technology as we move from a platform centric approach to a networked centered approach,” she said.

– Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com