WASHINGTON – Two senior scientists from the Air Force Research Laboratory received the Presidential Rank Award (PRA) for Meritorious Professional Achievement.
Dr. Alok Das, the director of AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation (CRI) and Dr. Paul Antonik, the chief scientist for AFRL’s Information Directorate, received this honor for their sustained accomplishments, exemplary public service and long-term dedication to the mission during the PRA Leadership Summit Dec. 17 in Washington, D.C.
Given by the President to exemplary federal leaders, the PRA is the highest award a civilian federal employee can receive. The accolade is reserved for top performers who “exemplify integrity and accountability, while delivering mission results to the American taxpayer,” according to the PRA website.
Dr. Rajesh Naik, AFRL’s acting chief technology officer, said that Antonik’s and Das’ contributions have greatly impacted the AFRL enterprise, the Air Force and the Department of Defense. He praised Antonik, not only for his technical work but also for the strategic vision he provides for guiding the S&T enterprise.
Naik commended Das’ keen ability to assemble multidisciplinary teams that produce rapid solutions for military operations and effectively address customers’ imminent needs. He said that both men are “most deserving of the PRA award” since they “exemplify excellence” with professional accomplishments that far exceed the established criteria.
Dr. Das serves as the principal adviser to the AFRL Commander in formulating, planning and implementing technology and process innovation strategies throughout the organization. He leads a rapid reaction team dedicated to innovation and collaboration that provides near-term solutions to warfighters’ highest priority urgent needs.
Prior to leading the CRI, Das served as the chief scientist for AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate in New Mexico. His early R&D work advanced smart space structures, adaptive structures and satellite formation flying.
Under Das’ leadership, the CRI successfully completed initial flight tests for a revolutionary Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) with a customizable suite of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) tools that supports extended missions in a cost-effective manner.
Das describes the Ultra Long Endurance Aircraft Platform, or Ultra LEAP as a “significant milestone in solving the distance problem for ISR systems.”
“Developing a UAS with this level of endurance is an incredible achievement for future warfighting and battlefield success,” said Paul Litke, an AFRL project engineer.
Das said that one of the most rewarding parts of his job involves identifying the user’s real problem and determining the best way to solve it. He credits several colleagues throughout his career with influencing his approach to critical thinking.
Das said he is humbled, honored and proud to represent AFRL with this award.
Dr. Antonik serves AFRL as the Information Directorate's principal scientific and technical adviser and primary authority for the technical content of the science and technology portfolio. He oversees a broad spectrum of technologies that span the functional areas of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence and cyber.
With his background in electronics and system engineering, Antonik has served the Air Force in various roles developing sensor systems, waveform diversity and knowledge-aided signal processing techniques. He holds six U.S. patents, and has authored or co-authored more than 55 journal articles, conference papers and technical reports. His research has influenced signal analysis, detection and processing and antenna theory.
Antonik was an early advocate of applying Artificial Intelligence into the radar signal processing chain, which is now a best practice for this type of work. He said that he feels fortunate to have been “surrounded by mentors focused on developing new technologies” throughout his career who “instilled in [him] the value of thinking differently and creatively to develop innovative and disruptive capabilities.”
He calls the PRA “a very humbling honor,” and says he strives to mentor colleagues in their early career years as a way to recognize the incredible mentors who helped to guide him.
Each year, the President recognizes a small percentage of the members of the Senior Executive Service and Senior Professionals. Less than .02 percent of all career Federal executives received this award in 2019.
For more information about the Presidential Rank Awards Leadership Summit, visit https://www.presidentialrankawards.com/.
Whitney Wetsig and DeliaRae Jesaitis contributed to this story.