AFCEA Honors MITRE Engineers for Groundbreaking Military Research

December 2018
Chris Niessen and Ben Poole
Chris Niessen and Ben Poole

Two MITRE engineers have won international awards for their groundbreaking work in developing new methods to help the military achieve its mission. Both honorees are based at MITRE’s Bedford, Massachusetts, campus.

Dr. Chris Niessen has won the 2018 Meritorious Rising Star Award for Achievement in Engineering from the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association (AFCEA) for his body of work, including creating a way to test complex military field radios in the lab rather than in the field.

Dr. Ben Poole is a winner of the "Forty Under Forty" award for his accomplishments, including his development of a detailed handbook to guide the government through the complex process of acquiring equipment that meets its technical specifications. The award is given to 40 engineers worldwide under the age of 40; awardees are evaluated by the Young AFCEAN Advisory Council. 

Bringing the Real World into the Lab

Niessen developed a method to test Army field radios by emulating real-life conditions in a laboratory. It was relatively simple to test radios when they only had to communicate with one or two additional units, he says. But once the radios became more complex and had to communicate with a larger network, accurate testing became much more difficult.

"There wasn't any good way for the Army to try to buy these new modern radios and test them,” he says. "You could strap it to a soldier's back, have him walk around in the field, get data and spend forever trying to figure out how you got those results."

In addition, a one-time test in the field wouldn’t guarantee the same results in different conditions. Niessen found a way around that by developing an RF Emulator—a device that recreates a field environment under controlled conditions. With the emulator, the tester can reproduce those field conditions while the Army puts the radio through its paces.

The RF Emulator, which Niessen developed several years ago with a team of MITRE engineers, was so novel–and so needed–that commercial electronics companies scrambled to create similar devices.

Writing the "Cookbook"

Poole credited a team of engineers from several disciplines across MITRE with helping him put together what he called a “cookbook” for an Air Force concept to increase program performance of technically complex military acquisitions.

"Because of the complexity of the acquisition process, developing a handbook for it has to be, almost by definition, a team sport," he says. "There were a lot of folks at MITRE who made significant contributions to what came to be known as the 'Owning the Technical Baseline Cookbook.'"

"I had a co-author, Dave Crawford, a cost-analysis expert at MITRE, and help from a whole team here who have a lot of experience in a wide variety of acquisition activities," Poole says.

Active in Local AFCEA Chapter

"I really appreciate the opportunity to be recognized along with a lot of other really impressive people. AFCEA is a great organization we work with a lot at MITRE," Niessen says. Both he and Poole are members of the Lexington-Concord Chapter of AFCEA International.

Niessen has been involved in MILCOM, AFCEA's international conference for military communications. He has helped recruit MITRE engineers to give talks on new technology at the event.

Niessen notes that MITRE has been the beneficiary of a fellowship program sponsored by the Lexington-Concord chapter. The program is for Boston-area high school graduates interested in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering or math. The chapter awards the students a scholarship and a 10-week paid internship. MITRE has hosted AFCEA interns for more than 50 years. Some of them have gone on to become MITRE employees.

"It's an honor to have members like Chris and Ben on our team," says Lexington-Concord Chapter President Pat Dagle. "In addition to putting the power of engineering to work to improve our nation's defense, they've done AFCEA proud."

—by Tom Nutile

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