Defense Speak Interpreted: Executive Agent

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After reading my previous column, you may have realized that electronics packaging technology development came from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. One of its core responsibilities is the assignment of “executive agent” for PCBs and electronic interconnects. But what is this “executive agent” thing, frequently shortened to EA?

This Defense assignment designates a lead activity to coordinate issues across service branches where the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force may all have their own research and development activity. The EA concept dates to Defense Directive 5101.1 issued in 2002. It is targeted at not only the service branches, but also to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the combat commands (currently 10), and Defense agencies, such as missile defense. Defense refers to all of these as “components.”

By definition, a DoD EA is “The Head of a DoD Component to whom the Secretary of Defense or the Deputy Secretary of Defense has assigned specific responsibilities, functions, and authorities to provide defined levels of support for operational missions, or administrative or other designated activities that involve two or more of the DoD Components.” From paragraph 4.1.2 of the same directive, DoD resources need to be focused on a specific area or areas of responsibility to minimize duplication or redundancy.

To keep track of EA assignments, one of the organizations in the EA communication loop is the DoD Chief Management Officer.

Defense concern about the health of the USA printed circuit and electronic interconnection industry dates to the 2005 report from the National Academies. You can still download a free copy of this report [1].

The actual authorization of an EA for PCBs and electronic interconnects occurred in 2008 as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The actual language from the Congressionally approved Defense appropriation reads, “Establishes policy and assigns responsibilities for a DoD EA for printed circuit board (PrCB) and interconnect technology and designates the Secretary of the Navy as the DoD EA for PrCB and Interconnect Technology, in accordance with Section 256 of Public Law 110-417and DoD Directive 5101.1.” A couple of notes on this section include the following:

  • The NDAA in 2009 is also known as the “Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009”
  • Defense used the designation “PrCB” in 2009 and still does today because, at the Federal level, the term “PCB” was used for toxic polychlorinated biphenyls highlighted in the environment exposé book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Also, the NDAA “Designates the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD(AT&L)) to serve as the Principal Staff Assistant for PrCB and interconnect technology.” Earlier this year, I wrote about the 2018 split of the AT&L office into “acquisition and sustainment” and “research and engineering”. The EA at NAVSEA Crane continues to closely watch the ramifications of this split for their direction concerning their current direction. Change 1 to the EA assignment reflects the EA is now a part of the Acquisition and Sustainment Branch.

In July of 2009, during the execution of the 2009 NDAA, internal Navy communications, designated the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, as the location of the EA activity to carry out the work and report back through the Secretary of the Navy. This was confirmed by NAVSEA. However, no mention of funding occurs in these communications concerning the EA assignment. And remember that in 2009, 2010, and onward, Defense budgets were being cut, as the country suffered through an economic recession. That’s a lot of responsibility without funding!

The unfunded EA for circuit boards and interconnections languished until the formalization of DoD Directive 5101.18E on June 12, 2016. A copy is available [2], and this memo incorporated the accumulated EA language dating back to 2009. The four tenants for the PrCB EA assignment are to:

  1. Develop and maintain a PrCB and interconnect technology roadmap to ensure the DoD has access to manufacturing capabilities and technical expertise necessary to meet future military requirements regarding this technology.
  2. Assess vulnerabilities, trustworthiness, and diversity of the industrial base supply chain and develops strategies to address matters resulting from that assessment in accordance with DoD Instruction 5200.44.
  3. Recommend funding strategies necessary to sustain the PrCB and interconnect technology management functions and meet requirements identified as a result of these assessments.
  4. Recommend to the Secretary of Defense other roles and responsibilities to be included in the PrCB and interconnect technology program.

Much of what we know about the PrCB EA comes from their semi-annual public reports presented at IPC meetings. These invitation-only sessions require sign-in and are open to Defense contractors, as some information is given on a need-to-know basis. Today, the EA organizes along these four focus areas:

  1. Technology development: Involves the EA situational analysis activity and is more outward-looking at the industry in general. A new activity is the authorization of an Other Transactional Activity (OTA) on fine conductor and insulator development.
    1. Knowledge and capability sustainment: This relates to Crane’s internal involvement with industry standards development and to the operation of the captive circuit board fabrication facility on the Crane base. Equipment and process updates continuously strive to keep Crane abreast of state-of-the-art fabrication of circuit boards.
    2. Trust Assurance: The Crane EA is very involved with IPC in the development and certification for IPC-1791: Trusted Electronic Designer, Fabricator, and Assembler Requirement. Now, a number of companies are on the IPC maintained QML list for this standard from all three activities: design, fabrication, and assembly. Also, the Crane EA has supported Defense activities in counterfeit parts detection.
    3. Supply Chain Management: Follows the manufacturing chain through board fabrication and assembly to assess the availability of materials, equipment, and facilities needed for both routine production and state-of-the-art. This creates a different supply chain roadmap” from the generally understood industry technology roadmap. Supply chain also includes the EA training outreach to cover such issues as export controls and counterfeit prevention.

In my last column, I also outlined the recent EA award to Averatek: “S2MARTS Project 19-04: Very High-Density Interconnects.” From the description of the four EA focus areas, the hope is to use the technology development award to be integrated into the knowledge and capability sustainment demonstration in the Crane circuit board fabrication shop.

And in case you are wondering, the following are Defense definitions for the purpose of this 5101.18E Directive:

  • Interconnect technology: Technology associated with all physical connections that provide mechanical, chemical, electrical, optical, sonic, or thermal linkages between a pairing of individual components, integrated circuits, electronic subassemblies, or the application environment.
  • PrCB: The foundation for all electronic equipment that both mechanically supports and provides electrical connections between electronic components using conductive traces, usually etched from copper sheets laminated onto a non-conductive substrate. The acronym “PCB” (printed circuit board) is used interchangeably with PrCB in the industry.
  • Trustworthiness: The inherent confidence in a particular item as it pertains to quality, reliability, availability, integrity, and technology protection. With reliance on global sources of supply growth across the spectrum of electronic products, confidence in system availability and performance is becoming increasingly difficult. Characteristics of trust range from anti-counterfeit on the supply end of the life cycle, to anti-tamper on the protection end.


  1. Committee on Manufacturing Trends in Printed Circuit Technology, “Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronics Interconnection Technology,” National Research Council, 2005.
  2. Office of the Under Secretary for Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, “DoD Direction 5101.18E: DoD Executive Agent for Printed Circuit Board and Interconnect Technology,” DoD, June 12, 2016.

Dennis Fritz was a 20-year direct employee of MacDermid Inc. and has just retired after 12 years as a senior engineer at (SAIC) supporting the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. He was elected to the IPC Hall of Fame in 2012.



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