Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks

Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks met with 157th Air Refueling Wing Airmen at Pease Air National Guard Base on Wednesday.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hick’s tour of New England shipyards, defense installations and universities on Wednesday was an effort to assess innovation and modernization efforts as well as what she described as the “partners’ capabilities to better enable the warfighter with the latest technology,” the Pentagon said Friday.

Hicks began a whirlwind tour of New England defense-related installations at Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, on Wednesday where she met troops aboard the USS Daniel Inouye, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

Addressing ship and submarine modernization she said “How (ships) innovate is a huge piece, of course, of where the department is going today with different kinds of actors, research institutions, universities and startups.”

Later, the deputy defense secretary joined Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both D-N.H, at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Pease Air National Guard in Newington. According to the Pentagon statement, the deputy secretary got a close look at the KC-46A Pegasus, a wide-bodied tanker aircraft used by the Air Force for refueling missions, carrying passengers, cargo and even medical missions.

Hicks called attention to the need to “move with agility through repair work and understand software upgrades that are moving at a fast pace.”

The Defense One website, dedicated to analyzing and reporting on trends in the defense industry, said earlier this week that the Air Force KC-46 tankers, based at Pease Air National Guard Base, are “continuing to expand their mission load and recently began refueling F-35 stealth fighters.”

Global business editor Marcus Weisgerber said the airborne tankers manufactured by Boeing Corp. are refueling F-35 stealth fighters that fly out of Vermont Air National Guard in South Burlington. He noted in his report that the Air Force cleared the KC-46 for “limited operations while Boeing makes necessary updates and modifications to get the tanker war-ready.”

Weisgerber attributed this information to an Air Mobility command spokesperson who said “the KC-46 is certified to refuel the F-35 under certain restrictions.”

Hicks completed her New England swing by traveling to Harvard University’s engineering school and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The statement said these stops were for “innovation assessments and briefings.” At Harvard, she visited with former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

According to the Pentagon statement, Carter was known for “working in partnership with the private sector and academia to quickly get innovation into the warfighter’s hands on the battlefield.”

Hicks also traveled to the Air Force-MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator, an intelligence lab dedicated to Air Force operations. She traveled to Army’s Natick Soldier System Center at Draper Laboratory, which the Pentagon described as a nonprofit engineering innovation company. Hicks also visited a venture firm called “The Engine” founded by MIT to support what the statement described as “tough tech” companies.

“Where we need to go next is knitting (everything) together so that we have an ecosystem in the department that doesn’t crush the ability to have innovation in small teams because I think there’s a lot to be gained from that,” she said.

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