Lori Belnap has been with Northrop Grumman Mission Systems (Reston, VA) and its predecessor TRW Inc for nineteen years, filling a number of management roles.
Right now she's wrapping up a four-year program of upgrading hardware and software for the ICBM war fighter command and control consoles. The work is in Clearfield, UT, where she oversees a core team of twenty-five working on system engineering and integration. Subcontractors handle the software and hardware development side: the major subcontractor is supplying a hundred techies.
"It's probably the best team I've ever worked on," Belnap says. "Performance is high and everyone is happy here. As we get toward the end, it's so exciting to achieve these great milestones. But at the same time there's a sadness that we're going to start breaking up the team."
Northrop Grumman Mission Systems addresses mission-critical challenges. It operates in thirty-seven U.S. states and handles hundreds of defense programs.
The ICBM prime integration contract, for example, involves multiple large modernization projects. Belnap is in charge of the rapid execution and combat targeting service life extension program (REACT SLEP), which updates the ICBM weapon system console the Air Force uses to monitor missile status. The $100 million program started in 2002 and should go on to the end of 2006.
"It's the command and control interface for the crews," Belnap explains. "We're upgrading several of the hardware aspects of the console as well as the command and control software."
Seeing the project through
Belnap began as the deputy program manager and then became program manager. She's enjoyed seeing the project through from the initial infrastructure setup to the end. Her team recently completed some major software development, "probably the biggest effort overall," she notes. "It's been a very exciting program to manage."
She's also gotten into the hardware arena, enriching for her because her background is primarily software. "The tangible aspect of hardware development is really fun, and it opens up a whole new set of challenges," she says. But running such a large program is the best part of the experience for her.
Many opportunities to expand
In her years of mission-critical work Belnap has sometimes handled just one part of a project, sometimes several IT initiatives at one time. "Northrop Grumman has given me so many opportunities to expand and develop myself," she says.
In fact, she's become a go-to manager for unique proposal challenges across the sector. "I don't want to be in my comfort zone for long. I like to have new challenges every few years or so," she says.
Growing up, Belnap lived in Utah, Idaho, New Mexico and Alaska. In 1987 she graduated from Weber State College (now Weber State University, Ogden, UT) with a BSCS.
In college she interned at the computer integrated manufacturing group of Boeing Aerospace (Seattle, WA). She did systems analysis and Fortran programming for senior development staff.
Working for Northrop Grumman
Belnap had another internship at the Northrop Grumman (then TRW) ICBM long-range planning office in Utah, and went on to become a member of the technical staff there after graduation.
She began with stand-alone projects centered around software, and her responsibilities rapidly increased. She went on to manage a software development project for an Air Force funds-tracking application which was used for almost ten years.
By 1995 Belnap had moved into the systems area and became section manager for data systems in the software and test engineering department of engineering ops. She supervised eleven engineers working on IS development, ops and maintenance support for the ICBM system program office, "overseeing all their IT-oriented efforts," she says.
She went on to be IT technology lead on a major proposal for the ICBM prime contract in the strategic systems division in San Bernardino, CA. "We were working on a major restructure of how the Air Force was going to manage ICBMs," she says.
Once Northrop Grumman won the ICBM prime contract, Belnap became IS manager for the program for the tactical systems division, managing IT development, ops, maintenance and strategic planning for the contract.
The fifteen-year contract, Belnap notes, was awarded in December 1997 and is currently valued at $4.5 billion, with a total projected value of more than $6 billion. Northrop Grumman manages a team of three principal teammates and more than twenty subcontractors.
Yucca Mountain and Virginia
In 2000 Belnap became CIO for the multi-billion dollar management and ops contract for the U.S. Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. The project was run by TRW's energy and environmental systems division. TRW was re-competing for a contract at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, which meant a relocation to Las Vegas for Belnap.
"It was the largest thing I had done. Suddenly almost 400 employees were all reporting to the CIO, looking for reassurance and a sense of direction," she says. "It was a great opportunity to hone my leadership abilities."
When the contract ended a year later, the division manager recruited Belnap to be IT manager of the space and missile systems division, headquartered in Virginia, which he also managed. She worked closely with business developers in that business sector.
"I was helping with the division's strategic planning, looking at what skills, capabilities and tools we could leverage in other business areas, and that was exciting," Belnap says.
In 2002 she returned to Utah to move into her current job, just as Northrop Grumman bought TRW. "I've been very lucky when you look at how things have evolved," Belnap says.
Helping people grow
Belnap has a strong interest in helping young women explore their science and math abilities. She's a member of the Utah Women and Math speakers bureau and she spent ten years on the executive committee of the Utah Math/Science Network, running career workshops for junior-high and high-school girls. "It's rewarding to see the possibilities open up for young women when they look at opportunities available to them in a technical or scientific field," she says.
Belnap's career steps were guided by mostly male mentors, she notes. That's why she thinks it's important for her to mentor younger women. "I believe it might have been easier for me if I'd had a woman mentor, especially in the very beginning when I was still trying to figure out my own management style," she says.
In 2003 Belnap received Northrop Grumman Mission Systems' Woman of Achievement award in the technology category. "They are not just rating you on career accomplishments, but also on the degree of risk you are willing to take," she says. "I was delighted to get the award."