The chief engineer for a program to upgrade the Kwajalein Field Site radars is recognized by leadership and peers for his technical expertise, team-player attitude, and humility.
A portrait photograph of Andrew Mack.
Andrew Mack is chief engineer for the KREMS Technology Rearchitecting program to upgrade the four world-class KREMS radars on Kwajalein Atoll.

On June 5, Andrew Mack — a Lincoln Laboratory technical staff member currently stationed at the Kwajalein Field Site — received an MIT Excellence Award for Outstanding Contributor: Working Behind the Scenes.

"I try to set people up for success, making sure that they have clear tasks to do and goals to achieve and be proud of," says Mack, who is leading a team of engineers working on a major upgrade of the site’s four KREMS (for Kiernan Reentry Measurements Site) radars. As scientific advisor to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Reagan Test Site, Lincoln Laboratory has supported these radars on Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands, for more than 60 years.

"Upgrading nationally important radar systems in a remote location in the Pacific requires having key personnel at the test site, and Andrew has been the primary person on the team with this responsibility," says Mark Smith, leader of the Kwajalein Field Site. "He is always available to help colleagues by sharing his knowledge, and his grace and patience afford them the time to learn, make mistakes, and grow as technical contributors."

Since 2023, Mack has served as chief engineer for the KREMS Technology Rearchitecting (KTR) program. This multiyear program, which Mack helped propose, will upgrade the four KREMS radars on Roi-Namur Island on Kwajalein Atoll: ALTAIR (ARPA Long-Range Tracking and Instrumentation Radar), TRADEX (Target Resolution and Discrimination Experiment), ALCOR (ARPA Lincoln C-band Observables Radar), and MMW (Millimeter Wave) radar. The last major radar modernization effort, Kwajalein Modernization and Remoting, was completed in 2002. It introduced an open system architecture for using common hardware and software for all four radars, instead of a one-of-a-kind approach. Ongoing since 2022, KTR will further streamline operations and maintenance of the radars by upgrading the command-and-control software and simplifying the receiver’s backend electronic components.

"We are implementing a software-based radar waveform generator for generating different types of waveforms that enables the radar to detect, track, and maintain custody of ballistic, nonballistic, and space-based objects," Mack explains.

Ultimately, KTR will improve the test and evaluation capabilities of the radars. For KTR, Mack led the design of the radar interface unit (RIU), which provides a digital receiver architecture for the radar. The RIU replaces the previous 11-rack equipment setup with one rack of modern high-speed sampling and computing hardware. The RIU was awarded the 2023 Innovation of the Year by the Laboratory’s Air, Missile, and Maritime Defense Technology R&D area.

"Andrew would accept the Innovation of the Year Award only if it was presented as a team award, as he wanted to recognize everyone who helped bring the concept to reality," says Idahosa Osaretin, assistant leader of the Laboratory’s Advanced Sensor Systems and Test Beds Group.

Mack, who intends to remain on the KTR program until its slated completion in 2027, and his family have been enjoying life on Kwajalein. His first son, now five years old and in kindergarten, rides his bike to school and comes home for lunch each day. His second son is four years old. His wife runs her own telehealth psychology practice. Mack has sailed a few times, and he and his wife compete in the annual triathlon. On the weekends, they enjoy the beach.

The path to Kwajalein

Mack joined Lincoln Laboratory in 2014 in the Integrated Missile Defense Technology Group. Initially, he applied his optics expertise to test, under different optical conditions, a seeker (i.e., video camera) for the Standard Missile 3, used by the U.S. Navy to intercept ballistic missiles. Simultaneously, he engaged in projects related to different aspects of missile defense such as target tracking, layered defense systems, and association algorithms.

"I received a lot of good mentorship and professional development in that group," Mack says.

One of his mentors, Claude Noiseux, had told Mack early on about the opportunity for a job assignment at the Kwajalein Field Site. In 2019, Mack saw the application call and applied. Later that year, Mack, his wife, and one-year-old son traveled halfway across the world. When Mack arrived at Kwajalein, he was appointed the ALTAIR lead. He served as a liaison between staff members at the Laboratory’s main campus in Lexington, Massachusetts, who needed to perform activities with the radar, and contractors on Kwajalein who run the radar, several time zones away. Mack also managed radar upgrades — including systems for correcting ionosphere-induced errors and for mitigating interference from sidelobes (transmitted energy outside the main radar beam) — and collected measurements for the Laboratory’s Space Systems and Technology R&D area.

"We are always in awe of Andrew’s technical depth, technical breadth, and resourcefulness," says Jay Donnelly, assistant head of the Air, Missile, and Maritime Defense Technology R&D area. "Andrew went from solving seeker-related problems in Lexington to solving radio-frequency and radar systems problems on Kwajalein, all the while maintaining outstanding performance."

Beyond his technical work, Mack became engaged in outreach to the local community on Kwajalein. He has supported science fairs and mentored high schoolers on engineering class projects, such as developing a data-logging buoy to monitor water quality in areas where coral has been transplanted to promote regrowth.

An early exposure to STEM

Mack knows firsthand how exposure to STEM can chart a career path. When he was in second grade, his teacher, concerned about his ability to read, recommended remedial classes. Mack’s mother, who was at the time studying statistics in graduate school, refused to let that happen. She began reading to him every night. But the books she selected were not typical children’s books; they were books on the programming language BASIC. Meanwhile, Mack’s father, a tax attorney, brought home an old work computer for Mack to tinker with. Mack became incentivized to learn about programming and computers out of a desire to make a video game.

Mack continued delving into these topics through high school, when his interest turned toward microcontrollers. He and his friend sought to make a GPS-guided model airplane, in an era before drones. His friend’s father, an engineer at GE, helped them turn their idea into a working prototype. This same friend’s father also taught them about radio electronics and HAM radio equipment operation.

Mack ended up studying physics somewhat by chance. At McGill University in Canada, Mack planned to pursue classics, but that department had folded and he had to pick another major. He settled on physics, with aspirations to become a lawyer like his father. But he ended up excelling in physics, so much so that he published a paper on optical work he had performed in a lab focused on low-temperature physics (the foundation for quantum computing) and graduated in only three years. He then attended graduate school at Yale, where he studied biophysics and built laser systems to probe and measure the physics of DNA.

"Andrew is very prolific, and his passion for research is infectious," Osaretin says. “He understands the world around him in excellent detail and uses that understanding to solve complex technical problems."

Inquiries: contact Ariana Tantillo.