This article was originally published in DefenseNews by Valerie Insinna on March 3, 2021.
WASHINGTON — Former Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper will join the board of directors of Volansi, a commercial drone delivery company looking to expand its defense revenue, the company announced March 3.
As assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, Roper oversaw an annual budget of $60 billion in funding for research and development, testing, procurement and modernization of all Air Force and Space Force acquisition programs.
He was perhaps even more well known for his advocacy of novel technology from the commercial sector. During Roper’s tenue with the Air Force, the service started AFWERX, which aims to give contracts to startups and other businesses who don’t typically do business with the government. In 2012, while at the Pentagon, Roper established and directed the Strategic Capabilities Office created to rapidly modify existing systems to address emerging threats.
“Dr. Will Roper joins Volansi’s board with a reputation as a transformative, forward-looking leader,” said Volansi CEO and co-Founder Hannan Parvizian. “His deep expertise in emerging technologies and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in logistics operations will be instrumental in aiding Volansi’s mission to change the future of supply chain.”
According to Volansi, Roper “will focus on the company’s strategy, operations, and growth in defense markets.” There are several near-term opportunities for Volansi to sell its products to the U.S. military.
One is an AFWERX project that Roper championed, known as Agility Prime, where the Air Force is seeking to experiment with technologies from the burgeoning commercial electronic vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) market to see whether they could be used to transport troops or conduct logistics missions.
According to the Air Force, 19 companies have applied to participate in the Agility Prime air race. Although the service has not specified which firms are involved in the effort, Volansi has indicated interest in the program, having debuted a new cargo drone called the VOLY M20 during a launch event in May 2020.
Volansi is already a player in developing the service’s Skyborg AI-equipped drone, after being awarded a contract in December 2020. The company has also received money from the Air Force through the Small Business Innovation Research program.
In a statement, Roper said that innovative commercial tech companies like Volansi are disrupting the way the Pentagon typically does business.
“Bringing speed and agility historically absent in government procurement, many vendors have early revenue-generating opportunities in national security as a path to commercial success,” Roper said. “Volansi is uniquely positioned in the commercial UAV market because of their focus on cargo and logistics, both huge components of modern militaries. I am excited to help them think through opportunities to bring on-demand, life-saving capabilities to men and women in uniform.”
Roper left the Air Force in mid-January. Earlier this month, he joined strategic advisory firm Pallas Advisors.