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Missile Defense Agency

MDA News Release

5700 18th Street, Bldg 245
Fort Belvoir, VA 22060-5573

President Biden Selects MDA Space Executive for 2021 Presidential Rank Award

December 8, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. has chosen Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director of Space Sensors Walter S. Chai of Colorado Springs, Colorado as a 2021 recipient of the Meritorious Senior Professional Presidential Rank Award.

“I am humbled and grateful,” said Chai who also directs MDA’s Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center (MDIOC) in Colorado Springs. “So many people share this honor with me. I have to thank my family for their support throughout my career as well as the talented professionals I have the privilege to work with at MDA every day.”

As director of Space Sensors since 2013, Chai oversees the development, operation and integration of missile defense satellites and joint space capabilities into the U.S. Missile Defense System (MDS). This includes increasing the capabilities of space-based sensors and their contribution to regional and homeland missile defense missions designed to counter current and future threats.

Chai heads development of the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS), MDA’s top priority. On track for a 2023 on-orbit capabilities demonstration with two prototype space vehicles, HBTSS will ultimately be a key element in the nation’s larger Overhead Persistent Infrared Enterprise Architecture. HBTSS will allow the detection and tracking of ballistic, hypersonic and future advanced threats and will hand off fire-control-quality data to warfighters operating America’s missile defenses.

“Walt personifies professionalism and leadership,” said Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, MDA director. “It’s no understatement to say that without his expertise and guidance, we wouldn’t be poised to test and field the critical capability HBTSS will bring. I’m grateful to have him on our team.”

The Presidential Rank Award is one of the highest awards career Senior Executive Service (SES) and Senior Professional (i.e. Senior-Level (SL) and Scientific Professional (ST)) civil servants can receive. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) oversees the process, but the president ultimately decides which senior leaders get the prestigious award. Only five percent of SES and Senior Professionals may receive the honor of Meritorious Rank. Nominated by their agencies, nominees must have at least three years in an eligible senior position. Each nominee undergoes a rigorous background review to include scrutiny by panels made up of private citizens who are former and current private sector leaders and/or former leaders within the public sector. Nominees must have made significant and lasting contributions to their agency by delivering mission-critical solutions, providing excellent customer service and being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.

A member of the Senior Professional service since 2016, Chai is Acquisition Level III certified in program management and in system planning, research, development and engineering. A retired U.S. Air Force officer originally from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, he holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, a bachelor of science in meteorology from Texas A&M University and a master of science in systems management from the University of Southern California.

For the complete list of 2021 winners, visit 2021 Presidential Rank Awards Winners (opm.gov). For the OPM news release, please visit RELEASE: President Biden Selects 2021 Presidential Rank Award Winners (opm.gov)

MDA’s mission is to develop and deploy a layered Missile Defense System to defend the U.S., its deployed forces, allies, and friends from missile attacks of all ranges in all phases of flight.