OSU to honor grad who helped bolster national security


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University will present its Distinguished Service Award this June to Robert Fossum, a 1969 Ph.D. graduate whose work in private industry and for the Department of Defense were crucial to the development of improved national security for the United States.

Fossum will be honored at OSU’s 2011 commencement ceremony, which begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 11, in Reser Stadium.

After serving in both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, Fossum used his experience in radar and communications to launch his career as a research scientist with GTE/Sylvania in California, where he worked for future Under Secretary of Defense William Perry. Much of their work there remains classified, but Fossum was credited for helping to develop national satellite-based reconnaissance systems for monitoring enemy aircraft still in use today.

Perry later appointed Fossum, who earned his doctorate in statistics at OSU, to serve as director of the Advanced Research Agency Projects, or ARPA, and directed him to test the merits of a bold new project to make aircraft immune to attack by radar-guided and infrared-guided missiles.

Wrote Perry in a letter in support of Fossum’s nomination: “Within six months, the project team had a successful flight test of a prototype aircraft, which served as convincing proof of principal.” Within four years, this new stealth technology led to the emergence of the F-117 fighter-bomber, which Perry credits in part to Fossum’s leadership.

As director of ARPA, Fossum also oversaw some of the greatest growth and technological advancement for national security in the nation’s history. Under his leadership, the agency developed airborne ground-moving vehicle tracking radar, powerful chemical lasers, stealth technologies with applications for ships, aircraft and missiles, and even internetting protocols, which served as the foundations for the present-day Internet and Web.

After leaving ARPA, Fossum joined the faculty at Southern Methodist University, where he was professor of electrical engineering and dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science until his retirement in 1998.

“It is difficult to detail Bob Fossum’s contributions to national security because they are both complex and classified,” said Daniel Schafer, who chairs OSU’s Department of Statistics. “But his legacy is enormous. He was making contributions as early as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and later was credited with developing the Canyon Intercept System for intercepting foreign radio signals from a satellite.

“His later work with stealth aircraft and signal processing systems completed a remarkable portfolio of work that truly advanced national security for the United States,” Schafer added.

This will be OSU’s 142nd annual commencement ceremony. The scheduled speaker is Jon DeVaan, a 1985 OSU graduate who is senior vice president of the Windows development division for Microsoft.