Khanh D. Pham

Vietnamese-American aerospace engineer

Khanh D. Pham (born in Vietnam) is an aerospace engineer and the first Vietnamese American in the 73-year history of outstanding men and women in the Federal Government to be the recipient of the Arthur S. Flemming award[1][2] [3] [4] for pioneering contributions in statistical optimal control theory, sustained leadership and strategic vision in game-theoretic operations research of military satellite communications, space control autonomy, and space domain awareness. Exceptional services to innovation ecosystem and coalition of government agencies, small business and industry. He is a Fellow of the Air Force Research Laboratory[5] and the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers. He is also an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a senior member of National Academy of Inventors, and senior member of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Khanh Dai Pham
EducationBSEE, magna cum laude, University of Nebraska (1997)
MSEE, University of Nebraska (1998)
PhD, University of Notre Dame (2004)
Alma materThe University of Nebraska and The University of Notre Dame
OccupationSenior Aerospace Engineer
EmployerAir Force Research Laboratory
Known forOptimal Statistical Control Theory, Game-theoretic Operations Research for Space Domain Awareness, Space Control Autonomy, Protected Satellite Communications, Cognitive Satellite Radios,
Notable work21 US patents



Dr. Pham is presently a senior aerospace engineer at Air Force Research Laboratory/Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV). He is AFRL/RV’s principal point of contact for game-theoretic operations research with potential space domain awareness, space control autonomy, military satellite communications and resilient satellite navigation applications. He has been an adjunct research professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of New Mexico in stochastic control and satellite communications. He has been stimulating small business innovation, meeting the Air Force and DoD R&D needs, broadening participation in innovation and entrepreneurship, and boosting commercialization derived from Air Force and DoD R&D. Dr. Pham’s research, published in more than 300 books, journal articles and conference proceedings, includes work in the areas of space domain awareness, space control, cognitive satellite radios, and satellite navigation for control, linear and nonlinear estimation, dynamic resource allocation, and game-theoretic operations research.

Early Life and Education


Dr. Pham was born in Saigon, Vietnam, to a historian (Pham Van Son[6]) and country poet (Bang Ba Lan) family. His parents served in the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government during the Vietnam War and became prisoners of war from 1975 to 1982. Under the Special Release Re-education Center Detainee Resettlement Program[permanent dead link] (a.k.a. Humanitarian Operation),[7] he and his family and came to the U.S. in the early 1990s. At the time, he was a second-year college student in electrical engineering at Ho Chi Minh University of Technology and Education[permanent dead link] in Vietnam, who barely spoke English. Dr. Pham worked hard to learn his new country’s language and though an older student, attended high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, graduating three years after arriving in the U.S. While in high school, he worked as a custodian for two hours before school started and in the evenings, he attended the Southeast Community College where he earned a degree of Associate of Applied Science with highest honors in electronic systems technology.

In the late 1990s, Dr. Pham went on to earn bachelor (magna cum laude) and master’s science degrees in electrical engineering from University of Nebraska, and in 2004 he received a Doctor of Philosophy in Electrical Engineering from University of Notre Dame under the support of 4-year Arthur Schmidt Presidential Fellowship - making breakthroughs for fundamental understanding of performance uncertainty quantification and management in stochastic dynamical systems.



Dr. Pham began his career at the Air Force Research Laboratory in 2004 as an aerospace engineer after graduating and conducting a 1-year research associate position at University of Notre Dame. He spent the next few years in diverse positions; e.g., in-house researcher, technical lead, project manager, contracting officer technical representative, and government lab advisor across Advanced Spacecraft Mechanisms, Dynamics & Control and Decision Support Systems programs within the Advanced Spacecraft Components Technology branch, honing his technical expertise and subject matter expert in control, estimation, multi-asset autonomy, and multi-level data sensor fusion. He brought systems-theoretic science and control engineering principles, together with teamwork and interdisciplinary to bear fruition in solving warfighter engineering problems, various areas of specific focus for increased activities in space control autonomy and space domain awareness.

He contributed to the analysis capability on satellite defense control. The Air Force Materiel Command Commander (General Bruce Carlson)[8] recognized Dr. Pham with the Air Force Outstanding Scientist – Junior Civilian Award.[9] His efforts have revolutionized space command & control autonomy for implementation into satellite pursuit-evasion methods as an Air & Space Force. For these research achievements, he received the prestigious Air Force Civilian Achievement Medal.

He was selected by the DoD as the DoD Laboratory Scientist of the Quarter, 3rd Quarter 2019,[10][11] acknowledging his work begun 5 years ago in some core focus research areas of autonomous radio sensing, precision multi-user access, and agile radio resource management. The result has been delivering innovation and new technology to industry and Air Force programs by finding ways for new space communication technologies to withstand contested radio environments.

Much of his recent work has been filling the gap, in which a hierarchical feedback framework to design and synthesize a class of hybrid ground and space precoders for multi-gateway multi-beam Satcom is currently missing. As the number of spot beams increases, the spectral resources associated with the feeder links of the gateways are required to increase proportionally. The present investigation explores a potential solution for on-board beam precoding, which is expected to lead to a significant reduction in the requirement of feeder link bandwidth. Relative to the interest of minimizing inter-gateway communication overheads, the advantage of uncooperative gateways is sought in the development of on-ground multi-gateway precoding. This research also has significant impacts to the Air Force missions and DoD. Unlocking commercial and allied access to keep up with demand increases for higher throughput and information superiority has been a major barrier to future US Space Force operations.

Government Services for Academia and R&D Community at Large


The most reward has been his government service for academies and the Research and Development community at large. The government service at AFRL has allowed Dr. Pham to meet and connect with many outstanding students and faculty across US, while at the same time allowing him to communicate, influence, and collaborate with many entrepreneurs. It gives him many opportunities to gain experience in leading diverse teams of technical professionals across multiple theaters that include forethoughts, cultural differences and multidisciplinary teamwork that have enhanced his “global view” of the US Air Force. Working for AFRL has allowed him to go after opportunities to lead, plan, drive strategy, and move from an engineer, to a scientist, and eventual leadership role. Because of work performance, leadership, contributions to society and potential for continued excellence, as Dr. Pham looks back now he thinks he has come to understand what it really means for “Vietnamese by birth, American by circumstance, Asian-American by choice.”

Dr. Pham has continued serving as a research adviser for the National Academies’ Associate Research Programs. From there, after initiating various DoD relevant research topics for the Air Force Summer Faculty Fellowship[12] for American Society of Engineering Education, he moved to being Panelists for Evaluation Committee on National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate Fellowship and Young Investigator Research Program of Air Force Office of Scientific Research, then to being an adjunct research professor[13] for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of New Mexico. In these roles, he has advised and mentored numerous summer graduate students and faculty, mostly Asian American professors and students. He actively encourage students to apply for the National Science Foundation and DoD National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate Fellowship programs. As the recipient of the 2018 and 2019 Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers Scientist/Engineer of the Year and Professional Achievements Awards,[14][15][16] he has not only demonstrated technical leadership to make innovation happen, but also has led by example and supported the Asian American Pacific Islander community with a path forward where most see obstacles.

The most satisfaction Dr. Pham has day-to-day is knowing he is able to serve, represent, and motivate a cadre of 100 plus high tech small businesses and entrepreneurs that represents the growth and development of so many future leaders and engineers by means of America’s Seed Fund. His technical outreach has impacted multi-million dollars of DoD’s science and technology investments, managed more than 100 research contracts, and interacted with more 70 companies. That is why the 4th Annual Champion of Small Business and Technology Commercialization Award[17] Dr. Pham received in 2018 from Small Business Technology Council[18] meant so much to him and why he continues helping small high tech businesses contribute at higher levels.

Dr. Pham has been a leading advocate for the development of game-theoretic operations research in the fields of military science, technology, and engineering in space domain awareness, space control autonomy, and protected satellite communications since 2004. He has organized and chaired 11 major conferences on sensors and systems for space applications.[19] He was a distinguished guest lecturer at 26th International Conference on Telecommunications,[20] Hanoi, Vietnam, April 2019 and IEEE Military Communication Conference,[21] Norfolk, November 2019. He speaks at numerous conferences (American Control Conference, IEEE Aerospace Conference, IEEE MILCOM, etc.), invited talks and tutorials at American universities. Dr. Pham currently serves as Technical Editor of IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems for Intelligent Systems[22] [23] and Guest Editor for IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems Special Section on Industrial Information Integration in Space Applications.[24]

Professional Achievements and Awards


In 2017 & 2018, Dr. Pham made appearances and was interviewed for his outstanding achievements on “Voice of America”, “The Pride of the Vietnamese” - the largest U.S. international broadcasters celebrating Vietnamese Heritage around the world and the Asian American Engineers of the Year.[25]

  • Accumulated 21 US Patents
  • Asian American Engineers of the Year Award, 2021
  • Innovation Award, 2020
  • Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (Professional Achievement), 2019
  • Arthur Flemming Award in Basic Science, 2018
  • DoD Lab Scientist of the Quarter Award, 2019
  • Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers of the Year (Government), 2018
  • Small Business and Technology Council 2018 Champion of Small Business Technology Commercialization Award, 2018
  • Air Force Civilian Achievement Medal, Department of Air Force, 2009
  • Air Force Outstanding Engineer of the Year, Department of Air Force, 2008


  1. "Arthur S. Flemming Award Recognizes Public Servants". Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  2. Dailey, Jeanne. "AFRL Engineer Receives High Honor". Kirtland Air Force Base. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  3. "Nhà khoa học gốc Việt được trao giải thưởng cao quý". VOA. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  4. Leslie, Lestinsky. "NDEE Champions: Alumnus Khanh Pham". The Wire. Archived from the original on 9 July 2021. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  5. Dailey, Jeanne. "2020 AFRL Fellow motivates future innovators". Kirtland Air Force Base. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  6. "Pham Van Son". Wikipedia Vietnamese. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  7. "Joint U.S. - Vietnamese Announcement of Humanitarian Resettlement Program". US Department of State. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  8. "GENERAL BRUCE CARLSON". US Air Force. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  9. Blalock, Eva. "Lab scientist wins Air Force Outstanding Scientist Award". Kirtland Air Force Base. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  10. Ortiz, Santana (2020-03-10). "AFRL scientist named DoD Scientist of the Quarter" (PDF). Air Force Press Release. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  11. "AFRL honoree specifies T2 as future focus". FLC News. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  12. "U.S. Air Force Research Lab Summer Faculty Fellowship Program". Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  13. "Khanh Pham - Adjunct Research Professor". UNM Electrical and Computer Engineering. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  14. Dailey, Jeanne. "Inspiring journey leads Dr. Pham to accolades". Kirtland Air Force Base. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  15. Lindner, Donna. "SASE honors AFRL researchers with annual awards". WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  16. Ortiz, Santana. "Diversity Oriented Organization Recognizes AFRL Scientist". Kirtland Air Force Base. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  17. "June-12-Meeting-Agenda-Winners.pdf" (PDF). Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  18. "Small Business Technology Council". Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  19. "Sensors and Systems for Space Applications XV". SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  20. "26th International Conference on Telecommunications". Archived from the original on 9 July 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  21. "Military Communications for 21st Century". MILCOM. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  22. "Transactions on AES". IEEE. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  23. "Technical Areas and Editors". Archived from the original on 9 July 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  24. "IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems (T-AES) Special Section on Industrial Information Integration in Space Applications" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 June 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  25. Pham, Khanh. "Asian American Engineer of the Year 2021" (PDF). AAEOY. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 July 2021. Retrieved 5 July 2021.