In the Navy, Research Sails Forward
By Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.
Last month's President's Perspective highlighted the importance of defense science and technology, and the challenges in funding basic research. This month we continue that theme by spotlighting the Office of Naval Research.
NDIA recently conducted a conference focused on naval research. The legendary Vice Adm. Harold Bowen was very much on the minds of Navy officials and civilian scientists who celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Office of Naval Research at the NDIA conference.
Bowen, who was virtually a one-man force behind the creation of the Office of Naval Research, is most certainly a source of inspiration today, as we ponder the future of the nation’s military and its historic role in fostering science and technology.
Bowen was well known for his scrappy perseverance and fearlessness. As the first chief of naval research, he browbeat the Navy into adopting new high-pressure, high-temperature steam turbines, which proved invaluable for World War II ships. He also was a persuasive force behind the Navy's development of radar.
Shortly after the war ended, Bowen's wish of starting a Navy agency fully dedicated to the pursuit of science and technology came true. ONR was authorized by an Act of Congress, and subsequently approved by President Harry Truman on August 1, 1946, with the stated mission of "planning, fostering, and encouraging scientific research in recognition of its paramount importance as related to the maintenance of future naval power and the preservation of national security." Its initial operating budget was roughly $22 million.
ONR has grown substantially over the years. It is now based in Arlington, Va., and oversees $1.5 billion a year in research and development programs. It runs the Naval Research Lab, the ONR Global Fleet Forces Division, the Naval Science and Technology Program and the Commercial Technology Transition Office.
Just last month, ONR was the focus of the aforementioned three-day conference and exhibition NDIA organized, called "The Navy After Next ... Powered by Naval Research."
Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. William Landay took the opportunity to highlight the important work currently under way at ONR, and the desire by the organization to continue to forge partnerships with industry and academia, which increasingly have become the source of much innovation and technology breakthroughs.
Like the other military services, the Navy is undergoing a transformation in its war-fighting concepts, tactics and strategy. For the Navy, this means turning more attention to littoral areas and preparing to conduct a broad array of unconventional anti-terrorism operations, and engage in irregular warfare in hotspots around the world.
To reflect the ongoing shifts in naval strategy, ONR is adjusting its investment portfolio.
Its "expeditionary warfare and combating terrorism" division is expected to expand its activities, particularly in asymmetric warfare research, expeditionary maneuver warfare and counter-terrorism.
ONR's "sea warfare and weapons" division focuses on ship systems and engineering research, undersea weapons and naval materials, and sea warfare applications.
Another topic of interest is "war-fighter performance." To this end, ONR is conducting several projects involving life-sciences research, simulation and modeling.
Other areas where ONR will continue to invest resources include air warfare and aerospace science; command, control communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR); mathematics, computers, and information research; electronics, sensors and networks; ocean battle space sensing; atmosphere and space research.
In the future, ONR intends to place increasing emphasis on "energy and power." While current efforts remain notional, scientists and researchers at ONR predict this area will move up the priority ladder as the Defense Department and the services seek alternative energy sources and ways to cut back on fuel costs.
A panel of experts at the conference provided a most enlightening overview of future energy solutions. They talked about fuel cells, solar energy, biodiesels, waste-to-energy conversion, laser fusion, ocean renewable energy and nanotechnologies. Of note were presentations on the concept of solar power from satellites and low-energy nuclear reactions.
The discussion on energy and power technologies not only was stimulating but also offered most valuable information for many of us who are beginning to learn about alternative energy sources and about what it will take to diminish the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Recognizing the relevance of energy in the future of military operations, NDIA is becoming increasingly involved in this area, and recently created an Energy Security Committee that will work with the Defense Department and military services on a number of projects. Initial programs from that committee will be featured at the upcoming Joint Services Environmental Management (JSEM) symposium, in May 2007 in Columbus, Ohio.
From the exchanges and presentations heard at the Office of Naval Research conference, it is safe to predict that we will be talking about this topic for years to come.
Please e-mail your comments to LFarrell@ndia.org