What can collaboration do? Imagine this: an unmanned air vehicle drops a box into a war zone. Controlled through radio communications relay from the unmanned aircraft flying more than a mile above, the bomb disposal robot inside the box emerges, clears the field of explosive devices, packs itself back up, and is retrieved again by the unmanned aircraft – all while their human pilots and operators work miles away.
This scenario is fast becoming reality, as demonstrated by a successful test in November last year by partners from Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (IHEODTD), and the University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft System Test Site.
This achievement, described by Ashley Johnson, technical director for NSWC IHEODTD at a March 13 briefing hosted by The Patuxent Partnership, is just one recent example of technological advances made possible through an increase of collaborative efforts and partnerships by the Navy.
The briefing, titled “Collaboration and Strengthening Partnerships: Pax River, Indian Head, Dahlgren,” featured civilian leaders from NSWC IHEODTD, NAWCAD, and NSWC Dahlgren Division, and drew nearly 100 attendees to the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center.
The region’s U.S. Navy installations are major economic engines in Maryland and Virginia, as they employ thousands of people, draw private businesses, and fuel workforce development. Increasingly, Southern Maryland is seeking to leverage the Navy’s intellectual capital to drive economic growth in the private sector as well.
All three installations have ongoing collaborative efforts to reach into the private and academic sectors and develop partnerships that enable advanced research and development and make more efficient use of the Navy’s existing capabilities and facilities.
“Collaboration is imperative; we can’t do our jobs anymore in a stovepiped fashion,” said Ms. Leslie Taylor, who serves as executive director for NAWCAD and deputy assistant commander for test and evaluation for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).
Located across sites at Patuxent River, Maryland; Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Orlando, Florida, NAWCAD boasts more than 300 labs, including the Atlantic Test Ranges at NAS Patuxent River, which is the busiest flight test center in the world, according to Ms. Taylor. As such, NAWCAD has built a robust network of partnerships to increase collaboration with industry and academia.
NSWC Dahlgren also boasts critical Navy range capabilities, having evolved over the last century from a naval proving ground to a center of research and development, computational science and systems engineering that provides testing, certification and integration of complex naval warfare systems.
Dale Sisson, deputy technical director for NSWC Dahlgren Division, said Dahlgren continues to grow as a “naval research and development establishment,” for which partnerships are a key element.
Dahlgren was “shaped from [being] a test range to [developing] today’s combat systems [involving] energetics down range, and autonomy,” he said. “Even automating decision making,” in circumstances – such as active combat – where human decision making may not be fast enough.
Mr. Sisson remarked that NSWC Dahlgren had recently joined the Range Commander’s Council (RCC), as testament to the need for sharing and interoperability among test and training ranges nationwide to support evolving military technology. RCC members include U.S. Army, Air Force, and Navy installations, and NASA; NAS Patuxent River is an RCC member.
Various technology transfer initiatives at NAWCAD, NSWC IHEODTD, and NSWC Dahlgren look to collaboratively develop joint-use technologies with academic and industry partners and commercialize Navy intellectual property by collaborating with partners interested in the unique expertise and facilities at each site. The benefits of these innovative and entrepreneurial efforts are often reciprocal.
“A lot of what we do we aren’t interested in transferring,” Johnson said, referring to the security implications of the energetics work conducted at NSWC IHEODTD, which includes propellants, explosives, fuels, pyrotechnics, reactive materials, warheads, rocket motors, and munitions. However, much of the work can transfer and has proven useful in the private sector. Propellants developed at IHEODTD have led to safer and more reliable vehicle airbag deployment, for example.
“We have things that can transfer to private industry,” Mr. Johnson continued. “It is possible and we’re willing to do it.”
“By partnering with us,can use what the Navy already has,” he added. NSWC IHEODTD is a designated Center for Industrial and Technical Excellence, a statutory authority which allows private organizations to work with the government. This partnership allows organizations to take advantage of Navy capabilities, and helps the Navy manage under-used capacity.
Among the major challenges faced by each organization, all three speakers noted that workforce retention remains a top priority.
“Attracting folks to what we do is easy, but after two to three years, they start to leave,” Mr. Johnson said, which makes it “difficult to build a strong core of knowledgeable individuals.”
Educational partnerships have become an important piece of workforce retention strategy. These partnerships provide research and work opportunities that enable students to become personally invested in the Navy mission early on.
“If we can bring [student hires] in as freshman and sophomores and give them meaningful work, by the time they graduate they’re not looking [for jobs] anywhere else,” Mr. Sisson added.
NSWC IHEODTD, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and The Patuxent Partnership signed a new educational partnership agreement into effect at the St. Mary’s College of Maryland campus on March 23.
– Mr. Ashley Johnson, technical director for Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head EOD Technology Division;
– Mr. Dale Sisson, deputy technical director for Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division; and
– Ms. Leslie Taylor, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division executive director and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) deputy assistant commander for Test & Evaluation at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.