Emerging Surface Technology Could “Transform the Way We Fight”

Contributor:  Christopher Dauer
Posted:  03/01/2012  12:00:00 AM EST
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A Conversation with Captain Jon Greene, Director, National Security and Program Development, Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences

 IDGA:  Could you tell us about your background and your current role at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences?

JG:  I am a naval officer by trade and by training.  I served 28-1/2 years in the Navy primarily as a surface nuclear warfare officer and I spent the first 23 years at sea—on two cruisers, two frigates and two carriers. Then, as the navy is to prone to do, I made a right turn and ended up involved in the combat systems world and I became the N6 at Commander Naval Surface Forces Atlantic, where I was in charge of combat systems and C4I systems on about a hundred surface ships. From there I took a job as Commanding Officer of Combat Direction System Activity, Dam Neck, which is a small research and development facility located in Virginia Beach.  I left Dam Neck about 2-1/2 years ago and came to Virginia Tech.

My job here is first and foremost to grow an existing relationship that we have with Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren, and also to develop other opportunities with the Department of Defense and with other national security entities in the government.  So I provide a single point of contact for all research customers dealing with DoD.   I help our faculty members by helping them identify research opportunities, developing a portfolio of contract vehicles that we can use to exploit these opportunities when they exist, and for the more complex projects we provide project and program management.

IDGA:  Could you speak to the strategic partnership with the Naval Surface Warfare Center?


JG:  Certainly.  Virginia Tech and Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren have an ongoing and long-standing relationship that goes back over 40 years; as late as the 1990s the Virginia Tech corporate aircraft, the Hokie Bird, would leave Blacksburg on Tuesday mornings and fly up to Dahlgren with a plane load of faculty members that would deplane and teach classes during the course of the week and also develop collaborative research opportunities.

Unfortunately, the money for that sort of program dried up in the mid 90s, and about 2007 there was a decision made by the leadership of Virginia Tech and Naval Service Warfare Center Dahlgren that they really want to rekindle that relationship; so they developed this small group that I am leading.  It’s really the single point of contact and the soup-to-nuts solution for providing Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren what they need with the University.  So my relationship with that group up there is that they are my customer, they are my partner on some collaborative research opportunities, I am their assistant recruiter, I help them to identify students that are well suited to Dahlgren’s need and to connect them with them, and lastly, educator.  I help them to connect with faculty members that can provide short courses or to go up to Dahlgren and to provide training opportunities up there.  Additionally, I would point out that that relationship works both ways because we certainly try to recruit Dahlgren employees as students for Virginia Tech for our graduate level programs and we try to pull Dahlgren engineers and scientist down to Blacksburg into the classroom to provide real world expertise in to the classroom to enrich the educational experience for Virginia Tech students.

IDGA:  One of the things that the Naval Surface Warfare Center is looking for is the development of technology regarding surface warfighting capabilities; can you speak to how improvements in technology can improve these capabilities?

JG:  Certainly.  The nature of research at the University is that we tend to be looking relatively far out. We are looking at the Navy after next, so the areas I really focus on are research initiatives, things like autonomy and robotics, a concept called “data to decision,”  cyber-security, wireless networking and wireless distributed computing, advanced weapons systems, such as rail gun and energy needs. But there is also a great deal that University faculty can do for the warfighter in a more short term manner and these are the needs of today, and so we have a couple of projects that we are working on right now to take existing weapon systems and provide minor improvements.  For example, we are looking at sound monitoring equipment for a particular radar system that would allow us to better predict when that radar system array was in need of repair.  So we have faculty members and students that can really contribute to solving the really difficult problems that the surface warfighter faces.

IDGA:  What are the challenges to balance research and development for the short-term and long-term?

JG:  Well, the way University works is that faculty members have a tremendous amount of autonomy once they achieve tenure. I would not say that they are unaccountable, but they are giving great latitude in what they do and what research they choose.  So some researchers will choose to focus entirely on basic research and for those folks, they probably are not going to be interested and frankly they are not the sort of researchers that you really want working on these short-term problems. But there are other researchers that are always looking for opportunities to provide their students with real world challenges to resolve, so there is a good balance—and I think that there are some faculty members that like to have a foot in both camps, and so one of my jobs is to try and determine when there is a good fit, and frankly one of my jobs is when I have a customer that ask me for something, there are some cases when I have to come back to them and say, “well, we could probably try to do something, but it is probably not in your best interest and maybe you have to look elsewhere.”

IDGA:  Could you give us an example when something like that might happen?

JG:  For example, I had a request about two years ago from a government entity that said, “Hey, we’ve got some problems with some carbon steel corrosion, you have a chemist that can help us with this.”  And so I went and spent some time looking through the materials department and the chemistry department and found that we really did not have someone that was ready to address the mechanisms for carbon steel corrosion, and so I ended up referring them in that case to a faculty member that I learned about from our faculty member up at the University of Virginia.

IDGA:  So you are balancing a lot of different things: the researchers who are looking for more long-term developmental research, those who are better suited to developing immediate-term applications of whatever that research is, and also just collectively, are you best suited in that environment or somewhere else in order to address whatever their needs are of your “customers.”

JG:  Yes, absolutely.  It is a fascinating job. If you cut me I still bleed Navy blue and gold, so I view it as a matter of fate that I have to be ready to tell customers that, “hey, I really cannot help you in this case,” but I also view it as my responsibility to try and point them in the right direction, so that they have an opportunity to connect with faculty members at another University or maybe in another research institution, and are able to solve their problems.

IDGA:  Is it a consistent process in terms of new technology and applications being developed, or are there periods where you see significant changes in surface warfighting technology?

JG:  I have been here for 2-1/2 years, so there’s a limit to my observation, although I did have some time at Dam Neck in the research and development environment. I would say that my perspective is that there are occasional leaps forward in technology, and the responsibility of the navy leadership to recognize this leaps forward and to exploit them.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Going back to the creation of guided missile systems and the radar systems that control them, and the navy tactical data links that allow them to be controlled effectively amongst a variety of warfighters, ships, planes, and ground components, there was an example of where technology took a huge leap forward.

You could make the same remark about the Aegis Weapon System and the development of the phased array radar that provided unprecedented ability to see what was out there flying and computer systems that provided the ability to control the weapons in a manner that was quite simply unbelievable just a few years before.

I would say that we are in the midst of another revolution.  If we are going to talk about the A2AD problem, you see a series of technologies that are on the cusp of really providing the ability to provide visibility in much greater detail than we ever had before, and those technologies would be things like unmanned vehicles and distributed sensors, the self- forming and self- handling wireless distributed networks and wireless distributed computing.  So those two technologies have the ability to provide a huge amount of information to the warfighter in a short period of time.

Frankly, too much information!  So now we have the problem of how do you take that information and lay it out in a meaningful way, and so the first step in that is dealing with all that data.  You will hear a number of different turns for this “data mining,” you will hear about “big data,” and you will hear about “discovery analytics,” those are all terms that have to do with taking huge amounts of data and crunching them down to digestible and important pieces of information to be presented, and so the last piece is how do you present those pieces of information to the warfighter in a manner that can provide the opportunity to make intelligent decisions in a rapid period of time?  And therefore display and computer interaction capabilities is the last piece of it that. With these technologies that are all ready, or nearly ready for prime time, I think we have the potential to really once again transform the way we operate at sea and the way we fight.

Captain Jon Greene is the Director, National Security and Program Development, at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences.  He will be speaking at IDGA’s Surface Warfare Summit, to be held from April 23-25, 2012 in Norfolk, Vir.  For information on the event, visit www.surfacewarfaresummit.com, or call 1-800-882-8684.

Christopher Dauer Contributor:   Christopher Dauer

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