By Dr. Marcus Tepaske
U.S. Fleet Forces Science Advisor
I’m aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) in a region of the world that isn’t a popular vacation destination for many Americans. The Sailors of the GHWB Strike Group, however, are here willingly, ready to put themselves in harm’s way to do their part to defend our way of life and uphold freedom around the globe.
I’m the U.S. Fleet Forces science advisor, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research Global. My fellow science advisors and I are the chief of naval research’s liaisons to the fleet. We work side by side with Sailors and Marines to identify operational deficiencies that science and technology can address. Then we develop and mature solutions, and get new gear into the hands of those who would use the technology, a process that sometimes requires that we go into the field or get underway.
Which brings me to why I’m steaming off the coast of a foreign land on 104,772 tons of American diplomacy: after the scientists, engineers and program managers have conducted their research and developed new capabilities, one of the final steps of science and technology development is to demonstrate and assess those new capabilities in an operational environment – and what better environment than aboard an aircraft carrier operating at sea?
One of the systems I’m evaluating is a 360-degree Electro-Optic and Infra Red situational awareness system that combines multiple camera systems and other advanced sensors to give maximum coverage around the ship, as well as the ability to see surface contacts beyond the horizon. The current version of this system represents more than 10 years of investment from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and its international branch, Office of Naval Research Global, as well as multiple operational assessments along the way, in order to mature the right system for the warfighter. Not only does the recent installation seek to provide a unique capability to the ship, it is also perfectly timed to provide input into the Navy’s capability-based assessments, which will shape future advances.
Implementation of this system has highlighted some of the challenges we face in our efforts to bring new technologies from the laboratory to the theater. While the capability is often great, we cannot fully understand our opportunities and constraints until systems are installed. That’s where the science advisors come in: to help evaluate a new technology – when Sailors are underway and operating – as well as to determine the challenges of deploying a system within the operating parameters of the ship, and to review methods of disseminating and sharing data.
Testing real-world applications of naval technologies at early stages of their development allows us to shorten the timelines for getting solutions to the fleet. In some cases, we might “fail fast,” which allows ONR to quickly recognize those areas that are no longer worth investing in and to adjust resources accordingly. With this approach, we can leverage the best concepts, techniques and technologies to accelerate our learning as individuals, teams and organizations.
While I’m conducting these assessments, I’m also getting an education from the Sailors on board. Learning firsthand about numerous shipboard systems, from flight ops to laundry services, greatly contributes to my ability to develop and advocate for new technologies for the fleet.
I’ve had the opportunity to engage with Sailors from petty officers to captains to hear what they have to say and to educate them about what ONR and ONR Global do, how we do it, and how it relates to the overall mission of the Navy. ONR puts tremendous value on fleet engagement, which is why it funds the science advisor program, putting someone at every Navy component command, TYCOM and warfare development center.
From large programs, like the electromagnetic rail gun, to smaller programs, like TechSolutions –which develops prototypes in response to Sailor submissions, ONR continually strives to make sure our warfighters will never be in a fair fight.