By Capt. Mark Bruington
Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
When you think about an aircraft carrier, you probably think first of the fighter jets taking off from the flight deck. And that’s me; I joined the U.S. Navy to fly.
But I quickly learned there’s another 4,000 people on that ship to support the squadrons and operations, not to mention the fleet surrounding her; and that’s just what you can see. Then there’s the combatant command; the intelligence network; the scientists and engineers who—somewhere along the way—invented every single thing you see, and a lot of things you don’t. So much of the technology I used when I was flying, I found out when I took command here, came from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).
I’m enthusiastic about bringing NRL to the Pentagon’s first ever DoD Lab Day on May 14, 2015. Researchers from NRL and 60 other labs are eager to show their innovations and connect with military and civilian personnel—who oftentimes bring a new and creative perspective.
It’s at these kinds of interfaces, where someone says, “Well did you think about this?” Or, “When I was in Iraq, it would have been really nice to have…” Next thing you know, someone’s drawing something on the back of a napkin.
Today’s force was tested in the crucible of Iraq and Afghanistan, grievously molded by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). NRL and others are trying to understand how shock waves interact with helmets, so we can do better at stopping brain injuries. We’ll bring some of the helmets we’re looking at to DoD Lab Day.
That kind of problem-solving is one kind of innovation. But it’s built on the basic research that takes years of looking at the vibration rates of molecules, sitting at the bench with pipettes, running simulations night after night.
Today’s force also has unprecedented access to information technologies and unmanned platforms. The ship’s captain needs to know what’s over his horizon—be it a dangerous weather system or a force of bad guys—and then, if needed, dominate that environment with a spectrum of weapons systems and electronic warfare capabilities. NRL will show two unmanned platforms at DoD Lab Day: Vantage and an autonomous glider called CICADA. We’ll also show WindSat, one of many satellites NRL’s put in orbit over the last half century.
Scientists and engineers come to NRL because they know they’ll find the resources and the freedom to go after what sparks them. But the other side of the coin is that we connect our passions to what the warfighters need. To innovate, you need to do two things: you need to have something nov-, novel; but you also need to in-, introduce it—so there has to be a purpose.
By investing in research across many different areas—be it unmanned systems, human performance, space, alternative energy, or weapons systems—our nation will have the depth and breadth to draw from to answer today’s problems and to build up our ever-evolving Force of the Future, ready to operate in any environment and out-fight any adversary.