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By Taft Coghill, Jr., NSWCDD Corporate Communications
Moments before live-fire testing during the Dahlgren Proving Ground (DPG) 2023 Advanced Capability Demonstration Event at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Oct. 31, Expeditionary Systems Integration Division Lead Engineer Michael Darnell asked more than 100 distinguished guests a question.
“Are you ready for a show?” Darnell exclaimed.
The performance didn’t disappoint as guests clapped enthusiastically following the successful demonstration, which was viewed in real time on multiple screens in NSWCDD’s Innovation Lab (iLab).
Live-fire testing occurred near the end of a daylong tour that included a DPG overview at University of Mary Washington (UMW) Dahlgren Campus as well as trips to the Potomac River Test Range, Directed Energy Systems facility and the iLab.
NSWCDD Technical Director Dale Sisson Jr., SES, provided the welcome address at UMW to kick off festivities.
“What I want to emphasize is the work that’s occurred to get to this point,” Sisson said. “You’re going to see the culmination of three to four months of pushing our combined teams through a very stressing environment. It’s how we prepare for warfighting – by rapidly producing products that our warfighters can use. You’re going to see that today on the Dahlgren Proving Ground.”
As Sisson mentioned, the event wasn’t solely about efforts of the NSWCDD workforce.
It highlighted a connection between NSWCDD and academic partners Carnegie Mellon University and Virginia Tech, both of which played a key role in the live-fire testing event.
“This has been an outstanding collaboration,” said Dr. Mahadev Satyanarayanan, a professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. “We came with a lot of knowledge of edge computing and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, but we had almost no military knowledge or military-specific operational background. The Dahlgren team helped us gain a much deeper appreciation for these issues and the challenges of applying our research to these types of tactical environments.”
Dr. Justin Krometis, a research assistant professor in the Intelligent Systems Division of the Virginia Tech National Security Institute (NSI), had a similar experience as Satyanarayanan.
Krometis followed Satyanarayanan with a DPG scenario overview. He noted that three Virginia Tech interns participated in the collaboration project with NSWCDD, including Virginia Tech sophomore Mason Zoellner whose work was showcased at the DPG event.
“I really enjoyed it,” Krometis said. “It was an opportunity to work on a problem of relevance to the Navy, train students and get them some really good experience working on an applied problem.”
Dr. Justin Kauffman, also a research assistant professor in the Intelligent Systems Division of the NSI, echoed Krometis’ comments that having students exposed to actual problems and seeing Zoellner witness the fruits of his labor is “huge” for the growth of future engineers and scientists.
“I didn’t have an opportunity like this as an undergrad,” Kauffman said. “So already getting that experience, especially as a sophomore, [Zoellner] has an increased understanding of what his computer science and engineering background is going to do for him in the future. He’s already talking about internships next summer with the Air Force, Navy or other Department of Defense-relevant opportunities, just based off of the work he’s done here in the past few months.”
There were several other highlights throughout the day, which were made possible by NSWCDD Information Technology (IT) Lead Darren Daniels who helped provide the necessary IT infrastructure and connectivity. Daniels also helped coordinate the multitude of displays in the iLab and streamed infrastructure to facilitate video across the base and over the network.
NSWCDD Test and Evaluation Division Head Daniel Ross and Warfare Analysis and Digital Modeling Department Deputy Department Head Melissa Smith provided a year in review, DPG strategy and an overview of the DPG scenarios. Smith’s discussion focused on live, virtual and constructive capabilities.
After a tour of the Potomac River Test Range, Theresa Gennaro, the Prototyping and Integration Director at the High Energy Laser Weapon Systems Division at NSWCDD, conducted a tour of the Directed Energy Systems facility, including breakdowns of the Optical Dazzler Interdictor and the Laser Weapon System.
The day concluded with a demonstration that was preceded by DPG scenario overviews from NSWCDD Integrated Weapons System Test Manager Ed Baker, High Energy Laser Weapons Systems Division head Ben Tritt and Tim Van Drew, chief engineer in the Enterprise Test & Evaluation and Lab Engineering Division.
“There was much to cover today, but lots of good information,” Ross said. “We learned a great deal about the systems that we’re putting into use.”