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Investments in NSWC Crane’s Innovation Ecosystem led to Midwest Tech Bridge

By Sarah K. Miller, NSWC Crane Corporate Communications | Feb. 26, 2020

CRANE, Ind. – Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) intentionally created an Innovation Ecosystem through collaborative partnerships that accelerate the development and transition of technology to warfighters. That ecosystem is comprised of well over 200 different organizations.

These partnerships with academia, industry, public-private entities and entrepreneurs have not only resulted in delivery of innovative technology to warfighters, but have also significantly impacted the regional economy.

Through leveraging diverse workforce expertise, state-of-the-art laboratories and high-tech equipment, the collective Innovation Ecosystem is able to provide agile, robust capability to warfighters to better equip them with a decisive advantage over our Nation’s adversaries.

In September, NSWC Crane Division was selected to host the NavalX Midwest Tech Bridge to enhance collaboration and agility throughout the Department of the Navy (DoN). It is one of six Tech Bridges across the country under the NavalX initiative, three of which involve Warfare Center Divisions, also including NUWC Keyport Division and NUWC Newport Division.

The Midwest Tech Bridge will create new opportunities for NSWC Crane Division’s Innovation Ecosystem, Monica Hutchins, Regional Director of the Midwest Tech Bridge, said in December. “The Midwest Tech Bridge serves as a central access point for those in the current Innovation Ecosystem as well as innovators who have never worked with the Navy before,” Hutchins said.

“The Tech Bridge will partner with start-ups, academia, corporations, small businesses, non-profits, private capital, and government entities to close the distance faster between great ideas and the warfighter," she said. "Together with the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, we held the first Midwest NavalX Seaside Chat Oct. 16 at Dallara Racing in Indianapolis, which brought over 160 people from all these different areas together.”

Dr. Kyle Werner, Director of Engagement at NSWC Crane Division, said several significant events took place last year that strengthened the overall ecosystem.

“2019 was a big year for NSWC Crane’s Innovation Ecosystem,” he said. “The ecosystem was validated through an academic study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), independently endorsed by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), and nationally recognized by the White House as a best practice across federal government.”

Dr. Werner says these milestones tell the story of years of intentional collaboration with organizations within the ecosystem.

“NSWC Crane has supported outreach initiatives that have served to catalyze several state and local organizations,” Werner said. “Over the past 15 years, these organizations have contributed strategic plans and investments, increasing the region’s assets and positively impacting NSWC Crane’s mission.”

For example, WestGate@Crane Technology Park was established outside of NSWC Crane Division to serve as a hub of activity for the defense industry and to create more opportunities for collaboration with the command. An event center, called WestGate Academy, and the Battery Innovation Center were added to the technology park in 2012 and 2013. The state of Indiana also created the Office of Defense Development to address defense sector needs across the state. In 2015, about $3 billion was invested in the construction of Interstate 69 to improve transportation efficiency for technologies, make it easier for visitors to reach the base, and improve the quality of life of the thousands of employees who commute to work.

Through a $42 million dollar grant from the Lilly Foundation, several organizations were created to boost economic development in the region and strengthen defense and academic partnerships and research and development of critical technologies related to NSWC Crane Division’s mission areas of electronic warfare, strategic missions and expeditionary warfare. As these organizations have developed, NSWC Crane Division has been actively engaging with academia, industry and government in various forms of partnership agreements, such as Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), higher education research programs, and other technology transfer initiatives.

Over the years, these partnerships have led to innovation including:

  • Through a CRADA, scientists at the Indiana University (IU) School of Informatics and Computing and NSWC Crane Division worked together to transform existing military sensor technology through machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  • NSWC Crane Division received its first primary authority from the Department of Navy (DoN) to drive advanced microelectronics technology to the fleet through using an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) called Strategic and Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems (s2MARTS) OTA.
  • Four staff from NSWC Crane Division were honored with the Pentagon’s top award for promoting economic development and collaborative relationships with industry and academia.
  • IU awarded its first-ever engineering PhD to NSWC Crane Division employee.
  • Purdue@Westgate, a collaboration among WestGate Authority, NSWC Crane Division, Purdue University and Purdue Research Foundation, which was launched in 2017 to advance educational, research and development and technology commercialization, was recognized by a statewide planning organization for accelerating economic development in Indiana.

One of the organizations created from the Lilly Endowment, the Indiana Innovation Institute (IN3), signed a Partnership Intermediary Agreement with NSWC Crane Division and recently was awarded the Midwest Tech Bridge’s first Collaborative Project Order. The agreement establishes the initial Tech Bridge focus areas, including trusted microelectronics, hypersonics and electro-optics, as well as external collaboration opportunities among universities, industry, small businesses and non-profits to accelerate technology to the warfighter. IN3 will facilitate events such as tech demonstrations, prize challenges, hackathons, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) opportunities.

“The complex challenges we face today in areas such as trusted microelectronics, hypersonics, and artificial intelligence require collaboration across many organizational boundaries,” Werner said. “We are excited about the opportunity the Midwest Tech Bridge presents to expand our Innovation Ecosystem by accessing additional organizations and accelerating the development of technology.”

About NSWC Crane

NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today's Warfighter.

Join Our Team! NAVSEA employs a highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce - from students and entry level employees to experienced professionals and individuals with disabilities. We support today's sophisticated Navy and Marine Corps ships, aircraft, weapon systems and computer systems. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, IT and cyber specialists, as well as trade and other support professionals to ensure the U.S. Navy can protect and defend America. Please contact NSWC Crane Human Resources at crane_recruiting@navy.mil.