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NSWC Crane, Dahlgren partner with academia to develop next generation of Naval computer scientists and engineers

By Sarah K. Miller, NSWC Crane Corporate Communications | Aug. 20, 2020

CRANE, Ind. – Two warfare centers, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) in Indiana and Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division (NSWC Dahlgren) in Virginia, have partnered with two universities to develop the next generation of Naval computer scientists and engineers. Participating students were able to adapt to the circumstances of COVID-19 to complete their final projects, where they used computer-science techniques to solve Navy problems.

Professors and researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Old Dominion University (ODU) lead the computational naval sciences program. The certificate program started last year and is funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The first course took place at UC in the spring of 2020, and students and faculty adapted the coursework due to the rapidly changing conditions surrounding COVID-19. 58 undergraduate students from UC participated in the first course.

Mike Young, the Director of Academic Engagement at NSWC Dahlgren, says the first course was a success.

“The students tackled real problems facing the Navy,” says Young. “They used state-of-the-art modeling and simulation tools – and they did so in a very impressive manner.”

Young says programs like these are important to the Navy.

“It’s important to show students there are challenging problems where they can be part of creating a solution. Growing the next generation of Navy computer-based scientists and engineers renews the force behind the fleet.”

Matthew Romero, Mission Engineering Chief Engineer at NSWC Crane, was a judge for the students’ final presentations.

“Each team included about three students,” says Romero. “They presented simulations of their projects using WebEx. It was pretty impressive. They were taught concepts from government and industry and will be able to leverage their skills going forward.”

Dr. Prashant Khare, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Aerospace Engineering at UC, helped lead this program. He says the overall goal of the ONR funded program is to prepare the future Naval Science and Technology (S&T) workforce to maintain the US Navy’s technological superiority across all its missions.

“This is being accomplished by developing an exploratory computation-centric certificate program at the two universities in the areas of autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and fluid and combustion sciences,” says Dr. Khare. “Our long term goal is to establish a comprehensive ecosystem to train the next generation of Naval S&T workforce for jobs requiring undergraduate, all the way up to Ph.D. degrees. This program is the first step toward achieving this goal.”

Dr. Khare, who is also the Principal Investigator (PI) for this program, is an expert in computational combustion and propulsion sciences and machine learning. His Co-PIs are Dr. Rajnikant Sharma (UC) and Dr. Krishnanand Kaipa (ODU) are experts in autonomous systems, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) related to unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles.

Dr. Khare says this program has leveraged the expertise of both government and academia.

“Over the past year, our collaboration with NSWC scientists and engineers at both Crane and Dahlgren locations has been instrumental in developing this program,” says Dr. Khare. “We have been working with colleagues at both the NSWC centers to identify the Department of the Navy (DoN) S&T needs and incorporating them into our courses. One way we are accomplishing this is by developing the end-term course projects collaboratively so that students work hands-on on problems relevant to the Navy.”

Young says UC and ODU are critical to the research pipeline.

“All three of the researchers represented both universities and jointly wrote the proposal,” says Young. “That shows how well they collaborated. Dahlgren and Crane had previously worked with UC and ODU, so we were able to move faster because of these pre-existing partnerships in place. The NSWC S&T community helped develop the curriculum for the program, including technology relevant to the Navy like AI, Autonomy, Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), and swarming systems.”

Young says this research incorporates data science principles into multidisciplinary engineering and computer science instruction.

“Students learn through project-based education employing data science techniques to naval problems,” says Young. “Some students tackled problems involving novel techniques for modeling COVID pandemic spread in their communities and the United States. Others solved problems involving autopilot designs for space navigation, rendezvous, and docking. Students explored autopilot design for landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) on vessels and controlling autonomous cargo sailboats.”

Dr. Khare says several NSWC subject matter experts (SMEs) served as judges for the students’ final presentations.

“Our colleagues at Crane and Dahlgren have been extremely generous with their time, and last spring, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, judged the student projects virtually and provided valuable feedback not only to our students but to us (faculty) to improve our program,” says Dr. Khare. “At the end of the last academic year, with the successes that we had, we established an educational partnership agreement (EPA) with NSWC, formalizing our collaboration. In the coming year, we will continue our engagement with both NSWC centers and hope to create a long-term partnership and pipeline of fully trained and functional graduates who will have acquired the skillsets needed to pursue STEM careers in the US Navy.”

Romero, who works with these technologies at Crane, says he was excited to see the students’ work.

“Modeling and simulation is a kind of unique technology,” says Romero. “You simulate something that’s real, research and gather data, make assumptions on that, research, run and Validate the model. It was impressive that they are undergrads and that professional. These techniques and technologies are very critical to the Navy. I loved giving back and encouraging the students – I think it was good to have someone outside their classroom to listen and provide feedback. It was rewarding for me to see their level of work.”

Young says the program’s emphasis on a multidisciplinary student teams is important.

“These are critical skills at warfare centers,” says Young. “This is a niche research area. The professors gave them truly difficult problems to solve using data science techniques. The key is the professors aren’t just teaching facts and students aren’t just tackling current problems; they are learning to tackle anything. It’s not enough to be smart; you have to be adaptable. This program is growing both.”

About NSWC Dahlgren

NSWCDD’s mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, analysis, systems engineering, integration and certification of complex naval warfare systems related to surface warfare, strategic systems, combat and weapons systems associated with surface warfare. The command also provides system integration and certification for weapons, combat systems and warfare systems and fulfills other responsibilities assigned by the NSWC commander.

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.

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