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Home : Media : News
NEWS | Dec. 2, 2021

NSWC Crane looks at its 80 year history to continue to innovate for tomorrow’s Navy

By Sarah K. Miller, NSWC Crane Corporate Communications

CRANE, Ind. – Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) is celebrating 80 years of history supporting the warfighter. There are several points in its history that provide key insights to prepare for future challenges.

Dr. Angela Lewis, the Technical Director at NSWC Crane, says Crane’s 80-year history is exciting to celebrate.

“We are here today because of the hard work of those who came before us,” says Dr. Lewis. “It is tremendously exciting to celebrate this rich history. For 80 years, the workforce has evolved to meet challenges and has united together toward the mission to support the warfighter. It is that determined work ethic, drive toward the common mission, and forward-learning spirit that is going to allow us to meet future needs of the Fleet.”

Capt. Duncan McKay, the Commanding Officer of NSWC Crane, says the celebration goes beyond a single entity.

“This celebration isn’t just for Crane,” says Capt. McKay. “This is a celebration of Crane’s collaborative partners throughout its history. We would not be the organization we are today without the strategic partnerships with academia, industry, and other Department of Defense (DoD) entities. It’s through this collaboration with our innovation ecosystem partners that we bring together diverse expertise to deliver technologies to the warfighter that ensures they never enter a fair fight.”

Dr. Lewis says research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) are critical strategic components to enabling NSWC Crane to meet future threats.

“Continuing on the strategic path we are on, and leading in several technical areas such as hypersonics, trusted and assured microelectronics (T&AM), electro-optic and infrared (EO&IR),  and Electronic Warfare (EW), is critical to providing future capability for the Navy,” says Dr. Lewis. “By leveraging our current expertise in research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E), we are laying the foundation to work toward solutions to difficult, rapidly evolving challenges.”

Tom Wappes, an Engineer at NSWC Crane, studies Crane’s history through a strategic lens including how the organization has focused its efforts in different areas of technology over the years.

“We are a resilient organization because of the lessons we have learned in our history,” says Wappes. “We are standing on the shoulders of giants. Part of our history is that we as an organization have been through hard times, but we have survived the tough times and are in a better position now than ever before in our history. It is a celebration of what we have learned that has made us a lot stronger.”

Crane’s History

On December 1, 1941, Crane was commissioned under the Bureau of Ordnance as the Naval Ammunition Depot Crane (NAD Crane) for large quantities of production, testing, storage, and shipment of conventional ammunition, pyrotechnics, and ordnance, or military weaponry. NAD Crane was commissioned under the first supplemental Defense Appropriation Act.

The United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor later that month, with Crane strategically located between both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts—distanced from potential enemy threats. 

Wappes credits Tony Haag, a former NSWC Crane employee, who researched, gathered, and organized information and captured Crane’s history in length. Wappes says there are many things to learn from Crane’s history, including difficult and strategic decisions that took place to set Crane up to be where it is today in technology development. He says there are two major inflection points in Crane’s history.

“The first major transformation point that occurred was the mid-1950s recognition by Captain Harnley and Jean DeVault (also commonly referred to as Crane’s “technical godfather”) that NAD Crane must be more than a wartime provider of ammunition, ordnance, and pyrotechnics,” says Wappes. “This resulted in the establishment of the Pyrotechnics Research and Development Department and Ammunition Loading Production Engineering Center along with growth within the Quality Evaluation Laboratory which set the foundation for the transformation to an engineering and science based Naval technical command.”

Planning to be ‘more than a wartime provider’ of weaponry positions Crane to provide capability beyond today’s requirements; it positions Crane to be prepared for future threats rather than reactive to and locked into a current requirement. It allows Crane to provide solutions to threats as they evolve.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Crane’s capabilities expanded as the complexity of weapons increased, small arms, sonobuoy surveillance, microwave tubes, POLARIS missiles, and more. In 1958, the relationship with what is today known as Strategic Systems Programs (SSP), began with the BUORD Special Projects Office. The focus of this office was aimed at bringing ballistic nuclear missiles to submarines. CAPT Lubelsky and Jean DeVault would both be heavily involved in building the relationships and putting forward the case for Crane to gain assignments in this new and growing area.

“The strategic decision set into action by Captain Harnley and Captain Lubelsky in the late 1950s and carried out under the leadership of Jean DeVault would prove to result in the Navy remaining in Southern Indiana,” says Wappes.

In the 1960s, Crane was under the command of the newly established Naval Ordnance Systems Command.

“Like Captain Lubelsky said in his Change of Command speech, we had to grow to be a substantial research and development center—and sustain that,” says Wappes. “Historically, Crane’s roots are in its industrial capability. To grow into more RDT&E capability, it required strategic planning.”

In the 1970s, Crane’s support began to include batteries, rotating components, electronic components, failure analysis and standard hardware, and new night vision systems technology. Crane became part of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), established in 1974 from the merger of the Naval Ordnance Systems Command and Naval Ship Systems Command. Shortly after, Crane’s name was changed to the Naval Weapons Support Center to more accurately reflect the true function of the installation.

In 1977, Crane Army Ammunition Activity (CAAA) was established as a tenant at Crane, and took over the loading, assembly and storage of ammunition at the installation as the Army became designated as manager of conventional ammunition.

“Had Captain Harnley not assessed the environment and made the critical decision to change the course of the command’s mission from solely an ammunition production and storage depot to an engineering and science based Naval technical command, the Navy wouldn’t be in Indiana,” says Wappes. “The workforce acting together under his vision set Crane on a path to continue to provide solutions to the Navy.”

It was in 1992 that Crane became known as what it is referred to today: Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane).

A national realignment and regional reorganization began October 2003. The national realignment was a part of NAVSEA’s effort to be more efficient and respond more quickly and effectively to the Fleet.

Wappes says it wasn’t until the early 2000s that a major shift took place at Crane, a second “major transformation”.

“It was in 2003 that the degreed workforce surpassed the non-degreed workforce,” says Wappes. “In 1998, only 28 percent of the workforce was in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). That number has nearly doubled today. In 2002 we had 13 PhDs; now Crane has about 135.”

Starting in 2005, Crane initiated a strategic intent plan to move toward a more RDT&E focus in the technology development life cycle. As part of this evolving plan, the following year NSWC Crane leadership identified its three mission areas: Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions, and Electronic Warfare.

“We had an industrial focus for most of our history, but it was our roots that allowed us to gain deeper technical expertise; our knowledge base in industrial/depot work allowed us to grow our technical capabilites,” says Wappes. “Had we not done the depot work, we wouldn’t have grown to do RDT&E. For example, our experience in Airborne and Maritime EW started as providing technical maintenance and grew to Crane being national leaders in EW.”

Wappes says it’s important to consider the critical decisions that were made to make these shifts possible.

“You don’t build strategy by looking in the review mirror, but you have to know what decisions were made that positioned Crane to provide critical support to warfighter.”

You can listen to the "Four Score" podcast about Crane's history on YouTube here

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 diverse, 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, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts to ensure the U.S. Navy can protect and defend America. Please connect with NSWC Crane Recruiting at this site - or email us at