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NEWS | July 29, 2019

U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman Sees Fleet’s Future at Dahlgren’s Laser Lethality Lab

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications Division

DAHLGREN, Va. – U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman Max Shuman faced a half dozen Navy officer and civilian engineers while reflecting on lessons learned as his internship concluded at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD).

Schuman – who interned at the command’s Laser Lethality and Development Facility from June 24 to July 19 – explained how he learned to safely operate high energy lasers (HEL) while collecting accurate and relevant HEL data.   

Moreover, the Midshipman presented ideas on how the Navy could apply laser technology via laser weapon systems in the future.

“The opportunity to operate and learn about laser optics, as well as the different data analysis tools was incredibly helpful as it peaked my interest in the field of laser technology,” said Shuman who hopes to advance his new skill set by conducting laser research as it applies to materials and mechanical engineering. “The internship has made me consider further research into laser technology as a part of my capstone at the Naval Academy and a possible career in engineering after the military.”

Over the course of his internship, the Midshipman worked with laser experts who are supporting emerging initiatives to integrate future laser weapon systems aboard Navy ships.

“My experience working in the NSWC Dahlgren Laser Lab has been awesome,” said Shuman. “I’ve had the opportunity to learn an incredible amount about lasers as well as getting hands on experience working in the lab.”

The facility features two labs where high power laser testing of materials, components, and sub-systems are conducted. The labs are connected by a World War II era above-ground tunnel modified to provide the safe conduct of indoor testing at longer ranges (than a typical laboratory layout) while providing the capability for control over atmospheric conditions as it relates to target vulnerability and system performance.

Excited to see the next generation of engineers and scientists cut their teeth in the world of military technology, Shuman’s mentor – NSWCDD scientist Christopher Heflin – envisions the impact Dahlgren internships will have on the Navy’s future.

“It’s always great to have young people come and work alongside some of our technical folks, especially when those young people could very well become future Navy leaders like those from the Naval Academy,” said Heflin. “The HEL Lethality group conducts testing on a near day-to-day basis, as many different programs require such data to help them understand what capability their technology will bring to the warfighter. The Midshipmen and our interns in general come in and bring new ideas and thoughts as well as ask good questions that spurn discussions to make us think in different ways about problems and solutions.”

As Heflin recounted his experience as a mentor to a Midshipmen, he emphasized the value of internships to the Naval Academy, NSWCDD and the Fleet.

“These men and women will someday play pivotal roles in our military, politics and society,” said Heflin. “They will carry with them and understanding and appreciation for the work we do in Dahlgren for the rest of their lives. It may be for a short period of time that they are here but it is certainly an eye opener for those that are not fully aware of the variety and breadth of programs here.”

Over the years, former Midshipmen who once interned at NSWCDD came back to work at the command where senior civilian scientists and engineers continued to mentor them through capstone projects that were later presented at conferences, workshops, and meetings.

“We have had them reach out to us years later and ask us for advice or assistance,” said Heflin. “It’s nice because you realize that they truly valued the opportunity to come and work here and make new connections, which they will continue to do for the entirety of their career.”

NSWCDD has provided leadership and technical expertise in the design, development, integration, and testing of directed energy systems for more than 17 years. The premier research and development center that serves as a specialty site for weapon system integration. The command's unique ability to rapidly introduce new technology into complex warfighting systems is based on its longstanding competencies in science and technology, research and development, and test and evaluation.