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Tom Pendergraft’s NSWC Dahlgren Division Legacy

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications | Nov. 5, 2019

Thomas Pendergraft – former Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) technical director – passed away on Oct. 28, 2019.

As a U.S. Navy Sailor from 1963-1967, Pendergraft served aboard the USS Ticonderoga (CVA 14) and USS Bonhomme Richard (CVA 31) aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War. He began his career at NSWCDD as a design engineer in 1971 after graduating cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Christian Brothers University.

Over the course of 33 years at NSWCDD, Pendergraft worked as an engineering manager, program manager, and line manager. He led the NSWCDD Radar Engineering Branch, Search and Track Division, Electronic Systems Department, and the Ship Defense Systems Department. Immediately prior to becoming technical director, he led Dahlgren’s Theater Warfare Systems Department where he managed more than 560 employees and a budget of 100 million dollars devoted to the research, development, analysis, cost analysis, and evaluation of a number of efforts including Land Attack, Cruise Missile Defense, Theater Ballistic Missile Defense, and Ship Defense.

Pendergraft became NSWCDD technical director in February 1999, retiring from Dahlgren and the senior executive service in April 2004. As NSWCDD technical director, he led approximately 4,400 government employees and managed an annual budget of nearly one billion dollars while ensuring the organization achieved maximum efficiency and effectiveness in accomplishing its surface warfare mission.

Pendergraft also served as the Naval Sea Systems Command's executive director for Surface Ship Technology with responsibility for battle force interoperability from 1999 to 2004.

While he was NSWCDD technical director, Pendergraft was quoted in a  Free Lance-Star article that he expected Dahlgren “will always be a place for Navy and other military officials to go when they need a technical solution to their war-fighting problems.” 

A book on Dahlgren’s history, entitled, ‘Sound of Freedom – Naval Weapons Technology at Dahlgren, Virginia, 1918-2006’, attributed additional comments to Pendergraft in the same newspaper article where he cited the importance of Dahlgren’s brand-new facilities. In the article, Pendergraft described the NSWCDD Distributed Engineering Plant as an integrated network linking all of the Navy’s shore-based hardware and software combat systems test laboratories into a virtual land-based battle group to ensure interoperability before ships go to sea. He also referred to Dahlgren’s Open Architecture Test Facility, which enabled the Navy to build a computer system capable of running several different weapon systems using different software.

“We’ve been involved in this stuff for a long time, but it’s all been designed to protect the military,” said Pendergraft in the Free Lance Star story, pointing out that he was the NSWCDD technical director during and after 9/11. On that date, he said “the technical capability developed at Dahlgren took on a whole new meaning.”

Since his arrival at Dahlgren in 1971, Pendergraft applied and expanded his technical expertise in sensor systems- including radar, electronic warfare, infrared systems, and lasers-and developed concepts for multisensor integration and new technology requirements to address Navy low-flyer and low-observables issues, including cruise missile defense issues. In May of 1976, he was awarded a patent for his invention, the Radar Signature Generator.

Pendergraft studied electronics and systems engineering at the graduate level at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and at the University of Virginia. He published more than 20 papers in technical journals and in the proceedings of national symposia.

While NSWCDD technical director, Pendergraft received the Federal Executive of the Year Award. He received Dahlgren Division's Bernard Smith Award in 1989 for his role in making NSWCDD a recognized leader in Navy sensor research and development, and he was honored in 1995 with the Navy Superior Civilian Service Award. Moreover, he was awarded the NSWCDD John Adolphus Dahlgren Award in 1997 for superior management of the command’s Theater Warfare Systems Department, enabling it to become the Surface Navy's principal warfare analysis and systems engineering organization for Theater Warfare systems.

Pendergraft was the technical director at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems from 2004 to 2019, and according to his obituary, he “most recently was employed at SimVentions as an engineer performing missile systems integration. Tom had a passion for mentoring young engineers to enhance their careers.”