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NSWC Dahlgren Division Scientists and Engineers Inspire USNA Midshipman

By NSWC Dahlgren Corporate Communications Division | Dec. 19, 2019

DAHGLREN, Va. – High-energy lasers, railgun, unmanned systems, cyber warfare, and submarine launched ballistic missiles.

U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman Jonathon Copley rifled off the list of technical programs and emerging technologies he encountered at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD).

“It reignited my interest in electrical engineering,” said Copley, adding that just “being on the same base where the electromagnetic railgun and directed energy weapon systems are being developed has inspired me to learn more about the subjects.”

The Midshipman – interacting day to day with civilian Navy scientists and engineers behind the technologies he encountered – was far more inspired by the experts who support, research, develop, test, evaluate, and deploy technologies to the Fleet.

“I was astonished to see how many people were on the base working hard to keep our Navy on the cutting edge while maintaining the technology gap with our adversaries,” said Copley. “They are working day in and day out to enhance the Navy's warfighting ability. It made me proud to know I will be joining a fighting force with such superb people behind it.”

Mike Burchik – mentor to Midshipman Copley – was one of those people.

“I was in his shoes twenty years ago,” said Burchik, a former submarine officer. “My goal in the Navy and now as a civilian has been to re-invest in the future. The internship program is an opportunity to guide our Midshipmen and hopefully plant some seeds of professional wisdom that will help them out as potential commanding officers one day.”

This summer, Burchik – a Quality Assurance and Software Support Group leader for the Navy’s Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile Program (SLBM) – mentored two Naval Academy interns assigned to SLBM. The interns supported one of the agile teams developing the next version of fire control software with a goal to learn the software development tools, build a training curriculum, and initiate training of the SLBM workforce before their scheduled rotations.

“The Midshipmen we've hosted to date have been able to make a substantive impact to the program through a burgeoning training program we've been creating as our software development capabilities modernize to meet growing demands in the Fleet while keeping ahead of the threats to our nation,” said Burchik. “They have built some of the training and led sessions to improve those capabilities.”

While assigned to SLBM in the summer of 2019, Copley worked with a team that supported developers who wrote code for the SLBM Fire Control System.

“The SLBM program is full of innovation,” said Copley. “I learned a great deal about the process a missile and its payload go through to deliver the warheads to their targets. It was interesting to see the principles I learned in physics put to work on such a grand scale. Learning about the accuracy and complexity of the SLBMs made me appreciate the power of the mathematics and physics I’m studying at the Naval Academy.”

Academically, NSWCDD scientist and engineer mentors match what the Midshipmen are doing at the Naval Academy to what they are working at Dahlgren. 

“An element we've specifically added was the curriculum and training development aspect,” said Burchik. “As future leaders in the Navy, working with people is a talent that must be perfected if they are to lead Sailors one day - maybe into combat - and that can only be done with opportunity.”

Copley and his fellow Midshipman take advantage of that opportunity while interning at SLBM to develop a training program they use to train their team.

“It supports the leadership they'll experience in the Fleet,” said Burchik. “Our Midshipmen were able to build relationships with a diverse team of civilian software developers, train other developers, and in my mind, plant some seeds through this experience to prepare them for future leadership opportunities. On top of all that, they received a great deal of exposure about the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile program, unmanned systems, railgun, and other warfare areas they may not have known existed at NSWC Dahlgren Division. As they are commissioned, the Fleet will know more and more about the great things we do to support our men and women in uniform.”

Moreover, Burchik and his colleagues who mentor Midshipmen hope the future naval officers will share their Dahlgren experiences at the Naval Academy, inspiring more Midshipmen to intern at the command. 

“When I go into the Fleet, I will have a better understanding of the Navy's technical capabilities because of my time at Dahlgren,” said Copley, who may return next summer to intern with another NSWCDD program area such as directed energy.

U.S. Naval Academy professor Peter Joyce coordinates with NSWCDD leaders annually to assign an average of five to six Midshipmen to their internships at Dahlgren every summer.