DAHLGREN, Va. –
Though it did not include the proverbial BOOM for which Dahlgren is so well known, the June 10 visit with congressional staffers demonstrated how the nearly 103-year-old command is on the forefront of future technology.
Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) hosted representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger and Virginia Del. Margaret Ransone. NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Stephen “Casey” Plew and NSWCDD Deputy Technical Director Darren Barnes set the tone for the afternoon in a division overview brief by stressing the importance of the research, development and testing work the command executes.
“We are looking five, 10, 20 years down the road at what technology the next, and even next-next, generation of sailors are going to need,” said Plew. “That’s what we do here at Dahlgren.”
NSWCDD knows that collaboration with key partners in industry and academia provides the best path to support the fleet. Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift gave an overview of the partnerships and opportunities NSWCDD has been cultivating within the digital ecosystem.
“We have an opportunity to enhance our partnering across the region in the digital arena to increase technology transfer and knowledge sharing,” said Clift. “Strategic partnering across the digital ecosystem will accelerate getting capabilities to the warfighter.”
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, cyber and quantum computing were among the capabilities Clift described that are critical to the future of warfare systems and warfighting. Clift described the digital proving grounds as a sophisticated digital environment that allows various partners to experiment, prototype and test innovative solutions across numerous technology areas.
The digital proving grounds is a scalable naval test and evaluation capability comprised of highly integrated combat system elements that leverage live, virtual and constructive assets to evaluate all aspects of the kill chain, from planning to assessing effectiveness. This will provide partners the ability to introduce innovation in a persistent and repeatable digital environment to iteratively test new algorithms, hardware and software systems.
“The digital proving grounds gives our ecosystem partners, including small businesses, industry, academia and non-defense partners, the opportunity to experiment and innovate in our environment here at Dahlgren,” said Clift. “We can experiment, test and validate solutions within a digital environment, reducing the need for expensive hardware and at-sea testing, ultimately accelerating capability development at a lower cost.”
“This experimentation is going to provide a great opportunity for our academic and industry partners,” Clift added. “While our technologies may be developed for different purposes, the digital proving grounds enables us to share lessons learned across our research efforts.”
In keeping with Dahlgren’s tradition of wowing visitors, the visit included more than just briefs. During Strategic Systems Program Director Paul Quinn’s presentation about the mechanics of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, a program that has spanned three generations of scientists and engineers at NSWCDD, he passed around a model of a projectile as he described its journey from the depths of the sea to the heights of the atmosphere and back to the surface.
The next stop on the tour was even flashier: lasers. The group watched on a monitor while in an adjoining high bay Physicist Chris Heflin initiated the lasing process. When Heflin announced the laser was on, there was a flash of light on the screen followed by melting steel as the beam burns through the plate in a matter of seconds.
Once the “all clear” signal sounded, the group moved into the high bay to see the plate in person. Lead scientist Emily Nugent explained the apparatus in front of them, excitedly detailing each part of the process they had just witnessed.
The last stop on the tour did not disappoint. Integrated Warfare Systems Laboratory Director Dave Emerson walked the group through the secure facility where the halls are peppered with rooms full of servers and other testing equipment. At the end of the maze-like expedition, Emerson ushered everyone into a room where they were seemingly transported to the command center of a ship.
The Digital Warfare Integration Center houses consoles arranged to replicate shipboard equipment. Here, NSWCDD scientists and engineers not only run simulations, they prepare software updates and send them out to ships in real-time.
“Usually this technology takes two to three years to get updated on ships,” said Hud Lemons, Future Combat Systems Division engineer. “With this system, we have been providing updates monthly, with two over-the-air updates to a ship in theater.”
After Lemons highlighted the support towards the fleet at the conclusion of this three-hour tour – that did not include a single BOOM – the group was left wanting more and concluded with grateful exchanges and talks of future visits.