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January 2011 Issue


Naval Research: A Voyage of Discovery


By RAdm. Nevin Carr
Chief of Naval Research
Office of Naval Research
U.S. Navy

When I joined the U.S. Navy in 1974, I marveled at how much we knew about our world. The fields of marine engineering, oceanography, acoustics and signal processing had delivered nuclear-powered submar­ines, deep-diving submersibles, powerful and accurate sonar, and a rich understanding of our world on, above and below the surface of the oceans.

As I look back, I realize that we achieved all of that without the personal computers we all have on our desks today. Now, with better tools and multidisciplinary approaches to problems, the pace of our discovery, invention and innovation is accelerating, allowing us to keep up with the rate of change in the field.

Today we can understand a problem better and identify and validate potential solutions faster. Using the computing power now available to us, we can collect and analyze data, build models and run simulations to mitigate many of the limitations that challenged scientists in the past.

ONR Priorities and Missions
The mission of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), defined by law, is to “plan, foster and encourage scientific research in recognition of its paramount importance as related to the maintenance of future naval power and the preservation of national security” and to “manage the Navy’s basic, applied and advanced research to foster transition from science and technology to higher levels of research, development, test and evaluation.”

Our top priority is to focus on those areas that deliver the biggest payoff for our future and ensure that we make every single dollar count for maximum benefit of the warfighters.

To do that, we sponsor scientific research and technology to pursue revolutionary capabilities for naval forces of the future, mature and transition science and technology (S&T) advances to improve naval capabilities, respond to current critical needs, and maintain broad technology investments both to hedge against uncertainty and to anticipate and counter unforeseen potential technological issues.

Across the full S&T portfolio, ONR is engaged with our Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the Navy’s warfare centers, federally funded research and development centers, academia, and industry to expand the boundaries of human knowledge, especially as that knowledge can meet current and emerging warfighter needs and deliver future force capabilities.

With our Innovative Naval Prototypes program, we are looking at emerging high-risk/high-payoff opportunities that might be able to mature quickly and significantly impact naval capabilities. Our Future Naval Capability program is the centerpiece of our transition strategy, where we can move technologies to the acquisition phase. But our largest single investment is in basic research.

Basic Research and the Workforce
Basic research is the hardest category to justify because it lacks the “instant gratification” that results in a product to procure and field. Not only does basic research lead to technologies that will open doors tomorrow; it’s also the basis for employing workers and scientists at warfare centers, the NRL and the academic institutions and industry groups that conduct the basic research. Our investment ensures that the Navy and the nation can count on continued and meaningful research from qualified and experienced scientists who have the necessary tools, systems and focus.

We must be careful never to take the S&T workforce for granted. Our nation’s technological superiority and competitiveness depends on it. By investing more than half of ONR’s basic research funding with university programs, we not only gain valuable knowledge, but at the same time educate and develop the scientists and engineers of the future. This includes grants to individual investigators and sponsorship of fellowship programs that support faculty, graduate and undergraduate education of U.S. citizens who plan to work in Navy laboratories. Special programs also support the education and professional development of minority students and minority faculty members.

Maximizing Returns
A careful portfolio analysis is conducted each year to ensure that every S&T dollar provides maximum impact. We’re constantly looking at our business processes to make sure we’re as efficient and innovative as possible, good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollar, and making every one of those dollars count.

We seek the best and brightest minds in academia and industry to be aware of and look at the Navy’s priorities and needs and help deliver solutions. ONR-sponsored research is taking place in all 50 states, as well as in 70 countries around the world. We issue “broad agency announcements” to solicit performers to conduct specific research. While some of our programs are ambitious and well-funded, we also sponsored thousands of research projects in the $100,000 category last year.

Of the new applications for funding we receive, about 10 percent actually get funded. Programs like the Small Business Innovation Research program are designed to foster collaboration among new partners with innovative ideas, as new and different approaches often open new doors we didn’t even think about. In one indicator of quality, IEEE recently published its annual Patent Power Scorecard, naming the U.S. Navy’s patent portfolio first among all government organizations worldwide.

Ocean and Atmospheric Research
ONR serves the entire Department of the Navy, and so we devote significant time and resources to supporting our Marines on the ground in theater. But ONR will always have an eye to the sea. With our many partners, ONR continues its leadership in oceanographic and meteorological science, learning more about the marine environment and how the ocean and atmosphere interact. Developing a better ocean model and understanding the air-sea relationship leads to more reliable meteorological forecasting capabilities that not only help warfighters, but benefit everyone.

To help with this research, we continue to invest in better systems for data collection and better platforms from which to conduct ocean research. We are proud of the Navy-owned research fleet and the academic partners who help us operate them. In 2010 we contracted for the construction of two ocean-class research ships and named Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as our partners that will operate them.

Conclusions
The research we sponsor forms the foundation for future naval capabilities. I am proud of ONR’s accomplishments this past year and even more excited about the innovations that await us in 2011 as we look for science and technology that can give our Navy and Marine Corps that leap-ahead “next big thing.” The staff at ONR knows its research and the resulting innovation and naval capability is vital to the Navy and the preservation of national security. Join us on this voyage of discovery: Sailors and Marines are depending on us.




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