By Peter Vietti
Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, a naval aviator, became the 24th Chief of Naval Research in November 2011. As the leader of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), he is responsible to the Secretary of the Navy for sponsoring scientific research efforts that will enable the future operational concepts of the Navy and Marine Corps. He discussed with us his organization’s role and its undersea warfare applications.
The Virginia-class Program has received accolades for achieving the cost reduction target needed to increase the procurement rate to two submarines per year. Did Naval science and technology (S&T) contribute to that success story?
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) was pleased to participate in the Virginia Block III Cost Reduction effort. The primary ONR contribution was through the Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) program. ManTech Director John Carney played a key role in coordinating with the Virginia Program Office (PMS 450) and Electric Boat to identify ways to reduce Virginia cost by improving fabrication technology and processes. ManTech’s Centers of Excellence took on the challenges one by one to produce a successful outcome. To date, ManTech has saved $25 million for each Virginia-class submarine constructed and it is a great example of collaboration between ONR, NAVSEA, Electric Boat, and industry.
With the Virginia-class beginning to replace retiring Los Angeles-class attack boats, the submarine community now faces the challenge of developing a replacement for Ohio-class SSBNs. What role is ONR’s S&T playing in support of that effort?
We’re making vital contributions to the Ohio Replacement on several fronts. The most prominent is the Time-Critical S&T program, which is a body of basic research efforts focused on reducing risk and improving platform capability. The objective is the timely delivery of S&T products aligned with R&D efforts and timed to meet ship design timelines. To ensure success, ONR entered into an agreement with PEO SUB to coordinate all aspects of the research with the Ohio Replacement program office (PMS 397). I have followed this area closely and am very pleased by the results and with the ongoing teamwork between ONR and PMS 397.
Reliability and maintainability are more important than ever for ensuring that the fleet can meet growing operational demands despite budget constraints. Is Naval S&T involved in reliability and/or maintainability efforts that support the undersea warfare community?
We not only aim to provide new technologies and capabilities to our warfighters but also to improve existing technologies in the fleet and force. ONR investment in technologies supporting undersea warfare remains strong. For example, ONR has a substantial investment in technologies attacking the problem of corrosion. Future Naval Capability (FNC) projects begun in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 and FY12 will make major improvements to the effectiveness and reliability of the Virginia-class corrosion protection system and develop a spray-on alternative to the standard glued and bolted damping tiles that pose constant corrosion problems. Also, a portion of the investment in ManTech goes toward repair and sustainment technologies under the Repair Technologies (REPTECH) program. At present, there are several submarine-related REPTECH efforts in progress.
I understand Naval S&T has helped the fleet address reliability problems with thin-line towed arrays. Could you tell us a bit about that?
ONR began an FNC project in FY13 targeting the challenge of thin-line towed array reliability, an issue that has direct impact on the operational effectiveness of the Submarine Force. ONR is involved because, despite relentless efforts within Team Submarine, reliability has not yet reached the level needed by the fleet. Sometimes there is a facet of the problem that is just beyond our understanding. Our researchers are exploring the physics of the highly complex hydrodynamic forces that operate on the towed array while it is being deployed, towed, and recovered. The FNC is developing a high-fidelity tool for predicting the stress on the array so that designers will be able to build the right amount of ruggedness into it while preserving its acoustic performance characteristics.
The Design for Undersea Warfare envisions broader use of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) in the future to extend the reach and effectiveness of submarines in their many operational missions. How is Naval S&T helping to develop UUV capabilities, particularly submarine operations with UUVs?
We reserve a portion of our funding for leap-ahead technologies that could revolutionize naval warfighting. The Innovative Naval Prototype Program includes an effort developing a large-diameter unmanned undersea vehicle. In this project we are pursuing advances in the critical technologies that have to be in place for an effective UUV. Examples include energy, autonomy, and communications. The advancements we are achieving with this project will form the foundation for future UUVs that meet the Navy’s varied needs.
An FNC project titled “Long Endurance Undersea Vehicle Propulsion – Air Independent Propulsion System” is also funded to provide current 21” diameter UUVs with 3X-5X increase in power/energy endurance over current silver-zinc (Ag/Zn) technology (100 watt-hours/kilogram). This scalable long-endurance, air-independent, energy-dense propulsion will be safe and will have gas-and-go rapid turn-around capability to enable future intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and mine countermeasures missions. An FY17 transition to the Surface Mine Countermeasure Knifefish Program of Record is planned.
Unmanned undersea vehicles will extend the reach and
effectiveness of submarines.
Is it possible that autonomous systems will eventually meet the bulk of surface and subsurface ISR requirements in much the same way that airborne ISR is now conducted autonomously?
It is possible, but that is not the goal. The promise of UUVs in the near term is to enhance the capability of manned platforms. Similar to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, underwater autonomy expands reach and endurance for routine ISR missions while enabling other missions that might be considered too high risk.
How is the tightening Defense budget affecting Naval S&T’s investment in undersea warfare?
Although we are making adjustments in response to the challenging budget environment, we understand the importance of undersea warfare to national security. CNO has made his priorities clear that he wants to maintain the U.S. Navy’s dominance in the undersea domain by using a network of sensors, platforms, and unmanned autonomous systems. ONR investments will support this goal.
Do you see the new fiscal pressures impacting the way the Navy approaches S&T, and are there any big changes planned or pending for ONR’s processes because of this?
Overall, the Navy’s S&T investment strategy is sound, so that will not change, but we are looking at processes that can help accelerate mature technology through acquisition to the warfighter. Processes like Speed-to-Fleet, Rapid Innovation Fund, TechSolutions, and Rapid Technology Transfer are examples of tools we are using. An example of a recent rapid transition is solid state lighting (SSL), which was delivered in just 18 months. This added improvement was actually requested by a sonar technician at Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet to replace noisy fluorescent bunk lights. The advantages of SSL are many, including improved efficiency, decreased energy usage, decreased maintenance requirements and associated storage, handling, and disposal costs. USS New Hampshire, USS Missouri, and other ships will benefit from this improved lighting.
From your perspective, what are the most important S&T issues ONR is currently working on that relate to undersea warfare?
The most important S&T issues we are taking on to help the undersea warfare community generally focus on improving the capabilities of the platforms themselves as well as the various payloads they employ globally in our nation’s defense. We are working across the full spectrum of undersea platforms and weapons to make them more effective and efficient in achieving their designed purposes. On the undersea platforms, we have dozens of S&T efforts underway from the sonar system at the bow of the boat to the propellers at the aft end. All these efforts are focused on improving the performance, efficiency, and durability of the many systems and components that all must work together to achieve mission success. In the area of payloads, we have several efforts in progress to advance the state of the art in undersea warfare by making weapons and other payloads smaller, more effective, and cheaper to design and build.
On another front, ONR is delivering adaptive training and mission planning products that enhance operator performance and combat readiness. ONR is addressing warfighting requirements defined by the Submarine Tactical Requirements Group and is working with PEO-IWS to field systems throughout the Submarine Force. For example, the ONR Capable Manpower Future Naval Capability program has developed a mission planning application that supports rapid development and execution of navigational plans integrated into the Voyage Management System digital navigation system. The mission planning application is preparing for Step 3 testing in the PEO-IWS Advanced Processor Build (APB) acquisition process. ONR’s Narrowband Adaptive Training (NbAT) and Periscope Operator Adaptive Training (POAT) systems are also going through the APB testing process. These adaptive training systems are game-based and tailor training content to the needs of the individual operators. We’re now investigating how both NbAT and POAT scores can automatically link to the Submarine Force Continuing Training and Qualification Software (CTQS) for credit.
As we look to the distant future, what S&T areas do you feel warrant the greatest investment?
While autonomy is getting a lot of attention and for good reason, we can’t forget about what enables these advances in unmanned systems. IT, power and energy, and capable manpower are three areas where we see high payoffs. IT is the critical infrastructure that makes future networks of autonomous systems possible. Advances in power and energy for unmanned systems are critical to realizing the promise of extended reach and presence. Finally, people have to be trained on how to operate a hybrid force, make decisions, and understand how this changes our CONOPS to leverage the true potential of this technology.
If there were one undersea warfare-related S&T effort you could magically make ready for service today, what would it be, and how would it impact the way the Navy approaches undersea warfare?
I think this comes back to how S&T enables the priorities of the undersea warfare community and their vision for the future of undersea warfare. So, if we assume that dominating the undersea domain is in part a function of presence, then the sooner we can economically produce autonomous systems that can match the capabilities of their manned counterparts, the better.
What do you consider the most difficult hurdle to overcome in transitioning new technologies to the warfighter?
From my perspective as the Chief of Naval Research, I see so many promising efforts. The challenge in getting these to the warfighter faster is that no single silver bullet solves the transition challenge. It might be better to look at this from what enables success. I will say that the most important success factor I have seen from recent transitions is good communication. When ONR, SYSCOM, OPNAV, and the warfighting enterprises are in sync on requirements, capabilities, and technology needs, the process is very responsive.
What do you think is the biggest challenge to keeping our Navy’s technological edge against our potential foes?
Given the rapid pace of technology advances worldwide, we are always pressed to keep pace. To do this, we need to continually draw upon the brightest minds in Naval S&T and across the country. At the same time, we need to maintain the health and vitality of the Naval S&T community for the future, and that means that the Navy needs to pay attention to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.
What advice would you give to OPNAV with respect to its planning for developing the Navy’s undersea warfare capability?
I would say keep insisting that ONR has a seat at the table. While ONR is responsive to the needs of the warfighter with technology solutions, sometimes discoveries can lead to new capabilities and new ways of doing things. So sometimes an ONR program officer who is an expert in his or her research field might say, “Have you thought of this yet?”
How can deck plate sailors in the undersea warfare community communicate with ONR about their S&T needs and/or ideas?
We have a group called TechSolutions (www.onr.navy.mil/techsolutions) that does exactly that—takes ideas and needs submitted online by Sailors and, if selected, will work with the chain of command to develop a prototype solution, sometimes in less than a year.