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Navy seeks to hurry technology to fleet: researchers focus their attention on development of Future Naval Capabilities.

When U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan needed a weapon to reach deep down into caves and tunnels to destroy al Qaeda hideouts, Navy researchers speeded up their efforts to develop thermobaric explosives.

Thermobarics are fuel-rich explosives that quickly burn oxygen from the target, essentially sucking the air from confined caves and tunnels.

The Navy had "been working on that technology for years," said Navy Capt. Richard V. Kikla, deputy director for industrial and corporate programs for the Office of Naval Research, in Arlington, Va. But 9/1l added a new sense of urgency to the project, he told National Defense.

In response to the attacks, the Navy joined with the Air Force, Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Energy Department to develop and test a laser-guided, 2,000-pound bomb thermobaric explosive within 60 days. They delivered it, in mid-December, to the Afghan theater, where it was used to devastating effect in Operation Anaconda, according to Rear Adm. Jay M. Cohen, chief of naval research.

"Such speed was possible because the science was done before the need became urgent," he told a Senate hearing.

All too often, however, even though the research is completed successfully, the Navy is not ready yet to deploy the project, Kikla said. Instead, he said, it falls into "the valley of death," the gap between the time when a project is finished and the fleet agrees to acquire it. Many projects, Kikla noted, never make their way through that valley.

To help worthwhile projects bridge the gap, the Navy has instituted a process to develop what it calls "Future Naval capabilities." Launched in 1999, the FNC process is designed specifically to take maturing technologies, as the research laboratories complete work on them, and deliver them directly to acquisition program managers for rapid deployment to the fleet, Kikla explained.

FNCs are aimed at the "Next Navy," acquisition programs planned for delivery in the next three to seven years, he said. By comparison, he said, conventional research projects can take 15 to 20 years to work their way to the fleet.

ONR has made a financial commitment to the FNC process, Kikla said. In fiscal year 2002--the first full year of operation--ONR invested $577.6 million in FNCs, he noted. In 2003, it plans to spend more than $600 million on them. That amount, he said, includes approximately two thirds of ONR's funding for advanced technology development and about two fifths of the amount it spends on applied research.

The Navy embarked upon the FNC process, in part, to make more efficient use of its science and technology budget, which is no longer as flush as it was right after World War II. ONR was founded in 1946 to encourage such technologies as shipbuilding aviation, oceanography, mapping, charting and navigation.

In recent decades, budgets have been shrinking in relative terms, particularly since the Vietnam War, ONR officials said. In 1999-when the FNC process was established-the Navy Department's science and technology budget was $1.3 billion.

High-Level Panel

FNCs are chosen by the Department of the Navy Science and Technology Corporate Board, a high-level panel composed of the vice chief of naval operations, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and the assistant secretary of the Navy. They are selected, Kikla said, for their likelihood to support the Navy's goals of increasing combat capability, enhancing personnel performance, introducing advanced technology and improving business practices.

Thus far, the board has named 12 specific capabilities:

* Autonomous Operations, to increase the autonomy, performance and affordability of unmanned air, sea surface, underwater and land vehicles,

* Capable Manpower, to improve recruitment, training and equipment of individual sailors and Marines.

* Electric Warships and Combat Vehicles, to develop efficient, powerful propulsion plants that will permit new hull forms, reduce crew sizes, streamline logistics and enable high-energy weapons and sensors.

* Knowledge Superiority and Assurance, to distribute integrated information in an interoperable network that ensures that naval forces will have common situational understanding and increased speed of command.

* Littoral Antisubmarine Warfare, to enhance U.S. capability to detect, track, classify and engage enemy submarines in a near-shore environment, before they are close enough to harm friendly forces.

* Littoral Combat and Power Projection, to provide the ability to conduct expeditionary operations from ships at sea, deep inland, without the need to establish large logistical bases ashore.

* Missile Defense, to protect naval forces against the growing dangers posed by ballistic and cruise missiles.

* Organic Mine Countermeasures, to detect, identify and neutralize mines at sea and ashore, using each unit's own assets, rather than outside resources.

* Platform Protection, to provide naval platforms-ships, aircraft and other vehicles-with the weapons, sensors and other countermeasures that they need to ward off a worldwide proliferation of low-cost, highly effective asymmetric threats.

* Time Critical Strike, to reduce the amount of time required to hit critical and mobile targets, including armored vehicles, theater ballistic missiles, weapons of mass destruction and command centers.

* Total Ownership Cost Reduction, to use advanced design and manufacturing processes to trim costs associated with acquisition, operations, maintenance, personnel and environmental compliance.

* Warfighter Protection, to provide improved combat casualty prevention, care and management.

Each approved FNC is directed by an integrated product team that functions like a corporate board, representing all of the elements of the Navy Department with an interest in a particular capability.

This helps speed up work on those projects, said Thomas G. Tesch, ONR's director of development and transition, "One of the real problems in the acquisition world is that it takes time to get the process moving. The acquisition side has to talk to the fleet side and they both have to talk to the science and technology side. Here, we have everybody sitting at the same table."

The chair comes from the requirements community, including the chief of naval operations and the head of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. The chair leads the IPT in defining and prioritizing goals and approving investment plans--called "spikes"--to reach the goals.

The plans are developed by the execution manager, sometimes called the technical working group leader, who represents the Navy's science and technology program and functions essentially as the IPT's chief executive officer.

To design a plan, the executive manager and the technical working group reviews existing programs that address identified gaps, including not only the Navy Department's basic research, applied research and advanced technology development, but other defense, federal, industrial and international programs, as well. Then, the executive manager and the TWG attempt to identify deficiencies in existing programs and propose a plan to close these gaps.

When a plan is ready, the execution manager presents it to the IPT, which then reaches a consensus on it. An FNC investment plan is required to provide significant technology options and operating concepts to meet the capability. It must have a significant budget, definite milestones and objectives, concrete deliverables, and a finite end state. And finally, it must culminate in well-defined demonstrations of the technology options, such as fleet battle or amphibious warfare experiments.

Experimental Initiatives

A transition leader, from the acquisitions community, representing the relevant systems command, program executive office or implementing organization, is responsible for coordinating a project's transition from the laboratory through the acquisition process.

Each FNC includes several S&T programs that are relevant to that specific capability; Kilda said. There are more than 200 altogether, including such experimental initiatives as the Littoral Surface Craft-Experimental (LSC-X) and the High Speed Vessel.

The LCS-X is envisioned as a large vessel, designed to operate offshore, capable of speeds up to 50 knots and armed with missiles that can carry a 200-pound warhead up to 500 nautical miles.

The High Speed Vessel is a class of 300-feet catamarans leased from an Australian shipbuilder that the Navy and other U.S. services are considering as a prototype for a family of ships intended to perform a variety of combat and logistical functions both in heavy seas and shallow water.

Some officers in the fleet dismiss the FNC concept as vague and full of buzz words, but Kilda disagreed. "I'm not a science and technology guy," he said. "I'm a fleet operator. Now that I'm working on it, it's not a buzz word. It's meant to be a robust, dynamic process that's responsive to the needs of the Navy. ...

"Everything we do is aligned and connected," said Kilda. "That doesn't mean all of our research is going to make it to the fleet."

In fact, Cohen said, "there is zero certainty that every research investment will pay the dividends we desire."

Instead, Kikla estimated, perhaps 30 percent of FNC-related projects actually gets fielded. Some research ideas are "risky and don't work out," he said. Others "are things you want, but can't afford." And still others "may not transition to the fleet immediately," but research is continued in the hope that they "will succeed down the road," he said.

Sometimes, Kilda said, it becomes clear that there is no further interest in a given project. If so, he said, it is cancelled, and its funding redirected to other programs.

Some high-priority projects, which can't wait for the three to seven years required for the FNC process, are referred to ONR's "Swamp Works" office. Similar in concept to the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works operation, Swamp Works concentrates on high-risk, high-payoff challenges facing the Navy today, Cohen said.

"Swamp Works has already begun to show its value, for example, in the initial deployment of its Sea Airborne Lead Line (Sea ALL) unmanned aerial vehicle to the Fifth Fleet," Cohen noted.

The Sea ALL is derived from the Dragon Eye UAV, which was developed by ONR for the Marine Corps. Like the Dragon Eye, Sea ALL is a small, camera-equipped UAV. It is intended to provide Navy ships with reconnaissance capability while in port. It could be further adapted "to employ remote sampling to detect chemical, biological and explosive threats," Cohen said.

Swamp Works also is testing microjet injection technology and nozzle modifications to help mitigate the noise from F/A-18 jet engines that disturbs communities near airfields.

Responding to the Navy's need to conduct antisubmarine warfare in noisy littoral environments, another Swamp Works team is developing a half-length torpedo with increased homing resolution and greater mission flexibility.

In addition, Swamp Works is looking for new ways to prevent explosions from breaching a ship's hull, as happened in 2000 when the USS Cole was attacked by terrorists in Yemen, Cohen said. Researchers are working on near, mid and far-term applications, he said. "The near-term work will deliver a portable armor enhancement. The mid-term focus will be on permanent enhancements that can be back-fitted to existing ships. The far-term applications will be permanent enhancements to the next generation of ships."
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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