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NEWS | Dec. 7, 2018

Navy Readiness: Scientists and Sailors Participate in Operational Exercises, Produce Rapid Results

By Jonathan B. Holloway

STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. — Scientists from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory - Stennis Space Center, Marine Geosciences Division, have increased participation in recent Naval exercises and operational demonstrations, realizing the effects of Navy research scientists and engineers working alongside Sailors and Marines.

Department of Defense and Department of Navy leadership have encouraged Naval scientists and engineers to speed up their innovation and transition timelines by testing prototypes in real-world Naval exercises.

According to Defense Secretary James N. Mattis in the unclassified 2018 National Defense Strategy, “We must anticipate the implications of new technologies on the battlefield.”

Pairing Navy research scientists and engineers with military personnel and their training exercises can be critical when identifying strengths, weaknesses and other opportunities before real-time operations.

“During exercises, not only can we showcase NRL involvement in the development of critical technologies, but we can also learn first-hand where we can improve,” said Dr. Todd Holland, head of the NRL-SSC Marine Geosciences Division. “The things you discover getting your hands and feet wet with the Sailors you support cannot be adequately captured from discussion of a PowerPoint slide.”

Recently, Holland and his team participated in the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX-2018) in the Gulf of Mexico.

Typically hosted by Naval Undersea Warfare Center, ANTX is a specialized exercise that features future Naval technologies that are still under development, with this year’s focus on unmanned underwater, aerial and surface systems.

NRL oceanographer Dr. Meg Palmsten also participated in ANTX-2018, working with Sailors training on completed and developing unmanned systems that collect vital environmental data where military operations will take place.

“Feedback from Sailors on the tools we are developing is important,” said Palmsten. “Interactions at exercises like ANTX help me adapt my research questions to better meet their needs.”

Earlier this summer, computer scientist James Dickens from NRL’s Marine Geosciences Division, participated in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, or RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

Dickens oversaw the unified integration of experimental capabilities with shipboard data and systems during RIMPAC. The goal of this integration of capabilities into the exercise, like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), is to effectively calculate operational impacts.

“While aboard USS Carl Vinson I was able to experience challenges Sailors face with limited bandwidth and how that impacts tools and capabilities downstream,” said Dickens. “It was abundantly clear that software and infrastructure reliability are more important than what the software is doing … as we develop great capabilities for the Fleet, we can often lose sight of the fact if our capabilities don’t always work, they won’t be useful.”

Dickens and others credit their involvement in exercises like RIMPAC with positively affecting their long-term research and development goals while understanding the need for rapid development.

Holland shares the same notion, understanding the importance of protecting America’s military service-members.

“Participating in exercises like ANTX and RIMPAC are invaluable ways to influence future Naval capabilities,” said Holland. “Meeting and collaborating with others in Naval research and development also allows us to more quickly develop and transition technology to the Sailors and Marines who need it.”

Holland’s determination to include Naval researchers in training exercises is welcomed by leadership throughout the Navy, according to a 2015 Navy Inspector General Report, citing Navy leadership’s desire to increase direct interaction between NRL and the fleet.

“We’re going to continue to participate in as many Naval exercises as we can,” said Holland. “NRL science and technology gives the Navy and Marine Corps an edge and keeps them safe. Discovery of new science and technology doesn’t always take place in a lab. We go wherever it takes us.”

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