A new report issued by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) puts a spotlight on the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for effective ways to get new technologies out of the lab and into the hands of the war-fighter.
The report, “Defense Technology Development,” released this month after a year-long study, looks at programs across the Department of Defense (DoD) that transition research into actual use, or acquisition, by Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Soldiers.
ONR is the Department of the Navy’s science and technology (S&T) provider, charged with discovering, developing and transitioning innovative S&T to meet warfighter needs. The command’s Future Naval Capabilities (FNC) program—responsible for developing QuikClot blood-clotting agents, single-coat ship tank coatings to reduce corrosion damage, and much more—is cited in the report for finding efficient, cost-effective ways to make research functional.
“Establishing clear and consistent commitments and communication channels among stakeholders is fundamental to managing transition projects and achieving transition,” the report says. “We found the Future Naval Capabilities program provides a good example of senior leadership positively affecting project management activities.”
Since its inception in 2002, the FNC program is designed to develop and transition cutting-edge technology products to acquisition officers within a three- to five-year timeframe. The GAO reports that across all military services and departments, the FNCs have the highest historical transition rate, at 86 percent.
“Getting the most effective, useful technologies to our Sailors and Marines is critical,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder. “Without the right processes in place, even the best ideas might not make it through to the fleet.”
The road from research idea to tangible capability can be long and complex, involving multiple demands from different players. The FNC program goal is to ensure warfighter needs are addressed in an expeditious and fully vetted manner.
The report acknowledges that this isn’t always easy, and commends the best practices by research programs across DoD—including the creation of Integrated Product Teams (IPTs) that get early commitment and regular input from the warfighting, acquisition and scientific communities, among others.
“In the case of the Navy,” the report states, “IPTs identify capability gaps, provide input on which S&T projects may address those gaps, assess project progress, make sure transition strategies remain valid, and confirm funding is aligned to support transition.”
ONR uses multiple assessment and tracking tools to measure transition efforts and outcomes.
“Multiple, ongoing reviews help us document success—and to understand the reasons when a technology fails to transition,” said Dr. Thomas Killion, who heads ONR’s Directorate of Transition. “That helps us improve our processes and increase the likelihood of successful transition in future technology development programs.”
The report notes that “by maintaining this level of tracking, the Navy is better aware of the benefits and obstacles associated with a substantial portion of their S&T portfolio, which may better inform decisions made by Navy leadership.”
ONR’s rapid-turnaround program, TechSolutions, which takes requests from Sailors and Marines for quick solutions to capability problems in the field, also receives favorable mention in the GAO report, as does the cost-cutting Manufacturing Technology, or ManTech, program.
Since its inception in 1946, ONR research efforts have supported the development of the laser; GPS; transistors; fiber optics; radar; cell phones and more.
Naval Today Staff, March 29, 2013; Image: ONR