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US House Armed Services Committee

Prepared Statement Of

DR. TIMOTHY P. COFFEY, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, NAVAL RESEARCH LABORATORY

WASHINGTON, DC

26 June 2001

     Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the subcommittee, I am pleased to participate in these hearings on the Defense Science and Technology Base and its impact on military superiority in the 21st Century.

 

     I am the Director of Research of the Naval Research Laboratory.   This Laboratory reports to the Chief of Naval Research and is often referred to as the Navy's Corporate Laboratory. As such, it conducts research and development across the whole spectrum of the physical engineering, environmental and space sciences and technologies.   The NRL has a long history of distinguished contributions to military science and technology and to the transition of that science and technology to practical application.   In its early years, the NRL solved the HF radio problem for the Navy.   This was followed by NRL's invention of radar in the United States.   NRL had a working pulse radar in 1934, the same year in which it was awarded the first radar patent in the United States.   By 1939, the Laboratory had installed the first radar in the Fleet.   At that point, the transition to Industry occurred and it was with these radars that the U.S. Navy fought the battles of the Pacific.   The Laboratory was a key player in leading the Nation into space research and space systems beginning with the exploitation of captured V2 rockets after World War II. The Lab ran the scientific satellite project prior to the creation of NASA and placed the first U.S. intelligence collection spacecraft into orbit in June 1960, a fact which we declassified 3 years ago on our 75th anniversary.   The Laboratory conceived the Timation program and conducted the associated technology program placing four spacecraft in orbit, the last of which became the first operational Global Positioning System spacecraft in 1977.   Our work in this regard was recognized in 1992 with the Collier Trophy, the Nation's highest award for advances in navigation technology.   In 1985 Dr. Jerome Karle of NRL received the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in x-ray crystallography.   There are numerous examples of recent accomplishments, such as the introduction of inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) to the Fleet, the development and introduction of a wide variety of fiber optic sensors, key contributions to active decoy systems, such as the ALE-50 and the NULKA decoy, the development of advanced high-power laser technologies, the discovery of the decadal impact of the El Nino phenomena, optical interferometry on a scale never before envisioned and the discovery development and introduction to the Fleet of specific emitter identification technology (SEI) which will be key to intelligence collection, emitter identification and precise targeting.   There are few institutions, public or private, which can lay claim to such a sustained record of achievement. I believe you would find substantial agreement within the scientific and technical community that NRL ranks among the world's top ten multidisciplinary Laboratories. All of the accomplishments which I have mentioned above were accomplished with substantial involvement between the Laboratory and private industry and academia, a point which I will come back to shortly.

 

     I have made this brief summary of NRL accomplishments to point out that NRL has dealt quite effectively with the role of science and technology in maintaining military superiority throughout most of the 20th Century.   The subject with which you are dealing is one with which we have considerable experience. In many ways, our job is to ensure that U.S. naval forces never suffer a defeat in battle because of technological surprise.   This will be as true in the 21st Century as it was in the 20th Century.

 

Is there a simple formula to accomplish this?   I don't think so.   As has often been said "making predictions is very risky, especially when they are about the future". There are, however, some rules of thumb which are pertinent here. First, you must recognize who are the players in developing defense technology.   These are Industry, Academia and Government with the whole undertaking becoming increasing globalized. Second, you must realize that the interplay among the players is critical. Third, you must be concerned about the health and well being of each player. I have had the good fortune in my career to have worked in Industry, in Academia and in Government.   During my Government career, I have been substantially involved with both Industry and Academia. I look forward one day to return to either Industry or Academia when my work in Government is done.  

 

I would like to focus my remaining remarks on the Government component of this trio of Defense S&T developers. It is my opinion that the government component is currently in the greatest jeopardy.   If I could offer you but one single piece of advice, it would be to do whatever is necessary to maintain the technical competence of Government as it relates to the Defense enterprise. National defense is not a matter that can be simply left to the commercial marketplace.   National defense is the business of Government. In the final analysis, the Government will decide national defense issues.   With that thought in mind, consider the fact that our entire defense strategy rests upon the assumption that we will remain technologically superior to any adversaries with whom we must deal.   Consider the complexities of the technologies which confront us today and the fact they will become more sophisticated and complex as we move into the 21st Century. Now consider a government defense establishment which does not have the technical competence to even understand these technologies, let alone decide amongst them.   That sounds to me like a recipe for disaster.  

 

If you read the history of the foundation of the Naval Research Laboratory, you will discover that it was Thomas Edison's concern for the technical competence of the U.S. military establishment that led to his recommendation for the creation of the great research laboratory that became the NRL.   A review of the intervening history and the accomplishments and contributions of NRL indicates that Edison was a very smart man indeed.   Now there are those today who say the world has changed and that the role envisioned by Edison for places like NRL is no longer necessary.   This is an assertion which of course is impossible to disprove.   I believe that history is the best guide for dealing with such matters.   In that context, I submit the following quotation for your consideration: "In confirmation of our discussion yesterday on the subject of Bellevue, my feeling is that if the Laboratory is to be retained by the Navy, it must be administered directly under the Bureau."   "The part research plays in assisting our Navy to be a place superior to other Navies must be attained through the use of our great commercial laboratories (in which this Nation surpasses) and the Navy can never hope to own a Laboratory commensurate with these."   ".I would favor abolishing the Laboratory except that I would keep a few high class research technicists (perhaps 6) there to act as a liaison between the Bureau and the commercial laboratories for the sole purpose of keeping in touch with specific research problems with which the commercial laboratories are working on".   This quotation is extracted from a memorandum from Capt S.C. Hooper, Director of Naval Communications to Admiral S.M. Robinson, Commander, Bureau of Engineering and is dated October 10, 1931.   This initiative to close the Laboratory led to a great flail of activity including Congressional hearings and was finally resolved by the General Board of the Navy. I offer you another quote from the General Board:   Admiral Bristol to Captain Hooper "I want to get down to whether you believe in a research laboratory or not".   Captain Hooper responding: "Not a research laboratory for the Navy, I don't believe that the men who originally recommended this had the slightest idea of how our work was organized".   Frankly, all of this sounds very much like the discussion which has been ongoing regarding the Defense Laboratories for the past decade or so.   The General Board decided as follows:   "The Navy requires a research organization capable of maintaining active liaison with the research activities of the nation and of prosecuting research along certain lines not paralleled in American industry.   Both of these requirements can be met by a Naval Research organization based upon the Naval Research Laboratory.   The Board believes that the sole purpose of the establishment of the Laboratory was to conduct such activities. A research laboratory under Naval control will also more surely preserve the secrecy of certain developments, the publication of which would be prejudicial to national defense". It is interesting to note that at the same time Captain Hooper was proposing the disestablishment of the Laboratory, Taylor and Young at NRL were filing their invention disclosure for radar. It's also interesting to note that Captain Hooper many years later notes in his memoirs the prescience which he had to support the innovative work at NRL which led to discovery of radar.

 

The point of this review of history is to note that the arguments with respect to the retention of serious technical competence within the defense establishment are not new. The rhetoric of today is very similar to the rhetoric of 70 years ago. The technologies that were being introduced at that time were certainly less sophisticated than those being introduced today; however, for the times, they were no less revolutionary.

    

     The arguments, which prevailed 70 years ago regarding the retention of the Naval Research Laboratory, are as valid today as they were then. In some sense, we have here a proof of the axiom that the more things change, the more they stay the same.   Indeed, I would submit that the argument for retaining serious technical competence in Government is stronger today than it was 70 years ago.   The defense of the United States today is far more dependent upon sophisticated complex technology than it has ever been.   The Government must be able to sort out which of the competing technologies are truly the ones upon which the defense of the nation should rest.   This will involve complex and often intense interaction among Government, Industry and Academia.   The Government must retain as Government employees practicing scientists and engineers who are immersed in the development of science and technology around the world and immersed in the culture of national defense.   These Government scientists and engineers must have the respect of their counterparts in Industry and Academia if they are to meet their responsibilities of protecting the national interest.

 

     I'm not going to repeat here the litany of problems confronting the Government with respect to the retention of in-house competence.   These deal with personnel issues, procurement issues and facilities issues and have been documented in well over 100 blue ribbon studies since the 1960's. In some fundamental sense, they deal with the governance under which these establishments operate.   While most of the recommendations of these studies have never been implemented, we have succeeded, at least in the case in NRL, in retaining a highly viable workforce which today can compete intellectually and authoritatively with any collection of scientists and engineers in the country.   There is, however, a new development which has me especially worried.   That development is an increasing reluctance on the part of program managers to allow Government-furnished equipment to have a role in their acquisition programs.   Think back over NRL's great achievements: HF communications, radar, the first reconnaissance satellite, the Global Positioning System, inverse synthetic aperture radar, the tools for the determination of the structure of matter, specific emitter identification and many others.   These were achievements that changed the paradigm for the conduct of modern warfare.   Each and every one of them involved the introduction of Government-furnished equipment at some point in their evolution.   What would have happened had we been prohibited from actually getting the results of our work into the acquisition pipeline?   The consequences are scary to think about.   I suggest, however, that they deserve some serious thought before we commit a potentially fatal error with respect to the retention of world-class in-house competence; and with respect to the issue that is the focus of your attention, namely, to accelerate the identification, maturation and transition of advanced technology to our armed forces.   I can assure you that world-class scientists and engineers will not work for the Naval Research Laboratory once they become convinced that the product of their labors will be precluded from practical application.

 

My thoughts have focused principally on NRL.   I expect, however, that many of them would apply more broadly to other R&D Laboratories and to headquarters activities such as the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Systems Commands.   I offer these thoughts for your consideration and thank you very much for the opportunity to address you.



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