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Office of Naval Research is Proof of Government's Technology Cutting Edge

Office of Naval Research is Proof of Government's Technology Cutting Edge

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Max Cacas | FederalNewsRadio

Another convenient stereotype attached to all things related to the Federal Government is the notion that somehow, all those billions of dollars spent annually still result in technology that is “behind the curve”.

Several years ago, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, sponsored the DARPA Urban Challenge, to spur college students, inventors, and industry to develop autonomous robotic vehicles for the military. The idea: to create vehicles that can drive themselves from one point to another for such military activities such as supply convoys and patrols. The goal, to safeguard American troops in combat.

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But DARPA isn’t the only government or Pentagon agency where technology is a cutting edge pursuit. Just west on Fairfax Drive in Arlington from DARPA headquarters is the Office of Naval Research, where I had the opportunity to ask Doctor Lawrence Schuette, ONR’s Director of Innovation, about that stereotype of government technology being behind the curve.

You can’t prove or disprove a statement like that, and it’s a statement you hear a lot about the government. But I can offer that, in the case of Navy platforms, what people see visibly, ships, airplanes, the teeny piece of submarines that they see, perhaps they all look alike, and it’s not so much the platform, as what’s inside it.

It should be noted here that much of the scientific and technology work of the Office of Naval Research is classified. That said, I asked Doctor Schuette to discuss what he could about the cutting edge technologies being developed by his organization, which was chartered by Congress in 1946.

“We perform science and technology development for the Navy,” Schuette told Federal News Radio in an exclusive interview at his Arlington office. “We do near-term work for the war fighter, and some of that is classified, because you’re trying to protect how well it works. We do mid-term work, stuff that we know will be on a ship or plane in the hands of a warfighter. And we absolutely do that cutting edge work for thirty years from now.”

As an example, Schuette described an electromagnetic rail gun, which he says "in its final form will be able to shoot a projectile 250 miles. No one’s ever done this.

And it will use electricity to do it," instead of chemical munitions. He says the ONR website has video of a demonstration of a prototype capable of delivering a 10 megajoules (a measurement of energy) shot.

“We’ve gone well beyond that,” he said, adding that the rail gun is an example of the kind of work that keeps the Navy on the cutting edge.

Schuette also discussed a recently initiated “free-electron laser program” to produce an advanced laser weapons system. Development of that system, he says, is likely to be a multi-year project working with “industry, academia, and the Department of Energy laboratories, and Navy laboratories.”

Turning back to the electric rail gun again, Schuette jokingly says he recently got a verification that this project was definitely on track, when an electric rail gun was featured prominently in the recent “Transformers” movie.

On the Web:

U.S. Navy – Office of Naval Research

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