Tales of Discovery: 75 Years of Reimagining Naval Power

The Office of Naval Research (ONR), through its commands—including ONR Global and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.—has been leading the discovery, development, and delivery of technology innovations for the Navy and Marine Corps.

It was in August 1946, just after the Second World War, that Congress mandated a new military command to identify and cultivate forward-looking science and technology capabilities, to ensure the superiority of U.S. warfighters. ONR’s establishment marked the first time a peacetime organization would use government funds to support civilian science and technology research at universities, laboratories and businesses.

Since that fateful year, the command, along with its Naval Research Enterprise partners, has played a leading role in many of the most important discoveries and inventions—from the earliest computer systems and software, to the exploration of the ocean’s depths, to new materials and sensors that have been integrated into everything from household items to warships.

A selection of some of ONR’s most notable innovations is presented here.

The master atomic clock ensemble at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.
Atomic Physics and the World’s Most Accurate Timekeeping

Atomic physics at the quantum level has led to the creation of our most accurate clocks—which in turn have made possible everything from satellite navigation to the internet.

Bathyscaphe Trieste makes the deepest dive
Bathyscaphe Trieste Makes the Deepest Dive

On 23 January 1960, Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard descended to the deepest spot in the world ocean—the Challenger Deep.

Members of a Naval Mobile Construction Battalion wearing light-weight, energy-absorptive helmets and body armor.
Cellular Materials

Extremely lightweight but very strong, cellular materials can be used to manufacture a wide range of products that demand both qualities.

Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System (GREENS)
Conducting and Semiconducting Polymers

Plastics are usually used as insulators, but some actually can conduct electricity, opening up a new field of manufacturing.

The Conning Officer Virtual Environment - Intelligent Tutoring System
Conning Officer Virtual Environment - Intelligent Tutoring System

Training naval officers for shipboard duties has advanced significantly with the use of virtual technologies.

DAHLGREN, Va. (Feb. 23, 2012) A high-speed camera captures the first full-energy shots from the Office of Naval Research-funded electromagnetic railgun prototype launcher that was recently installed at a test facility in Dahlgren, Va.
Electromagnetic Railgun

The millennium-long reign of gunpowder and other chemical propellants is over—projectiles can now be launched using the power of electricity.

The attack on USS Cole (DDG 67) in October 2000 mobilized researchers to find ways to make steel and other metals more blast resistant.
Explosion Resistant Coating

A new variety of spray-on coatings is helping to make everything from ships to vehicles more resistant to the blast effects of high explosives.

The Department of the Navy's Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP)
Floating Instrument Platform—FLIP

One of the most unusual sea-going vessels ever constructed has been helping several generations of researchers uncover the ocean’s secrets for more than five decades.

Gallium Nitride
Gallium Nitride

Gallium nitride is probably the most important compound you’ve never heard of. A central component of modern consumer electronics, it also helps power military hardware.

The Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System (GREENS)
Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System

New lightweight, solar-powered systems are bringing energy to Marines in the field.

Reconnaissance Surveillance and Targeting Vehicle (RST-V)
Ground Vehicle Mobility, Survivability, and Autonomy

Research into technologies that go in and on ground vehicles has been helping Marines and other warfighters to get the most advanced mobility available.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (June 14, 2016) Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) Airman Reymart Rosario signals the launch of an aircraft, assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).
Hearing Loss Research

With today’s battlefield louder than ever, from the ubiquity of small-arms fire to the roar of jet engine noise, protecting against hearing loss is essential.

Stratolab pilots in their pressure suits talk with Capt. Norman Lee Barr, the flight surgeon for the project.
High-Altitude Balloons Take First Steps toward Space

Experiments with balloons in the 1940s and 1950s took human beings higher than ever, bringing with them space-observing scientific instruments.

A venting black smoker, part of the Endeavour hydrothermal vent field.
Hydrothermal Vents

The idea that inorganic compounds, rather than light, could sustain life was a 90-year-old theory until researchers discovered unique life at the bottom of the ocean.

Modern warships, such as this Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, have a plethora of antennas, arrays, and other electronic systems on and around the superstructure.
Integrated Topside

Sprouting from the tops of warships like cactus needles, antennas and arrays are now so numerous that they interfere with each other.

A Blue whale is pole-tagged with a Dtag off southern California.
Marine Mammal Research

The U.S. Navy is a global leader in marine mammal research, helping to better understand the relationship between humans and these complex creatures.

Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Cheyenne (SSN 773)
Multistatic Acoustic Submarine Detection

Air-dropped sonobuoys are one of the most powerful tools for hunting for submarines; ONR has been working on improving this long-serving technology.

R/V Sally Ride (AGOR 28), operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is the most recent addition to the Navy’s oceanographic research vessel fleet.
Oceanographic Research Vessels

Some of the most ground-breaking research on the world’s oceans over the past seven decades have taken place on the U.S. Navy’s research vessels.

Project Whirlwind
Project Whirlwind

One of the earliest digital computer projects started out as an attempt to build a better flight trainer in 1944—but ended up as the heart of the first strategic defense network.

Mk-18 Mod 2 Kingfish unmanned underwater vehicle
REMUS and Mine Countermeasures

The REMUS unmanned underwater vehicle has proved its usefulness with the U.S. Navy and other navies around the world.

Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp’s map of the ocean floor radically changed understanding of both the undersea realm and the geology of the Earth.
Seafloor Mapping

The first detailed map of the ocean’s bottom in 1957 helped revolutionize our understanding of the geology of the seafloor.

SEALAB Manned Undersea Habitat

As NASA launched its effort to reach the moon, ONR spearheaded attempts to show that humans could live and work at the bottom of the ocean.

As illustrated here, two chaotic systems, under the proper conditions, can be synchronized so that their signals are identical.
The Synchronization of Chaotic Systems

A system that is highly determined by its initial conditions, but whose outcome is unpredictable, is the idea behind chaos theory.

A thermal barrier coating developed with the support of the Office of Naval Research is now a standard feature on the F135 engine, which powers the F-35 Lightning II aircraft.
Thermal Barrier Coatings

Modern engines are starting to reach the limits of performance that metallurgy alone can provide, but new coatings are helping to increase heat tolerance.

This shows Hurricane Irene off North Carolina in 2011 as depicted by COAMPS-TC.
Tropical Cyclone Prediction

Superior storm prediction is a long-term process of combining different models, expanding data inputs, and improving resolution.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Aug. 12, 2014) An unmanned 11-meter rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) from Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock operates autonomously during an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored demonstration of swarmboat technology held on the James River in Newport News, Va.
Unmanned Surface Vehicles

Twenty-first-century advances are making it possible to use ever larger surface naval vessels to perform missions at sea with minimal human intervention.

A depiction of the Van Allen radiation belts around the Earth, as well as the positions of several satellites and probes within the belts.
Van Allen Radiation Belts

Discovered in the late 1950s, knowledge of these belts of charged particles surrounding the Earth helped in the design of safe manned craft and satellites.

The Squad Electrical Power Network (SEPN) Vest Power Manager (VPM 402)
Wearable Tactical Energy

Next-generation solar cells and batteries are helping to get Marines and other ground troops the renewable power they need in the field.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 10, 2013) An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completes an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle-Navy

Unmanned aircraft now are on the verge of joining the carrier air wings of the future.

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