For Immediate Release: July 12, 2019
By Warren Duffie Jr., Office of Naval Research
A former department head at the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Dr. Richard Carlin, now serves in a new leadership role at ONR—as its Naval Accelerator.
His job involves fostering smoother collaboration between naval warfare centers, academia and industry—to speed up technology development and delivery to warfighters.
“ONR and other organizations within the Naval Research Enterprise are looking toward the venture capital space to see what works for them, what doesn’t, and how we can implement similar techniques here,” said Carlin, who used to oversee ONR’s Mission Capable, Persistent and Survivable Naval Platforms Department. “Earlier this year, the chief of naval research asked if I would oversee this initiative, and it sounded like an interesting challenge that could make a big difference in how we do business.”
Currently, technology development and acquisition can take years—and, in some cases, once-new technology is outdated by the time it reaches the warfighter. Carlin wants to streamline the innovation pipeline at naval organizations, from contracts to warfare centers.
This includes shortening timelines to get from when a problem is actually understood, to research and delivery of prototypes—by giving the Navy and Marine Corps a common language and approach for solving those problems.
“As the National Defense Strategy states, we are in a new era of challenges, with adversaries making dramatic gains,” said Carlin. “As technology advances faster than ever before, and both state and non-state actors have access to it, the naval research community needs to accelerate accordingly.”
Ways to accelerate
As ONR’s Naval Accelerator, Carlin shepherds multiple initiatives designed to spur innovation.
1. Working closely with Bob Smith, director of the Navy’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, the Accelerated Delivery and Acquisition of Prototype Technologies (ADAPT) pilot program engages non-traditional, small-business technology providers and educates them on naval priorities. Carlin’s goal is to cultivate partners with existing technology prototypes that have been proven to work and can be adapted to naval needs—in under two years.
“The idea is to speed up the technology-development process by treating these small companies like Silicon Valley start-ups,” said Carlin. “That involves putting some deadline pressure on them and seeing how they respond.
“We want to see what commercial technology already exists that can be adapted for naval purposes,” he continued. “The key is starting with a prototype with established proof of feasibility that has been shown to work, not just a theoretical concept.”
Once selected by ADAPT, a company will receive three rounds of funding over 18 months to shore up its technology for naval needs. Each funding round is contingent on the company satisfying pre-determined criteria. The prototype must be ready for final testing by the end of the 18 months.
2. Carlin is working to create Tech Bridges in multiple locations throughout the United States. These would serve as regional innovation hubs where warfare centers, colleges and universities, research institutions and industry team up for technology research, evaluation and commercialization, as well as education and workforce development.
So far this year, Carlin has established the 401 Tech Bridge in Rhode Island, which launched with a challenge competition to fund companies to develop maritime-composite technologies. The Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport has been an active partner and leader in this effort.
“These Tech Bridges will serve as technology outposts with standardized, regionally tailored, repeatable pathways for harnessing commercial technology and the ecosystems that create them,” said Carlin. “They’ll follow a collaborative, agile franchise model.”
3. Focused on energy resilience, the Asia Pacific Technology and Education Partnership is an initiative with outposts in Hawaii and Alaska—supporting projects with U.S. regional partners; Asia-Pacific naval bases; and international partners such as Thailand, Vietnam and Australia.
4. The Naval Innovation Process Adoption (NIPA) seeks to harness the expertise of academics, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs via Hacking for Defense (H4D)—a Stanford University-created model that adapts best practices from Silicon Valley companies to the Department of Defense. An important component of NIPA involves challenges that provide H4D training and funding for rapid-prototype development at naval commands. Carlin said that more than 500 people at 14 naval commands have been trained in H4D through NIPA.
5. The Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities for National Entrepreneurship (NEPTUNE) initiative provides funding to multiple universities, the U.S. Naval Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School. Its goals are to help the Navy and Marine Corps discover ways to improve energy conservation, generate renewable energy and implement energy-efficient technologies—while giving active-duty military students and veterans the chance to immerse themselves in university-level research. Project funding is determined through a rigorous, H4D-based proposal process that includes student participation.
Acquisition models for the future?
Carlin believes the initiatives under his Naval Accelerator mantle can shine as acquisition models for the future—and hopes to transform the use of funding from the Navy’s SBIR and STTR programs, both located at ONR.
SBIR provides the Navy with groundbreaking technology created by small firms—while STTR transitions products developed by both small businesses and research institutions to the Navy and Marine Corps.
“If we want to maintain our edge over our adversaries in the technology race, it’s vital to move quickly, think creatively and deviate from the established acquisition path a bit,” said Carlin.
Although his Naval Accelerator role is an ONR position, Carlin works in close partnership with the Department of the Navy’s (DoN) new Naval Expeditions (NavalX) Agility Office—particularly in the creation of Tech Bridges. NavalX was created by the Hon. James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition.
NavalX is intended to give Sailors, Marines and DoN civilians the tools to deliver ideas into action. This will enable every organization to better connect Sailors and Marines who have innovative ideas with experts who can experiment with those ideas, invest in them or help turn them into something tangible for the Navy and Marine Corps.
For more information about NavalX, visit https://www.secnav.navy.mil/agility.
Warren Duffie Jr. is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.
About the Office of Naval Research
The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 55 countries, 634 institutions of higher learning and nonprofit institutions, and more than 960 industry partners. ONR, through its commands, including headquarters, ONR Global and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., employs more than 3,800 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.