Meeting of the Minds: ONR Hosts Roundtable with Present, Past CNRs

Office of Naval Research
Corporate Strategic Communications 
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For Immediate Release: Aug. 16, 2021

By Warren Duffie Jr., Office of Naval Research

ARLINGTON, Va.—When retired Vice Adm. William Landay served as chief of naval research (CNR) from 2006 to 2008, he had a conversation with the vice president of research at a prominent corporation known for technological innovation.

“I’m so envious of you and the Office of Naval Research [ONR],” the executive told Landay. “All of my S&T [science and technology] research money has to come from our business units, which are not interested in investing for years out. I have this great fear that, over time, we will lose our innovative culture.”

“Fast forward to today and, as that company has struggled, you hear how they’ve lost their innovative culture,” said Landay. “It’s an important lesson for those of us connected with ONR about communicating the vision and value of basic research, and our own culture of innovation.”

Landay shared this story during a recent roundtable hosted by current Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Lorin C. Selby and featuring eight former CNRs. The event—broadcast to the entire Naval Research Enterprise (NRE)—allowed the CNRs to share their experiences overseeing ONR and the NRE; lessons learned; the historical importance of ONR and how it can thrive in the future; and future crucial areas of research given current geopolitical realities. 

The roundtable was part of ONR’s 75th-anniversary commemoration.

“This is an incredible opportunity to bring together former chiefs of naval research to discuss future naval power,” said Selby—adding that the discussion impacted “where we as a Navy and Marine Corps go when it comes to technology, the incorporation of that technology, and the influence of what that technology might be.”

The former CNRs included:

Rear Adm. (ret.) David J. Hahn (2016-2020)
Vice Adm. (ret.) Mathias W. Winter (2014-2016)
Rear Adm. (ret.) Matthew L. Klunder (2011-2014)
Rear Adm. (ret.) Nevin P. Carr Jr. (2008-2011)
Vice Adm. (ret.) William E. Landay III (2006-2008)
Rear Adm. (ret.) Jay M. Cohen (2000-2006)
Vice Adm. (ret.) Paul G. Gaffney II (1996-2000)
Rear Adm. (ret.) Marc Y. E. Pelaez (1993-1996)

Discussion highlights included:

Hahn stressed the importance of expecting the unexpected, using the current COVID-19 pandemic as an example: “Twenty months ago, if someone said the current black swan event we’re experiencing would hit us this hard, we would have called them crazy. In looking toward the future, the agility and nimbleness of ONR in responding to challenges will continue to serve it well.”

Klunder talked about future naval power, the rise of multiple peer and near-peer competitors, and the possibility of a “maritime conflict or pressurized environment”: “We need to be ready in two ways—maintain our edge in domains where we still have superiority and be honest enough with ourselves to say when other domains need some help. If ONR and the NRE aren’t at the tip of the solution spear, then we are failing.”  

Building on Klunder’s theme, Gaffney said, “If anything happens, ONR will get a call to help mobilize the national talent because you invest in the technical talent in this country. You’ll be called upon swiftly, and I hope that you will be ready to do that. You know where the technical talent is better than almost anyone in government.”

Pelaez discussed the difference between today and when he became CNR in 1993—soon after the Soviet Union collapsed and the U.S. remained the world’s lone superpower: “Fast forward to today and suddenly we have peer competitors in the world again. Given the proliferation of technology, there is no better place where you can keep your finger on what’s going on in the world—and where the advancements and opportunities lie—than ONR.”  

Cohen said ONR will continue to remain relevant for another 75 years by focusing on its main customers—Sailors and Marines: “An important part of this is investing in talent. Innovation is a contact sport. I still talk to people today who say that ONR invested in their early research. We didn’t invest in them when they were Nobel laureates—but they became Nobel laureates because of the vision and belief ONR had in their work.”

Expanding on this idea, Carr said: “ONR has a wonderful culture of innovation for the Navy. Part of the reason for that is the focus on the person. You find a good researcher who is smart, who you believe in, who convinces you they can take you where you need to go, and you support them. That’s the opposite of many research institutions where they have endless layers of peer review, which tends to stifle innovation.”

Winter celebrated the sense of teamwork and shared commitment within the NRE: “The men and women of the NRE are not only the brightest, most innovative scientists and technologists, but they’re also outstanding contracting, legal and finance professionals. It takes that entire team to ensure the discovery and invention of technology can be matured and delivered to our defense enterprise.”

Following their discussion with the NRE workforce, the admirals past and present met in private to continue the dialogue. Selby noted there will be positive, visible outputs from the meeting in the near future. 

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.

 
CNR Reunion
Office of Naval Research
Corporate Strategic Communications 
875 N. Randolph St., #1225-D
Arlington, Va., 22203-1771
Office: (703) 696-5031
Fax: (703) 696-5940
E-mail: onrpublicaffairs@navy.mil
Web: www.onr.navy.mil
Facebook: www.facebook.com/officeofnavalresearch

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