DAHLGREN, Va. — Dohn Burnett, Deputy Technical Director for the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), retired after 34 years of civil service during a ceremony here in March.
During his tenure, Burnett led the planning and execution of the command’s technical mission of research, development, test, and evaluation of surface naval warfighting systems. He directed a workforce of 3,700 employees and oversaw annual operations of $1.5 billion.
“This is a really exciting time for the Navy and for Dahlgren,” said Burnett, citing innovative technologies developed at the command such as hypervelocity projectiles, lasers, railgun, and cyber engineering. “We have a lot of revolutionary work going on right now.”
Burnett’s insight and involvement spanned the command’s research, development, test, evaluation, analysis, systems engineering, and integration efforts for complex naval combat, systems.
The technological work has been evolving — and the range of technical programs increasing – at Dahlgren over the last century with the changing missions of the warfighter and advances in technology.
“In addition to the revolutionary work there’s a great deal of evolutionary work,” said Burnett, referring to initiatives in radars, missiles, and command and control systems in addition to new methodologies in combat systems engineering and new capabilities through integration of combat systems.
Burnett and NSWCDD leadership anticipate that the command’s unique set of capabilities in warfare systems development and integration will lead the Navy’s efforts to develop new naval and joint warfare systems.
Burnett’s leadership was crucial to realigning NSWCDD to make sure its organizational construct was aligned to the command’s strategy. He also impacted the development of the command’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, charting the course for NSWCDD to remain the Navy’s leader in warfare systems research, development, and integration.
“We’re still implementing our new strategic plan,” said Burnett, who previously served as the NSWCDD Warfare Systems Department head, leading Navy surface combat system development and support efforts. “I think we’ve made really good progress aligning the organization to that plan.”
The strategic plan placed special emphasis on technical opportunities in emerging warfare or “thrust” areas aligned with NSWCDD’s core capability to deliver integrated solutions through innovation and systems engineering.
The thrust areas — electric weapons design, development and integration; mission engineering and analysis; and cyber warfare engineering in naval systems — build off the command’s science and engineering foundation, and are envisioned to become an integral part of the organization's core technical expertise in the future.
“Most people understand that we have these thrust areas and now we’ve been able to modify our processes so that investments and other resource decisions are based on criteria in that plan,” said Burnett. “Implementing the plan and using it to guide our decisions, especially funding investments and hiring, is really important.”
Burnett recounted the top three highlights of his civil service career.
- “Developing leaders at all levels who will be here long after I’m gone — their work is going to continue after the systems I helped develop are gone. I made it a priority in my career to work on developing leaders and, in turn, they will develop leaders. That legacy will live on and Dahlgren will continue to do great work because it has good leaders.”
- “The work I’ve done over the years on Aegis, and the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. I was fortunate to help build Aegis, deploy it in the fleet, and have a role in what it’s become today and for the foreseeable future. It’s the backbone of the surface Navy, and will continue to be for a long time. I had a small part to play in its development and I’m proud of that. Aegis is the best warfighting system ever developed and deployed.”
- “Dahlgren is stronger than when I got here. It was a great organization when I got here, and I think we have improved it over the 34 years to where it’s even stronger now. Dahlgren is involved in everything big going on in the surface Navy. Virtually every sponsor we have wants more Dahlgren involvement. Our workforce – scientists and engineers and support workforce — are second to none. I feel really good about where Dahlgren is. I had a small part to play in that, and I’m proud of that.”
Prior to his NSWCDD deputy technical director and department head positions, Burnett served as the division head for the command’s Systems Certification and Fleet Operations Division where he had management oversight of system certification and configuration management; combat system test and evaluation; shipboard computer program installations and control; and direct fleet support. Burnett also served as the program manager for the NSWCDD Sly Fox leadership development program and he was the deputy program manager for the DD-21 Zumwalt-class Land Attack Destroyer Program.