DAHLGREN, Va. — The history of technological solutions developed at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) was described in five different ways at its centennial kickoff ceremony, Oct. 16.
The perceptions, however, had one military power point in common — NSWCDD continues to be the innovative hub of scientific development, technical experimentation, and testing for the most modern weaponry and detection systems world-wide.
Each perspective — from the NSWCDD commanding officer, Naval Support Activity (NSA) South Potomac commanding officer, NSWCDD technical director, a former NSWCDD technical director, and the NSA South Potomac chaplain — began with Oct. 16, 1918.
On that date, a World War I era seven-inch 45 caliber tractor mounted gun was first fired after a detachment of Marines hoisted the colors to officially open the new U.S. Navy Proving Ground.
“Today we kick off the Dahlgren Centennial countdown,” NSWCDD Technical Director John Fiore told military and civilian personnel from NSF Dahlgren and its tenant commands. “It has the potential to fill us with wonderment. What will be the groundbreaking new innovations of the Navy's future and who will be there to make that happen? I look forward to the events that are scheduled throughout this year in celebrating our centennial but even more important than what we’ve done in the past is where we’re going to go in the future and the contributions we will make to the Navy moving forward.”
More than 8,000 personnel working at the base along with its tenant commands will join the community to travel down memory lane over the next 12 months leading up to the 100-year mark in 2018. They are planning to engage in activities such as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics event, a time capsule ceremony, triathlon, spring picnic, concert lunch, historic movie premier, rocket contest, and a grand finale — all in celebration of the centennial.
Along the way, thousands of conversations about Dahlgren’s history and its future are anticipated.
“For those of you who are new to Dahlgren, I give you a challenge — talk with your coworkers and find out why they stay at Dahlgren and why they dedicated their careers, some 30, 40 and 50 or more years to the mission here at Dahlgren,” said Fiore. “I believe it’s because we promote creativity, innovation, and thought, and looking ahead, there is always a new challenge on the horizon.”
Throughout its history, Dahlgren scientists and engineers provided the Navy's core technical capability for the integration of sensors, weapons, and their associated weapon and combat systems into surface ships and vehicles.
“The Navy’s fledgling air forces conducted tests at Dahlgren, and the first unmanned aerial vehicle flew over Dahlgren’s range in 1924,” said NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Godfrey ‘Gus’ Weekes who recounted highlights of his command’s history. “The Norden bombsight, a crucial piece of equipment used during World War II, was also tested during these early years."
The onset of the Cold War and the Korean War placed demands on the command’s scientists and engineers for new offensive and defensive ship systems. Then, in 1957, the former Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, and a space race began.
“Dahlgren played a pivotal role in developing software for GPS - Global Positioning System and satellites,” said Weekes. “The Naval Space Surveillance Center chose to headquarter at Dahlgren because the base possessed the only Navy computer capable of processing satellite orbital data. It was around this time that Dahlgren became heavily involved with the development of fleet ballistic missiles, later called submarine-launched ballistic missiles. We also led research on warheads, electromagnetic systems, and radar development.”
NSWCDD now leads in the research and delivery of innovative solutions for emerging warfighter challenges. The command leverages core naval warfare systems development and integration capabilities in electric weapons such as the electromagnetic railgun and high-energy lasers, mission engineering and analysis, and cyber warfare engineering.
“The future of Dahlgren could not be brighter,” said Weekes, after reflecting on the contributions that Dahlgren has made to the Navy and nation over the last 99 years. “I look forward to all that we can achieve going forward.”
Dahlgren’s enduring success in research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) stems from its ability to handle complex mathematics and engineering associated with ballistic weapons and projectiles. Moreover, the command’s civilian scientists and engineers always had the capability to test their ideas in collaboration with military personnel on base to produce proven technological solutions.
“Knowledge of the problem and its solution had to go together so you need the military and civilian expertise,” said keynote speaker Dr. Jim Colvard, who credited the “Dahlgren Way” with the command’s success over the years.
Although management schools began to recognize the virtues of participatory management and the "power of the individual" widely by the 1980s, Dahlgren had already established just such a pattern that Colvard continued during his tenure as technical director from 1973-1980.
The concept that came to be known as the Dahlgren Way — formulated during the 1930s — is an RDT&E philosophy that revolved around an entirely self-sufficient laboratory in which concepts were quickly researched, developed, analyzed, designed, built, tested, and evaluated all in one place without involving outside institutions or contractors. The idea was to work fast, to make mistakes fast, and to learn fast in order to develop the best possible weapons and ordnance for the Navy without bureaucratic meddling or burdensome contract negotiations. Technical knowledge was at the heart of the Dahlgren Way.
“You’ve got to create an environment in which people feel comfortable and have a sense of self-worth and dignity in whatever job they’re performing,” Colvard told the audience. “You also have to have imagination. Today’s problems cannot be solved by yesterday’s solutions. So you’ve got to be constantly looking at new ways to do things and approach a problem. What challenges you will face, I don’t know. I don’t know what problems will exist tomorrow. I don’t know what technologies will be available to allow you to tackle those problems. I do know that with young people who have a future and the freedom to tackle a problem, they will be solved. We’ve got a hundred year history of doing that and the contributions that Dahlgren makes are not only technical solutions but are most importantly — the Dahlgren way.”
NSA South Potomac Commanding Officer Capt. Michael O’Leary’s perspective encompassed all the commands based at Dahlgren today.
“Dahlgren is the Aegis BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) scientist who thinks outside the box to solve a confounding security challenge,” said O’Leary. “It’s the NSWC engineer who turns a great idea into a practical reality for warfighters. It’s the JWAC (Joint Warfare Analysis Center) analyst who provides critical information to combatant commanders. It’s the Airmen of the 18th Space Control Squadron Detachment One, who ensure our continued use of the space warfare domain.”
NSA South Potomac — comprising NSF Dahlgren in Virginia and NSF Indian Head in Maryland — serves as host to more than two dozen DoD, Joint and Navy supported commands and tenant activities. Shore installation management functions under its authority encompasses all land, buildings and support services to include public safety, environmental programs, facility support, supply operations, Fleet and family readiness programs, command religious program, and public affairs.
“Dahlgren is all of us and so much more,” said O’Leary. “ I challenge each of you to learn more about our collective history in this coming year. I’m excited to celebrate with you and I can’t tell you how proud I am to call you all shipmates at this truly magical place called Dahlgren.”
Lt. Joshua Okwori gave the invocation and benediction from his perspective as the NSA South Potomac chaplain.
“Let this gathering serve as an enduring witness for all, of the faithful service of those who made Dahlgren what it has evolved into,” said Okwori as the Navy Band played ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ during his benediction. “As a nation, help us to be aware of our needs for your providential protection in the calm of peace as well as in the terror of war. We pray that you will continue to protect our scientists, engineers, researchers, and the military leaders.”