Reimagine Naval Power
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Reimagine Naval Power

Lorin Selby, Chief of Naval Research, Office of Naval Research

The United States is a maritime nation returning to Great Power Competition amidst an extensive array of technological revolutions. From Artificial Intelligence to biotechnology to quantum, the 21st century will be shaped most by whoever can best harness and guide these revolutions. The U.S. and our allies once had a comfortable monopoly on advanced technology. Today, state and non-state actors worldwide—some with malign intent—have invested enormous resources to catch up. The next 10 years will likely chart the course for the remainder of this century, leaving no time for us to contemplate our resolve.

This year, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) celebrates 75 years of a proud history that has led many revolutions in military and technological affairs. The next 75 years demand even more leadership, innovation, and adaptability from all of usright now. As the Chief of Naval Research, I lead the Naval Research Enterprise (NRE)—composed of ONR;ONR Global (our international command);the Naval Research Lab (NRL), which is the Navy’s longest-existing research laboratory; and other organizations. All of the hardworking and talented men and women working here each day are dedicated to making sure our Sailors and Marines have what they need to keep the peace and come home safely. As established by law in 1946, we are charged to plan, foster, and encourage scientific research for future naval power and national security. 

As we move forward into a future where the only certainty is greater competition, facing new challenges around the globe, our course will be informed by strategic guidance and warfighting needs—as well as by our network of world-class subject matter experts who discover, develop and implement what does not exist today.

In short: We must reimagine naval power. To rest on our laurels would be foolish; to ignore emerging technologies would be dangerous. Some of the greatest defense capabilities of today came from the NRE being pro-active and committed to exploring the new, sometimes taking decades of sponsorship, partnership, and encouragement. 

Our success as a nationwill depend on our ability to continue to produce knowledge and technology;to train future generations of scientists and engineers; and to expand the Department of the Navy’s (DON) options—both evolutionary and revolutionary—to achieve scientific and warfighting impact.This will requirebroad, naval-relevant Basic & Applied Research; a team deeply committed to diverse thought and approaches; and a workforce engaged in a relentless pursuit of innovation, from both within the NRE and in partnership with the private sector. We need to continue to provide our warfighters world-class capabilities now—but also to imagine and develop the technologies of tomorrow that are called“impossible” right now.  “Impossible” is a term that blocks innovation. At one time, lasers on ships and swarming unmanned vehicles were impossible. Today, they are here.

All of this means executing as a team of teams across academia, industry, and government, and renewed partnerships with our allies. In the short-term, the work requires agility in technology maturation, and new/renewed partnerships to rapidly transition, operationalize, and field technologies. Long-term, we must be diverse in the constituency to think differently, develop unique approaches, and employ perspectives not previously considered.That’s why, as we reimagine naval power, we’re reimagining the workforce, including Naval Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs. We are intent on discovering and developing the next generation of scientists and engineers from across the American landscape.  Not every student will be interested in STEM.  But for those who are, we want them to see an exciting, inviting landscape to support the nation’s defense.

Some of you may be wanting to hear where we’re predicting research to go in the months and years ahead. We don’t know for certain, nor do we want to show our cards at the table.  We can say that we see what our peer and near-peer competitors are doing, and we are supportingpartners and allies who have a better vision. At this moment, some of our focus areas include AI, autonomy, quantum capabilities in computer software, biotechnology, directed energy/lasers, swarming unmanned vehicles on, above and below the sea, and much more.

We are leaving no stone unturned and encourage you to join with us.

Shaping the future Navy and future Marine Corps is the extraordinary responsibility of the NRE.  This charge demands nothing less than the NRE leading the world in science and technology. The nation is counting on us, and potential adversaries are working hard to outflank us. Through shared initiative, creativity, and determination, we will develop the future our nation deserves and demands.

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