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Posted: February 1, 2024 | By: Greg Nichols

Celebrating Nearly 250 Years of U.S. Naval Innovation

Greg Nichols headshotOn March 9, 1862, as the first sunlight of the day sparkled over the Chesapeake Bay, history was being made with the world’s first clash of steam-powered, ironclad warships.1 The U.S. Navy’s newest and most advanced ship, the USS Monitor, engaged in an hours-long battle with the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack). Though the resulting battle would end in a draw, naval warfare was changed forever. Nearly 160 years later, the Navy launched Task Force 59—a one-of-a-kind and advanced concept to quickly combine unmanned systems and artificial intelligence with naval operations.

From its humble beginnings in 1775 with a schooner and a sloop, the Navy has since transformed into a formidable fighting force—perhaps the strongest and most capable naval force in world history. Apart from the courage and legacy of the sailors and marines who have fought and served gallantly for centuries, the Navy also owes its continued success and fierceness to a long-time tradition of embracing innovation. For nearly 250 years, they have been committed to pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the latest technology, thus enabling them to prepare for the future fight.

As we launch the renewed DSIAC Journal, we dedicate this first special edition to the Navy and its celebrated tradition of embracing innovation and technology, especially in the most pivotal and volatile of times. From the screw propeller to nuclear propulsion to nanotechnology and advanced materials to autonomy, hypersonic missiles, multidomain operations, and additive manufacturing, the Navy continuously pushes forward. We highlight some of these advancements here with a collection of five articles that embrace the spirit of current naval innovation and operational direction.

We begin this issue with a historical perspective from the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL’s) Chemistry Division on the development of inorganic-organic hybrid polymers. Then, we turn to an exploration of emerging applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning in naval energy autonomy and digital transformation from a collaboration between the Naval Facility Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center and the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI). A team from NRL and UDRI present our feature article that covers new methods for understanding an old enemy of Navy steel that costs billions of dollars each year—corrosion. They describe research that seeks to improve upon the age-old Environmental Severity Index rankings used in corrosion maintenance by combining real-world corrosion measurements with advanced analytical techniques to better understand the relationship between the environmental conditions and the reliability and maintainability of Navy assets.

We end this special issue with two articles focusing on naval weapons systems. One depicts the modelling and characterization of airwake needed to determine how to properly fit a Zumwalt class destroyer with hypersonic launch capabilities. The other discusses the Mission Effectiveness Dashboard, a browser-based tool that allows users to quantify the performance of a submarine across missions, thus allowing architects to visualize outputs as part of the process of making informed submarine design decisions.

Admiral Chester Nimitz famously said, “It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it is not fought on U.S. soil.”2 We hope this special edition offers an overview of how the Navy is doing that, mainly through shipbuilding (materials and design), maintenance, weaponry, and power. The work never ends. The information we present here is only a tiny fraction of the research the Navy is currently conducting but offers a glimpse into the large-scale, long-range planning needed to keep the fleet in fighting shape.

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1 Naval History and Heritage Command. “The Battle of Hampton Roads.”–1861-1865/css-virginia-destroys-uss-cumberland-and-uss-congress–8-march-1.html, accessed on 5 July 2023.

2 Naval History and Heritage Command. “Employment of Naval Forces by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN.”, accessed on 5 July 2023.

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