The Naval Engineering Education Consortium

NEEC 1

With help from the Naval Engineering Education Consortium and NSWC Dahlgren Division, students at Virginia Tech created a “Reduced-Scale Railgun.”

By Kirk Jenne

A new collaborative effort that connects Navy technical experts with academia is helping to create partnerships that generate real innovation. As a catalyst for developing the Navy’s future workforce, professors and students at universities nationwide are conducting research and development on naval-relevant topics at their campus laboratories. The research takes place through the Naval Engineering Education Consortium (NEEC), an initiative that provides multiyear funding for project-based, hands-on research conducted during the academic year.

An arrangement between the divisions at the naval warfare centers and various universities enables professors to hire students who are seeking bachelor’s or master’s degrees— and for technical experts from the warfare centers to visit campuses and discuss technology and how their projects relate to challenges facing the Navy and Marine Corps. The warfare center experts also are primed to talk with students about employment as a civilian scientist or engineer. And by all accounts thus far, the students thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to speak with them as part of projects that have direct effects on Navy capabilities.

The three primary objectives of the NEEC initiative are:

• Acquire academic research results and products to resolve naval technology challenges

• Hire college graduates with research and development experience into the Naval Sea System Command workforce

• Cultivate exceptional working relationships with naval engineering colleges, universities, professors, and academics.

Universities can join up via a successful bid on a topic listed in the NEEC broad agency announcement directed at colleges and universities. The announcement is published in Federal Business Opportunities (www.fbo.gov) in the spring (March), time enough for professors to select their student researchers for the next academic year. Once an agreement is reached, the intent is for the Navy to provide funding for multiple years to establish a closer working relationship with the research professor and technical experts at a warfare center. Professors are asked to help Navy civilians identify students with the potential and interest in working at the warfare centers.

Success Stories

Professor Hardus Odendaal at Virginia Tech is thrilled with the success he has had with undergraduate research students who want the opportunity to participate in working on his “Reduced-Scale Railgun” project. The students have been involved in designing and building parts, setting up industrial control systems, testing phases of development, and operating the railgun in a safe manner.

The students designed the sophisticated system from the ground up. It incorporates more than 100 custom-designed machined parts; more than 100 custom printed circuit boards; five microprocessors; a Labview user interface; a health monitoring system; and intelligent algorithms that monitor and extend lifetime, predict firing solutions, and ensure module physical separation to minimize interference. This is a reduced-scale version of the Navy’s, with less energy and smaller components. It comprises 32 pulsed-current modules for a peak-current capacity of one million amps.

“The students who may not stand out in the classroom sometimes prove to be superstars working in the laboratory as instructional components of my NEEC project emphasize real-world applications in a real work environment,” said Professor Odendaal. “This hands-on work with others requires students to develop technical talents, teamwork skills, and leadership.”

Approximately 15 students from the mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering departments compete every semester to work on this project. Professor Odendaal believes the good relationship he has with mentors and experts in the technology fields is key to the success of the students in the laboratory and his project. Summer internships for his students are aligned with Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren Division in Virginia.

Professor David Dowling at the University of Michigan has a NEEC acoustics team composed of six students investigating techniques for noise cancellation, signal recovery, and nondestructive evaluation using array-recordings of airborne and waterborne sound. The overall goals of the project are to identify, develop, implement, and test appropriate acoustic signal processing techniques for determining the characteristics of sound sources in the reverberant environments provided by the laboratory’s cylindrical water tank. According to Professor Dowling, “NEEC provides a unique opportunity for students to gain laboratory, software, and presentation skills while working on projects and with technologies that are of interest to the Navy. And, it allows participating students to make informed decisions about civilian careers in NAVSEA.”

The work these students are doing includes detecting and locating acoustic sources, characterizing echoes in the acoustic environment, and reducing unwanted influence of noise. Other efforts in the laboratory include complex signal processing such as beamforming, matched filtering and filed processing, adaptive noise cancellation, and blind deconvolution. Work in acoustics contributes directly to work at NSWC Carderock Division and Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport Division.

NEEC students are linked directly to internship opportunities and hiring managers to help develop a future workforce. One such link is the Naval Research Enterprise Intern Program (NREIP) managed by the Office of Naval Research. NREIP provides strategic benefit because Navy personnel get a look at participating students as they work on site at warfare centers for 10 weeks during the summer. The experience is tailored to help assess where students could fit in the organization and for hiring managers to assess students that have potential as employees. The Pathways program at the warfare centers also is used to hire interns for the summer. These programs that take on students participating in NEEC projects at their universities are given extra consideration during employment cycles.

The NEEC annual meeting was held at NSWC Carderock in Bethesda, Maryland, this past April. The meeting provided the venue for students, professors, and Navy personnel to highlight content of their projects via poster sessions, discuss the future of the NEEC initiative, and develop their professional networks. As the event keynote speaker, Vice Adm. David Johnson (principal military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition) provoked the students to help the Navy confront its future technology challenges. “The Navy offers great opportunities to further your education and be right in the mix of technology and development, seeing where it’s going and what our nation needs,” said Johnson. “You can work with stuff like railguns, lasers, hypersonics, missiles, unmanned and autonomous vehicles, sonar, radar, electromagnetics, optics, aircraft, ship and submarine design, just to name a few…and this work: it matters.”

Other speakers at the meeting included Don McCormack, executive director of the naval surface and undersea warfare centers; Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, Commander, Naval Surface Warfare Center; and Dr. Hardus Odendaal from Virginia Tech.

The Future

NEEC will be implemented across all 10 major sites when it reaches full maturity as a program in 2017. Don McCormack is giving special attention to the NEEC and is committed to its long-term success. “We are looking forward to seeing progress made in all NEEC research projects with our academic partners,” said McCormack, “developing very successful long-term relationships, and seeing a steady stream of motivated NEEC students transitioning to the civilian workforce ready to contribute to the Navy’s warfighting effectiveness.”

About the author:

Kirk Jenne is currently director of the Naval Engineering Education Consortium.