Innovation and R&D in the Navy and NAVSUP

One of the largest opportunities in the Navy today is leveraging innovation through our public and private partners.

Innovation is essential as we strive for “game changers” to improve our Navy’s ability to fight the fight on our terms. The biggest challenge in delivering innovative processes and technologies comes from the establishing mature partnerships between our public and private sector partners.

Developing strong investments today, within the two sectors, will have lasting impacts and ensure our current capacity is able to fully support both our current and future capabilities. Unfortunately, due to scarce resources the Navy lacks the ability to be competitive with technology movement in the private industry.

Fortunately for the Navy, programs like the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), Small Business Technology Transition Research (STTR) and Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF), which are administered by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), allow for the public and private sectors to work closely together to elevate the level of creating technology and producing tangible results. These programs allow the Navy to find new methods to transition technologies and resolve operational challenges, while at the same time producing a cost savings.

Naval Supply Systems Command’s (NAVSUP) Logistics Research and Development (R&D) Program allows various emerging technologies to facilitate their transition to implementation through multiple capabilities, practices and processes.

The Navy Logistics Productivity (NLP) program provides opportunities for the NAVSUP Enterprise to develop and endorse an array of concepts and prototypes.

It is through the Command Science Advisor’s (CSA) Office within the NAVSUP N5 Strategy and Innovation Office that insight, advice and coordination of R&D projects are established through an annual data call. Here is where the leveraging of new technologies and initiatives emerge.

Because the NLP R&D budget is a relatively small budget, NAVSUP is very active in the SBIR, STTR and RIF programs that assist with providing the financial resources for R&D that the NLP Program may not be able to fund.

Participation in the ONR programs enables NAVSUP to collaborate efforts within the Navy, our sister services, and industry and establish concrete supply/logistic solutions.

In previous years, NAVSUP has been successful in addressing the Navy’s needs through the SBIR program with projects like the clothing and textile improvement for Articulating Manikin and Seamless Technology.

For other projects that have mature prototypes in final testing, evaluation and integration, such as the Polymer Resistant to Prolonged Heat Exposure Textile System (PROPHEX TS), NAVSUP has utilized the RIF program that transitions innovative technology resolve operational challenges and provide cost savings within the Navy.

Throughout 2014, NAVSUP has been fortunate to participate in several Science and Technology (S&T) discussion forums with topics ranging from Additive Manufacturing (AM), Predictive Analytics, Textiles (uniform form, fit function redesign and wearable for example), and Artificial Intelligence/ Robotics. All of which are topics that offer significant opportunities for reducing total cost ownership, predicting future operations to solve real world problems, and enhancing warfighter performance. These are key aspects to assisting the NAVSUP Enterprise in providing strategic concepts and directing innovations in logistics.

People and logistics are some of the greatest strengths within NAVSUP and the Navy. However, in order to keep these strengths, we are investing in technologies, analytics, and process improvements to fundamentally reinvent supply chain management and manage our supply chain processes and partner relationships.

It is time to actively pursue a stronger strategy, planning and innovation to achieve long-term goals. There are significant opportunities for the Navy and NAVSUP regarding AM. With high visibility within the Department of the Navy (DoN) and the support of Rear Adm. Jonathan Yuen, Commander, NAVSUP and Vice Adm. Philip Cullom, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Readiness and Logistics, AM is starting to make headway in other Systems Commands such as Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) as well.

Textiles are another avenue with high-profile interest. Continually looking for new ways to secure safety for the warfighter, the Naval Clothing Textile Research Facility (NCTRF) is opening more doors for uniform protection. Currently working with U.S. based manufacturers, NCTRF is taking all necessary measures to make sure that Sailors are receiving the best of the best when it comes to top quality uniforms. These are a few more ways the Navy and NAVSUP are working hard to leverage the gap between the private and public sector while continually presenting new innovative technology to protect the war fighter.

It is vital that NAVSUP develop a structure to ensure more effective and efficient use of products and investments in order to advance a competitive edge that is greatly needed in our Navy today. There are increasing concerns that rapid response and delivery in regards to technology in the future is not going to be strong enough.

Going forward, the focus on innovation and sustainment is what will better align our industry and Navy and build the strategic vision needed to establish a strong partnership between the two sectors for adoption of change. It’s redefining what we know and the technologies available to secure resources and additional measures that will address the immediate needs for the fleet and forces.

With that understanding, NAVSUP is working hard to cultivate strategies, mechanisms and relationships that will ensure our nation has a stronger and more competitive future when it comes to logistics, processes and base operations.

By Mark Deebel; Command Science Advisor, Naval Supply Systems Command