Savvy Reservists Fuse Scientific Knowledge And Practical Know-How

May 2005
By Maryann Lawlor
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Lt. Cmdr. Mark Boese, USNR, checks the sensors on the Predator during the Forward Look III experiment that took place in conjunction with combined joint task force exercise 04-2 at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina. Reservists attached to the Naval Reserve Science and Technology Program specialize in creating and improving technologies used in current operations through research and experimentation.
Highly educated specialists bring solutions to the warfighter.

An inconspicuous reserve force is combating terrorism with the powerful weapons of experience and expertise. By combining knowledge gained in the areas of advanced technology with skills acquired through time in the field, these low-profile yet dynamic reservists are arming warfighters in current operations with new as well as improved capabilities. From work on undersea and aerial unmanned vehicles to biological threat detection on surface ships, this relatively small band of technology experts is pursuing a multitude of priority projects in nine focus areas.

The 270 U.S. Navy reservists are attached to one of 18 Office of Naval Research (ONR) or Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) units throughout the United States as members of the Naval Reserve Science and Technology Program. They work exclusively in the areas of science and technology with units under the direction of Rear Adm. Jay M. Cohen, USN, the chief of naval research. Unlike the more conventional cadre of naval reservists who report for one drill weekend each month and two weeks of active duty a year, the nature of this group’s work dictates how, when and where they serve the force.

Capt. Dale Hafer, USN (Reserve Component), is the director of the science and technology reservist program, ONR, Arlington, Virginia. He says that, although the members of what is called Program 38 are highly educated individuals, their real value to the Navy as well as to the joint world is the combination of technical expertise, civilian experience and warfighting operational skills they bring to their work. “The part of the Navy organization at ONR and NRL that is supporting science and technology is primarily a civilian population. We offer the ONR and NRL the ‘uniformed’ experience. We understand the warfighting experience,” he relates.

Capt. Hafer explains that becoming part of this select squad of reservists in general follows the same process in place for all reserve billet assignments. The ONR informs the service’s National Apply Board of specific requirements for the program. The board reviews commanders and captains, evaluates the applicants and assigns confidence factors.

When reservists indicate interest in the science and technology program on their officer preference cards, or dream sheets, and the confidence level is high, the ONR reviews their qualifications and fitness reports then chooses personnel for the billets. The program currently has 270 billets; however, as a result of the Navy’s zero-based review initiative, the ONR will reduce this number to 213 by October 1, 2006, the captain reveals.

But the program’s effectiveness and success are as much about quality as about quantity. “If you look at the number of Ph.D.s in our program compared to the number of Ph.D.s in the Navy—minus the medical doctors—there are more Ph.D.s in this program than on the active duty side,” Capt. Hafer notes. In fact, at last count, 65 reservists in the program had earned doctorates, and 155 hold at least a master’s degree.

Capt. Hafer allows that, while the ONR attempts to place people in units near where they live, customer requirements drive location and scheduling. “They can be called to drill at any time, depending on the needs of the customer and the support the effort requires, but it also depends on the individual’s availability. Sometimes the reservists are working on a requirement that allows the people in a specific location to work together,” he says.

The where and when of the working schedule are determined by priorities identified by the naval leaders and warfighters. “Focus area coordinators organize this work. Sometimes, we have people in one location; sometimes we have to pull the people together based on the requirement and their expertise,” he says.

Reservists have been intimately involved in a number of efforts within the nine focus areas that support current operations while at the same time assisting with technologies that will become a part of the Navy in the future. For example, typical lenses used on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) use refractive technology. Because of his military experience, one reservist understood a challenge involving lenses on UAVs. The reservist, who runs the optics department at the University of Delaware, helped design a diffraction lens. As a result of collaboration between ONR, industry and university personnel, a 200-pound lens has been replaced with one that offers the same capabilities but weighs only 20 pounds. This same reservist is now working on millimeter wave technology that may help warfighters see through desert sand storms, Capt. Hafer relates.

Also in the UAV area, reservists helped develop and refine the Silver Fox UAV, a small tactical aircraft that uses commercial avionics and flies autonomously using differential global positioning system technology. Reservists revised the manual for the UAV, which provides support for troops in operation Iraqi Freedom, to comply with safety regulations and address other pertinent issues. As a result, troops can use the miniature UAV for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering missions both day and night.

Members of the program also are supporting experiments in 802.11 technologies that would enable the networking of UAVs that the U.S. Special Operations Command employs in operation Iraqi Freedom.

In terms of technology, one of the biggest challenges facing the military today is finding a way to deal with improvised explosive devices, Capt. Hafer says. More than 10 percent of the funding the NRL receives from ONR for discovery and invention is being spent in this area, he reveals, and reservist researchers are working with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to transition technologies to the warfighter that address this problem.

Work in another area began after September 11, 2001, when the Navy recognized the tremendous threat chemical and biological weapons pose to ships, the captain says. A number of the program’s reservists work in the biological field in their civilian jobs. “Because of their service on ships, they could help solve the problem of the severe limitations of detecting biological agents on ships. The reservists assembled bio-warfare detection kits, installed them on 90 ships and trained ship personnel. This is state-of-the-art technology,” Capt. Hafer says.

One capability that the captain classifies as “high pay-off” is the Coalition Chat Line. Reservists helped develop, test and deploy the system, which enables users who speak different languages to communicate via instant messaging and is used at several U.S. and allied sites in Iraq. A number of commercial technologies were pulled together to create the capability, which then was evaluated in exercises before being installed on computers in Iraq.

In addition to supporting current operations and addressing today’s challenges, reservists are involved in developing technologies that will impact the future of the Navy. Experts working in the Future Naval Capabilities focus area are examining mature technologies that need help transitioning to the warfighter. Among the projects the reservists support are technologies in autonomous operations, knowledge superiority and assurance, littoral antisubmarine warfare and organic mine countermeasures. For example, they are assisting in the development of the launch, guidance, safety and recovery of autonomous undersea vehicles that would help naval personnel with mine countermeasures.

Capt. Hafer points out that Sea Power 21, the Navy’s vision for the future, and in particular sea basing concepts, will require developing new technologies. In addition, as the military moves toward the use of high-energy weapons, power issues will need to be addressed, he adds. These are all areas where the expertise that resides in the Reserve will be very useful, he says.

Lt. Cmdr. Hoa Ho, USNR, a reservist in the Office of Naval Research and civilian employee of Intel Corporation, trains Navy personnel on a camera that will help identify terrorists and other criminals on location. Commercial facial recognition tools can take a digital picture of an individual’s face and compare it with a database of thousands of faces. The goal is to bring a portable, wearable camera unit with a secure wireless connection, shipboard database and search software to the naval forces.
The Navy is not tackling these requirements alone. The captain notes that the relationship between the ONR, NRL and U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is well developed. “We meet annually and have hosted and attended each other’s conferences. We participate with joint projects, and we look at what customers need then share resources to meet the requirements,” he says. Among the collaborative efforts have been projects that involved at-sea acoustics equipment, joint battlespace displays, radio frequency combined link experiments, and biological sensors and electronics work. “We are reaching out to the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army to do similar projects,” Capt. Hafer allows, “but this is still a work in progress.”

Collaboration also is facilitated through participation in a Navy outreach program called the Science, Technology and Engineering Consortium. Members of the consortium include senior officer representatives from seven organizations: the Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command, ONR, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, Naval Network Warfare Command, Naval Network and Space Operations Command, and Naval Facilities Engineering Command. The Air Force, Marine Corps, Army and U.S. Coast Guard also participate to a limited degree.

The consortium arranges workshops that are sponsored by one of the member organizations. The events are an opportunity for military personnel and civilians to share expertise on best business practices and state-of-the-art tools and to learn about the Reserve’s support for common projects. Industry leaders from various types of companies also share their insights at the workshops. Last year, representatives from Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, Dell, Best Buy, Cisco and Boeing were among the speakers who discussed transformation.

Capt. Hafer notes that current efforts throughout the military justifiably focus on immediate warfighter requirements; however, consortium members are concerned that attention does not shift so far in this direction that it precludes adequate emphasis and work in the areas of basic research and tool development. While current operations require calling more reservists to active duty to meet manpower requirements, the need will continue for reservists to work on projects such as those at the NRL.

“I think it’s important to say that we provide in-depth knowledge that is unavailable within the active duty Navy organization with specialized skills and both warfighting and science and technology experience. Our work is a force multiplier,” the captain states.

Reservists interested in a Program 38 billet can visit an Edison Web site dedicated to matching personnel with specific expertise and current military requirements. The site explains how reservists are chosen for the billets as well as the logistics of the program. In addition, Navy researchers and project managers can post their requirements on the site so reservists can review the opportunities.

Photography courtesy of the Ofice of Naval Research. 

Web Resources
Naval Reserve Science and Technology Program:


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