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Good morning everyone!
Thank you, Under Secretary Raven, for hosting today’s event here at the Pentagon to celebrate and recognize the Naval Research Laboratory’s contributions to our Fleet, our Force, and indeed our nation over the last 100 years.
I would also like to thank Dr. Meink, the Principal Deputy Director of the National Reconnaissance Office for joining us today to highlight the importance of NRL’s contributions in space since our country’s earliest days in that domain.
Captain Black, Dr. Danly, thank you for leadership, and more importantly, your stewardship, of this storied organization within our Department.
Finally, to the thousands of members of the NRL workforce, both current and former, thank you for your 100 years of excellence in the realm of science and technology development. Our Fleet would not be as advanced as it is today without your dedication to this noble and worthy cause.
I personally know how dedicated the team at NRL is to their work in support of our nation, as I spent two years during my active duty career assigned to NRL.
During my time at NRL, I had the privilege of working with several talented scientists and engineers on a wide array of programs that were of great importance not just to our Navy, but to our nation.
And I am especially pleased that we are joined by one of those talented individuals here today — Mr. Pete Wilhelm.
By the time I met Mr. Wilhelm, he was already decades into his career at NRL — a career that saw more than 100 satellite launches with NRL projects he played a role in.
Mr. Wilhelm led the Naval Center for Space Technology at NRL since its inception in 1986, managing a team of experts whose work began by asking the basic scientific and engineering questions, in turn leading to the development of technologies that improved the capabilities of our Sailors and Marines to sense, communicate, and fight.
For me, and for several other NRL employees who worked alongside Mr. Wilhelm, he was a role model and mentor.
Mr. Wilhelm, please stand so that we may offer you our thanks for your career of service in support of generations of Sailors and Marines.
For 100 years, thousands of Americans like Mr. Wilhelm have answered the call to service as members of NRL’s workforce, transforming basic science and technology research into technologies that have truly changed the world.
Since its founding in 1923, NRL has had a powerful impact on our Navy, our Marine Corps, and indeed our Nation, supporting our Fleet and our Force in both times of peace and conflict — from World War II to the present day.
Its team has produced a wide-ranging portfolio of solutions to address challenges in every domain we operate in — at, above, and below the sea, as well as in space and cyberspace, demonstrating its workforce’s mastery of several unique science and technology disciplines, as well as their ability to innovate with speed.
The NRL team also knows when patience in technology development is required to deliver the Fleet with the right capability to ensure its advantage at sea. This was evidenced by their two decades’ worth of dedication to developing the RADAR our Fleet needed during World War II, which was critical in turning the tide of the Battle of the Pacific.
NRL also fundamentally changed our military’s relationship with the space domain even before the first GPS satellite was launched with the development of our nation’s first electronic intelligence collection satellite.
GRAB 1 was placed into orbit in June 1960, 52 days after a manned U-2 intelligence collection aircraft was lost over the Soviet Union. During its time in service, it demonstrated how we could effectively collect critical intelligence on a scale like never before, providing our Joint Force with unmatched surveillance and intelligence collection capabilities, all while keeping our pilots safe from harm.
These are only two of the thousands of innovative technological developments over the last century that NRL has brought us, providing our Navy, our Marine Corps, and our nation with unique operational advantages that our adversaries simply cannot replicate.
We should also realize that for this tremendous work to continue, and to attract and retain a talented workforce, we must turn our attention to address the current physical state of NRL, where the average building age is 68 years old.
I have visited the laboratory’s facilities, and I have witnessed first-hand the challenges some of our talented scientists, engineers, researchers, and other staff face as they research, develop, test, and build the technologies and capabilities that our Fleet requires.
We are committed to developing a feasible way forward on the much-needed recapitalization of NRL facilities to ensure the lab will be able to support our warfighters —and our nation — for decades to come.
You have my commitment to this effort.
And as we look towards NRL’s future, it is important that we reflect upon where we are today — across our entire naval innovation ecosystem — as to how we are addressing the technology and capability needs of our Fleet and of our Force.
And as we do so, I would like to take a few moments to share with you how exactly our Department is hard at work, across a myriad of commands, across several areas, including:
Conducting basic science and technology research
Forging new relationships across the DOD, government, academia, and industry, as well as with our international partners and allies
And addressing challenges in technology, adoption and scaling.
Alongside NRL, the Office of Naval Research continues to be a major supporter of basic science and technology research across several disciplines, through significant financial investments, the technical expertise of its workforce, and partnerships across academia and industry.
And as we move into this decisive decade, ONR, through ONR-Global, is investing in science and technology projects alongside our international partners and allies, with each effort aimed at addressing common challenges we face as maritime nations.
In concert with ONR, NavalX is working to deepen our international and domestic relationships with industry.
Through its network of Tech Bridges here in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Japan, NavalX is able to connect directly with companies and source commercial technologies that both complement and supplement our Fleet and our Force’s existing systems, tools, and research.
And as we explore how to further expand our engagement with companies at the leading edge of technology innovation, we recognize that innovation must include education.
With that in mind, the Naval Postgraduate School —located in close proximity to Silicon Valley — is home to the Naval Innovation Center, which was established this past December.
The NIC will enhance and accelerate the innovation process at NPS by driving “ideas to impact,” bringing research concepts out of the lab and into the field faster by empowering students and partners across the entire Naval Research & Development Establishment to work with the Naval innovation ecosystem and industry — in a whole-of-Navy approach — to speed the delivery of warfighting advantages to our Naval forces.
Furthermore, we are supporting the construction of a purposefully-designed facility to house the NIC at the Naval Postgraduate School, providing a space for collaboration, defense-focused experimentation, and demonstration of operational use cases to ensure the right technology is evolving.
And while the NIC is primarily focused on addressing Fleet-oriented requirements, the Marine Innovation Unit — headquartered in Newburgh, New York — is focused on the identification, experimentation, and rapid fielding of technologies and capabilities to address gaps identified by our Marines.
MIU leverages the expertise and professional networks of our talented Reserve Marines to accelerate the development and fielding of key capabilities throughout the Force.
Their efforts are already reducing timelines between identifying needs and the delivery of warfighting capabilities in support of the Marine Corps’ transformational Force Design 2030, ensuring our Marines are agile, capable, and lethal.
When you consider the efforts of NRL, ONR, NavalX, NIC, MIU, our warfare centers and systems commands, UARCs, FFRDCs, and other organizations throughout our naval innovation ecosystem, the amount time, resources, and manpower dedicated to supporting our Fleet and our Force is absolutely incredible.
And as we re-focus our efforts on addressing the challenges we face in the maritime domain today and will face in the future, we must recognize that there are still organizational changes that must be made to ensure we are developing, adopting, and scaling at a rapid pace to deliver the technologies and capabilities our Sailors and Marines require.
And today, I am pleased to be able to share with you three new initiatives within our department that will complement our ongoing efforts in the innovation space.
The first initiative is the Department of the Navy's Science and Technology Board, which was formally established last Friday.
Led by the Honorable Richard Danzig — the 71st Secretary of the Navy — this board brings together an impressive group of thought leaders across several disciplines and diverse backgrounds, and will support the development of our department’s vision as to how we identify new technologies for rapid adoption throughout our Fleet and our Force.
This board also has a mandate to collaborate with similar groups across our entire government, for the pressing challenges our Nation faces today are not solely the business of our Navy and Marine Corps to address.
The second initiative is a pilot program at Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems to evaluate its mission and operations from a portfolio perspective.
This effort will explore how our PEOs can operate under a new portfolio-centric construct to increase the rate of capability development and fielding over our present timelines, and will do so in a manner that leverages pre-existing authorities.
The lessons we learn throughout this pilot program will enable all of our PEOs to better address the emerging threats and requirements under their respective purviews.
The third initiative is the creation of the Navy’s Disruptive Capabilities Office, whose charter I signed out last week.
This new organization will push the bounds of rapidly delivering warfighting capability though the innovative application of existing and new systems, and harnessing today’s exponential growth in technology.
Through rapid experimentation and prototyping, the DCO will work collaboratively with stakeholders from across our department focusing on delivering solutions to our warfighters at a pace and scale to close our Fleet’s most critical capability gaps.
It will also work closely with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s Rapid Capabilities Office, which is addressing the immediate and near-term needs of our Marines that require the rapid transition and integration of new and innovative solutions.
The DCO and RCO will both help deliver on the Department of the Navy’s contribution to the “Replicator Initiative,” partnering closely alongside joint efforts like DIU to accelerate production and delivery of the capabilities our Joint Force needs at-scale.
These three initiatives will complement the ongoing work that is already underway throughout our Department to address how we innovate in response to an ever-changing technology landscape.
And I will emphasize to you that we are not alone in this endeavor to re-focus, re-imagine, and re-align the DON to ensure that we are innovating at the speed of relevancy.
Our Department is committed to ensuring our innovation efforts are synchronized with our partners across DOD.
Our commands that are focused on technology and capability development are collaborating every day with our sister services to ensure we are maintaining our enduring advantages as a Joint Force.
And we are working with our partners at Defense Innovation Unit and the Office of Strategic Capital to ensure our requirements for critical technologies are illuminated to both industry and investors for their consideration.
As the National Defense Science and Technology Strategy 2023 rightly acknowledges, our nation maintains a competitive edge in defense science and technology, and our Department is committed to ensuring this remains so.
To codify our efforts, I am directing our Chief of Naval Research to — within the next 90 days — provide me with a DON science and technology strategy.
This strategy will set forth our priorities and our approach as to how we invest our capital — both human and financial — to rapidly identify, develop, and field the capabilities our Sailors and Marines need today, and tomorrow.
As our Department continues to re-imagine and refocus our innovation efforts, I encourage all of you — our nation’s scientists, engineers, researchers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and problem-solvers — to join us.
We are indeed in an innovation race — and it is one we must win. Innovation must permeate every aspect of our Department’s approach to the delivery of the technologies and capabilities at a speed and scale necessary for our Navy and Marine Corps to confront the challenges of today and the future — just as NRL has done for over a century.
To the talented workforce of NRL — both past and present — congratulations again on your 100 years of achievement.
For over a century, your efforts have contributed to peace, stability, and prosperity around the globe, and you should be proud of all that you have and will accomplish as you continue to advance our Navy, our Marine Corps, our nation, and indeed the world forward through your work.
Thank you all again for joining us this morning. May God continue to grant fair winds and following seas to our Navy, our Marine Corps, and our Nation.
Carlos Del Toro
28 September 2023
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