NORCO, Calif. (NNS) -- This year marks the 50th anniversary of a command dedicated to independent assessment - an engineering discipline and military capability that helps the U.S. Navy rely on its weapons and combat systems with supreme confidence.
At its core, independent assessment is the science of using hard facts and careful analysis to report the truth on tough questions about military equipment - Is it ready when needed? Is it reliable? Can it be used to fight and win? These considerations may seem commonplace, but the science of assessment wasn't always at the forefront.
In the final years of World War 2, the Balao-class submarine USS Sealion (SS-315) sighted a Japanese battleship in the waters of Tokyo Bay. Cmdr. Eli T. Reich (pronounced "Rich") Sealion's commanding officer, ordered his submarine into attack position. Positioning the sub was a three-hour ordeal that would reveal Reich's presence to the enemy, and expose his vessel to retaliation. Everything depended on a successful first strike. Reich lined up his target, fired the torpedoes -- and crossed his fingers.
The torpedoes worked. This time. But the early years of the war were packed with problems that rendered the fleet of U.S. submarines practically irrelevant, according to Dennis Casebier, a retired Navy scientist who dedicated his career to the analysis of weapons systems on Norco's Navy base.
"In the early years of the war, [our submarine fleet] could have given us a tremendous advantage - but it didn't," Casebier said during a recent Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony on base. "We sent those young men from the greatest generation out on those highly vulnerable diesel subs ... And the torpedoes didn't work."
It was Reich's own moxie that ensured he survived the war, said Casebier. Reich had witnessed multiple torpedo failures in the past, and concluded that they weren't being tested properly. Reich pressed his point to little avail, Casebier said, and submarine crews absorbed the brunt of blame for the failure of their weapons.
Later, in the early '60s, then-Capt. Reich found himself in command of USS Canberra (CAG-2), one of the first Boston-class guided missile cruisers. Once again, the weapons failed to function, and Reich was heard to lament that the pattern of failure was all too familiar.
Reich resolved to order a weapons evaluation from Naval Ordnance Laboratory Corona (NOLC), the forerunner of today's Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division. These two organizations, though similar in focus, had one crucial difference. Unlike the warfare center of today, NOLC's weapons assessment services were not independent of the weapons development programs. The ordnance laboratory was building parts for the same weapons that they were later asked to evaluate. It was a conflict of interest with potentially fatal consequences.
"It is against human nature to ask somebody to be completely objective about something for which they are responsible," said Casebier.
At the time, Casebier was a brand-new employee in NOLC's missile evaluation department. He found himself dispatched with a colleague to the Mediterranean Sea, where the Canberra was sailing at the time. Under Reich's supervision, NOLC's onboard team analyzed the Canberra's battery of RIM-2 Terrier missiles. Casebier and his colleague discovered that the weapons were indeed faulty. The analysts gathered their courage - and did what they had to do.
"We confirmed the captain's suspicions," said Casebier. "We told the truth."
Reich was so impressed by their honesty that he believed NOLC's scientists and engineers would provide him with the hard facts he'd need to solve the problems plaguing those guided missiles. What he didn't realize was that NOLC had a direct hand in the production of the missile's fusing system - a fact that lies at the heart of what Casebier considers NOLC's darkest days.
"They resisted the truth," said Casebier.
Analysts like Casebier felt pressured to withhold negative feedback on various weapon systems to preserve the reputation of the ordnance laboratory's design, development and delivery teams. The fallout from this revelation altered the path of Reich's career forever.
In 1962, Reich ascended to the rank of Rear Admiral, and assumed the role of assistant chief at the Bureau of Naval Weapons. Reich's resulting authority over the surface missile project enabled him to institute a new mandate for an independent organization devoted to the unbiased assessment of the performance, reliability and effectiveness of missile weapon systems.
Reich's decision was the moment of conception for a new era, Casebier said. "We were about to become an independent activity with the function to do what's become known as independent assessment."
In 1964, the Fleet Missile Systems Analysis and Evaluation Group was born. This new organization was cleaved from NOLC's own missile evaluation department, and staffed by experts like Casebier who had the experience and the professional courage to report their findings truthfully.
"Very frequently our people are put in the position of apprising high-ranking naval officials of things they don't want to know," said Casebier.
"It takes a special breed of cat to do that ... And there are those out there that would still do away with us ... because it's always easier to kill the messenger than to fix the problem."
Casebier's professional courage helped secure his place in the annals of naval history as one of the founding fathers of independent assessment, directly beside Reich himself.
By holding outside organizations accountable, the discipline of independent assessment has enabled the Navy to accomplish astounding feats. GPS guidance has revolutionized targeting and navigation systems.
The threat of destruction by ballistic missile is made ever smaller by recurring successes in ballistic missile defense. The guided missiles of today can even be relied on to intercept errant satellites.
These capabilities represent a fraction of the achievements made possible by a disciplined assessment program and the scientists, engineers and technicians who make it all possible.
Although the Fleet Missile Systems Analysis and Evaluation Group has changed names over the years to reflect evolving priorities and new affiliations, the mission served is still very much the same. At Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division, the essence of the Navy's original independent assessment agent remains preserved in their Latin motto, "Nuntiate Veritatem" - Proclaim the Truth - a 50-year tradition that has ensured a stronger Navy with every passing year.
Headquartered in Norco, Calif., Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division is a federal laboratory which houses several different lab facilities. In addition to leading the Navy in independent assessment, the warfare center is the Navy and Marine Corps' designated technical agent for measurement science, calibration standards and range systems engineering. As a field activity of Naval Sea Systems (NAVSEA) Command, the warfare center employs more than a thousand scientists, engineers, technicians, and support personnel, and includes a detachment in Seal Beach, Calif.
For more news from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division, visit www.navy.mil/local/nswccorona/.