Navy Program Rewards Money-Saving Technologies

By Edward Lundquist

The Office of Naval Research technology insertion program for savings (TIPS) provides funding to integrate mature technologies into existing programs where they can reduce operational and maintenance support costs.

“We’re looking for emerging technologies that can save the Navy money, and help get them across the finish line to the fleet and force sooner so the sailor and Marine can benefit from their use,” said ONR’s Director of Technology Transition Initiatives Bob Smith.

Sailors might find a tool at Home Depot that they like better than what they’ve been issued on their ship. “If we can prove it does the same job or does it better, and we can do it faster or for less, we’ll pay for that last bit of research or testing to make it sailor or Marine ready,” Smith said.

Digital dental X-rays, which can be displayed on a computer screen to track changes from previous visits to the dentist, is one example. “We found that the same type of equipment can be used to find and monitor cracks on aircraft,” Smith said. “Instead of sorting through files and looking at piles of developed film, we can compare digital X-rays and determine which cracks are growing and need to be fixed. If it works, we’ll purchase more.”

That idea came from the chief technology officer at an aviation depot.  The TIPS funding enabled Naval Air Station North Island in California to test and evaluate the idea.

“Resource sponsors are usually focused on their specific needs. But their success may be applicable elsewhere. With TIPS, we do a lot of seam-crossing,” said Smith.

TIPS provides up to $2 million for up to two years of research. “These are projects that are not without risk, but the risk is not high,” Smith said.

A key criterion for selection is a demonstrated ability to deliver a return on investment. That may include reduced maintenance or operating costs; or increased safety, efficiency, reliability or availability.

One TIPS project involved the installation of connectors for destroyer sonar systems, making it possible to replace assemblies and cables without drydocking the ship to access the sonar dome.

Projects have proven successful at addressing organizational challenges like maintenance facilities that have operations and maintenance funds but little to no research dollars.

“It takes forward-thinking managers willing to invest some of their time and effort to make their operations or process more efficient and effective,” said Smith.

An executive review group of two-star flag and general officers reviews the nominations and makes the decision for the department. There is an annual selection process.

Steve Southard, technology transition director within the chief technology office at Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C., said TIPS provides funds that can help program offices complete the development of a technology and transition it without having to go through their normal budget process.

Southard said there is a rigorous process to evaluate and review the proposals by program executive officers.

Candidates for TIPS funding must show that they will save money.

One recent project identified a better way to remove sound-absorbing material from the hulls of decommissioned submarines.

The tiles, usually several inches thick, have to be removed for recycling before the hull can be dismantled. Previously it was done by hand with chisels. The TIPS project identified a heat process that works faster.

Southard said the actual cost benefit hasn’t been realized yet, but the project had to provide a compelling business case analysis to have been approved and selected for funding.

“We usually have quite a few proposals to consider. It isn’t a lot of money, but sometimes it can be just what’s needed to kickstart a program,” said Southard.

Another example is the composite patch technologies for aluminum structures. This was in response to a fleet problem with the aluminum superstructures of CG-47 Ticonderoga-class cruisers where the aluminum was degrading and cracking. TIPS funded a project to provide a lower cost solution for sealing the cracks and reinforcing the aluminum plate. This project is on its way to a successful transition. 

The Navy also is taking advantage of gaming technology to create an immersive virtual ship environment and interactive courseware. According to John Freeman, director of surface programs at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Orlando, Fla., the virtual simulation of the littoral combat ship (LCS) readiness control officer console on the bridge allows trainees to take a virtual tour of the ship.

“When you’re sitting at the watch station, your avatar can move to any space on the ship,” Freeman said. TIPS funding was used to transition the technology to LCS.

“With your avatar, you can walk around, open hatches, climb ladders. You become the watch stander,” said Capt. Rich Brown, commanding officer of Surface Warfare Officer School in Newport, R.I. “In the simulator you don’t just do it, you do it until you get it right.”

The transportation exploitation tool is another success story.

Greg Butler, division director for the Naval Supply Systems Command Global Logistics Support fleet movement and systems support office, saw an opportunity to help transportation planners reduce underused transportation capacity.

“We’re developing a transportation exploitation tool that helps a transportation planner find unique options to get a shipment to where it needs to be efficiently and economically,” Butler said. “We are looking for conveyances with unused capacity that we can utilize and thereby contribute to increasing the efficiency of the defense transportation system.”

The tool looks at many different Defense Department scheduling systems that have details on schedules, routings, aircraft and vessel capacity and then provides multiple solutions for the logistics planners to work with.

“We wanted to put a ‘Kayak-like’ capability on transportation planners’ desktops that mimicked the same one used when ordering travel tickets online for their family,” said Butler. “Just like with Kayak, Travelocity or Orbitz, I can make an operational decision based on cost or schedule and find the solution that best fits the requirement.”

Naval Supply Systems Command’s chief technology office nominated the financial air clearance transportation system module for TIPS funding.

“U.S. Transportation Command has over 1,000 missions a day flying, sailing or moving, and although the use of transportation assets is closely scrutinized to drive efficiencies, most automated scheduling systems are not connected,” said Butler. “With the assistance of the Office of Naval Research and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, we developed interfaces that merged and synchronized information from various systems and presented the user with routing and cost avoidance opportunities.”

The system has proven its value in a real-world situation. A ship in Rota, Spain, had to get underway for a mission in Libya, but needed a new clutch assembly.

“We identified the part stateside, and got it to Norfolk for the next scheduled flight to Rota,” Butler said. The transportation tool, however, found an Air Force C-5 flying an Army mission from Charleston, S.C., to Afghanistan. It had a planned refueling stop in Rota. The part was sent to Charleston, and the ship was able to get the part 23 hours sooner than the originally scheduled flight from Norfolk.

Smith recognized that just because TIPS programs are expected to save money doesn’t mean they will. A successful transition rate of 70 percent still means that 30 percent of the projects started will fail.

There’s a fine line between saving money and avoiding spending money. “We’re all about getting that exciting new technology, and getting it across the finish line where we can leverage it and use it,” said Smith.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, Science and Engineering Technology, Shipbuilding

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