Defense Innovation Days Highlights Undersea Technology
Editor’s Note: This article was written by SENEDIA to highlight this years’ Defense Innovation Days taking place 28-30 August 2017 in Newport, Rhode Island.
The U.S. Navy’s first research facility—the Naval Torpedo Station—was built in 1869 on Newport, Rhode Island’s Goat Island. This rich history continues today, as Rhode Island is home to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, which provides the technical foundation to ensure the U.S. Navy’s undersea superiority. Here in “the Ocean State,” we have identified more than 170 Rhode Island organizations that touch undersea technology. We are a defense and undersea technology leader not just in New England but throughout the country.
Each August, the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance (SENEDIA) hosts our annual Defense Innovation Days in Newport, Rhode Island. This three-day event, scheduled this year for 28-30 August, brings leaders from the Department of Defense, Industry, and Congress together to share ideas and innovation related to undersea technology, cybersecurity, and other defense technologies. Previous speakers have included the Secretary of Defense, the Undersecretary of Defense and the Chief of Naval Research. Senator Jack Reed, Rhode Island’s senior senator and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has keynoted the conference every year. Senator Reed is joined by his colleagues Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman Jim Langevin, and Congressman David Cicilline.
A former Secretary of Defense once referred to our region as the “Silicon Valley of undersea technology.” One key goal of Defense Innovation Days is to bring that talent together and provide an opportunity to strengthen relationships and collaboration with government officials and companies who are producing the leading-edge innovations that support our armed forces. This networking helps foster the advanced innovation that makes our country safer and boosts our economy. Our goal is to spur innovation and keep our nation’s edge as the world’s defense technology leader.
To further this aim, in 2016, SENEDIA created the Undersea Technology Innovation Center (UTIC) to get innovation to the market quickly while generating more jobs and economic growth. UTIC promotes advanced learning in the undersea technology cluster and the rapid development, testing and commercialization of innovative undersea and maritime solutions for commercial, academic and defense organizations. We cast a wide net of potential collaborators, and even in this short time of operation, we are seeing that some of the most important work of the center is the networking and sharing of information that is so crucial to maximizing the economic impact of the undersea technology cluster.
UTIC’s consortium-based model welcomes participation by organizations—both traditional and non-traditional in this space—that have technologies that can contribute to undersea and maritime applications. It also provides assistance, including mentoring, to companies that want to enter the defense sector by matching up government requests for research, development, and technology with businesses that can provide the needed services. It hosts “Tech Talk” events, which are organized as informal meetings for undersea technology networking. UTIC is in the process of formalizing a national consortium of members who work collaboratively with the U.S. government to develop undersea and maritime technology solutions.
While the region is a leader in undersea technology, the economic impacts are significant, as well. In Rhode Island alone, the defense sector contributes over $3.7 billion to the state’s GDP.
When people think of undersea technology, they often think of defense-sector businesses. But in Rhode Island, we know that the ocean offers almost infinite opportunities to explore every aspect of science, technology, and engineering—both in the defense and non-defense sectors. We have for many years sought to cross-pollinate our undersea technology interests, looking for times when commercial technology is suitable for defense, and vice versa. And we know that emerging and future technologies will create even more exciting avenues for exploration and discovery. A great example is the Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm, the first U.S. offshore wind farm, which came online this year in Rhode Island and is now fully powering Block Island.
When one thinks of who are the important partners in this cluster, the first thoughts often go to government and large companies (and with good reason —organizations such as Electric Boat and Raytheon are valued corporate leaders), but it is the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that have the most diverse economic impact. In fact, the larger companies rely on multiple SMEs in their supply chain to provide the materials and services they need. Additionally, the role of the non-traditional technology company is becoming more important as the government looks to accelerate innovation to solve emerging mission needs. SENEDIA and UTIC will continue to champion the SMEs who contribute so greatly to the undersea technology cluster. We are looking forward to bringing all these industry leaders together for this year’s Defense Innovation Days.
Molly Donohue Magee is the Executive Director of SENEDIA, an organization focused on being a catalyst for thought leadership and innovation in undersea technology, cybersecurity, and other defense technologies. She is also the Executive Director of UTIC, an organization focused on building the resources and relationships to advance undersea and maritime technology.