History of the AEGIS Program at Dahlgren
By Tom Clare, Special Guest Writer
In the Beginning…
How did the AEGIS Program come to be at Dahlgren? Well, it was a convergence of two sets of circumstances: one by the AEGIS Program Office, the other by the leadership of the then Naval Surface Weapons Center (NSWC), comprised of White Oak and Dahlgren. The timeframe was 1974–1976.
On the one hand, the AEGIS Program Manager, Rear Admiral (RADM) Wayne E. Meyer, had the foresight and vision to realize the AEGIS Weapon System, and later the AEGIS Combat System, would be the centerpiece of the Navy’s surface fleet for the next 50+ years. He also realized that, beyond the program office—which, while technically competent, was focused on programmatics—the government did not have the necessary organic technical competence that could be sustained over that period of time. RADM Meyer commissioned a study chaired by retired RADM Roger Spreen, which took on the moniker of “The Spreen Report.” Its principal recommendation was that AEGIS needed long-term sustainable organic government technical competence. NSWC Dahlgren was identified as the organization best suited to take on this responsibility. Recommendations also included locating
two major AEGIS facilities at Dahlgren: one a computer center, the other a systems center, akin to the Combat System Engineering Development Site at Moorestown, NJ, but focused on modernization and support.
It should be noted that RADM Meyer, in his earlier career as a program manager, did not have the best of experiences (to put it mildly) with other Navy labs. His opinion of the labs was that they were very self-centered organizations and not supportive and loyal to the program. His famous quote at the time was “…they just wanted me to send them money; and then they would tell me what they were going to do to support the program….” It was clear he felt the dialogue should be the other way around. More on this later.
At the same time, NSWC leadership had the vision to transform the center from a components- (or “elements” in the AEGIS vocabulary) focused organization into a systems-focused organization. The buzzword of the day was “combat systems integration.” NSWC had just recently been formed from the Naval Weapons Laboratory at Dahlgren, VA, and the Naval Ordnance Laboratory at White Oak, MD. A key part of the new organization was the newly formed Combat Systems Integration (N) Department. (I always thought the letter “N” was because it was the “new” department.)
The Commander, Captain C. J. Rorie, and Technical Director Dr. Jim Colvard were true visionaries and realized that the AEGIS Program would be the springboard and catalyst to transform the new NSWC to an organization that would be responsive to the evolving system integration (later system engineering) needs of the surface Navy.
The Early Days…
I became involved with the AEGIS Program upon returning to Dahlgren from a two-year NSAP (Navy Science Assistance Program) assignment as science advisor to the commander of the Navy Surface Forces Atlantic in Norfolk, VA. Ralph Niemann, one of my early career mentors, was the head of the then K Department where I was a former aeroballistics research engineer, branch head, and acting division head. He was the one who encouraged me to take the NSAP position to broaden my background. I did not really want to go, but one did not say no to Niemann. Well, when I returned and was anxiously looking forward to returning to my career in aeroballistics (in which I was very comfortable), he called me into his office and again encouraged me to leave K Department (I was beginning to get a complex!!) and apply for the newly advertised position of Head of the AEGIS Division in N Department.
I knew nothing of the AEGIS Program at the time and was very fearful of applying and being selected. Niemann assured me I could handle it, especially given the recent two-year stint in the Fleet doing everything exceptaeroballistics. I was advised by friends of mine not to apply because it was a high-risk venture, and I would be working for this AEGIS Program Manager, RADM Meyer, who had quite a reputation of chewing people up and spitting them out!
That motivated me to demonstrate I could accomplish something difficult and do something NSWC considered key to its future. I applied and was selected. At the time there was a handful of people
at Dahlgren who had been assigned to the Aegis Program and the new AEGIS Division; they were keeping things together in this fledgling operation on a shoestring. They were real heroes, because it was their work that laid the cornerstone for us to proceed: Larry Kuty, Dave McConnell, Jim Francis, Howard Chapman, and Peggy Campbell. I may have missed someone, and to them I apologize.
About the Author
Thomas A. (Tom) Clare began his career at the then Naval Weapons Laboratory in Dahlgren, Virginia, in 1970 after graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. While there he performed research and development in Aeroballistics and served in management positions at the branch, division, and department head levels, including as the first head of the AEGIS Program at the then Naval Surface Weapons Center (NSWC). In 1989 he was selected as Technical Director of NSWC, and during his tenure he successfully led the Center through three rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).
In addition to his work at Dahlgren, he has been a key advisor and leader in the Navy and DOD scientific and technology community and served on various Navy and Marine Corps executive committees, with the focus of these activities on visions, strategic planning, systems engineering, programmatic and organizational strategies, and reorganization approaches and philosophies. In 1998 he retired from a position as an advisor to the DOD systems engineering community, addressing the need for greater systems engineering and management policies and practices across the services.
A version of this article was previously published as an NSWCDD blog in February of 2018. Reused with permission.