Scientists get taste of life at sea

Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division employees, center from left, Josh Carter, Keegan Ryan, Tom Kunkel and Shane Axness, spend time aboard USS Preble (DDG-88) in January as part of the Scientist to Sea program.

U.S. Navy photo

Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division employees, center from left, Josh Carter, Keegan Ryan, Tom Kunkel and Shane Axness, spend time aboard USS Preble (DDG-88) in January as part of the Scientist to Sea program.

Five Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) employees recently returned from visits aboard two U.S. Navy ships with increased excitement for their work and even more appreciation for the warfighter.

The visits were through the Scientist to Sea (STS) program, an effort to let scientists and engineers experience firsthand the environment in which the systems they develop are used and to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by warfighters when deployed at sea.

“We want to give our folks an opportunity early in their careers so as they progress, the knowledge gained from the STS experience can play a critical role in their approach to meeting the Navy’s needs,” said Jerry Smith, China Lake’s Engineer and Scientist Development Program site coordinator and STS manager.

The 3rd Fleet out of San Diego offers STS opportunities to NAWCWD on an as-available basis. Smith said these opportunities generally come about when ships are preparing for deployment and are going on work-up cruises for a few days.

“This gives our young scientists and engineers a chance to see for themselves what it’s like being on a ship,” Smith said. “They get a feel for how the operational Navy works at sea and what the conditions are really like for the warfighter.”

Smith said there is not a set schedule for ship visits but opportunities have increased recently. There were two trips in the last two months.

Chris Sibrel spent three and a half days on USS Boxer (LHD-4) in December. A mechanical engineer in the Precision Attack Weapon Systems Technical Project Office, Sibrel said he came back to China Lake with a better understanding of ship operations and an appreciation for the long hours the Sailors work.

“As engineers in a lab, we think things are fairly easy to operate,” Sibrel said. “What we need to remember are the conditions these guys are working in on the ship. We need to design simply to make it as easy as possible for them to operate.”

Shane Axness, Josh Carter, Tom Kunkel and Keegan Ryan spent two days and one night aboard USS Preble (DDG-88) in January.

Carter, who has worked as a chemist in the NAWCWD Weapons and Energetics Department (4.7) for about four years, said participating in the STS program was one of the most valuable experiences he’s had at the Weapons Division.

“You can read about things all you want, but it means so much more to actually see it for yourself,” he said. “I will draw on this experience for a long time. My work here is stimulating and rewarding; it’s even more so now.”

Carter designs new propellants and explosives in the Energetics Research Division. He said this visit to USS Preble gave him a morale boost an an increased sense of purpose.

“I came back with a new appreciation for what the Sailors, our ultimate customer, go through, as well as an increased awareness of the demanding environment on the ship,” Carter said.

Axness, an aerospace engineer working with the Tomahawk team, said the value of his two-day visit to the Preble was comparable to that of a multi-month Engineer and Science Developmental Program tour.

“It was very helpful to see where our products go and how they are handled on the ship,” Axness said. “It was especially beneficial to see where our requirements come from.”

Engineers and scientists at NAWCWD Point Mugu and China Lake may contact Smith at 760-939-0491 for more information and to fill out an application for the STS program.

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NSWC Port Hueneme and representatives from eight allied, international navies joined forces on April 7 to establish a unified strategic plan for modernizing and sustaining the MK 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) on a global scale, yielding enhanced worldwide fleet readiness and collective maritime strength against ever-evolving threats.
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