Over the past 20 years there has been a shift away from fundamental research toward applications-driven research with a relatively short-term focus. This shift, apparently driven by budgetary pressures and the desire for immediate transition, threatens to weaken the knowledge base and the pool of scientific talent and hence to decrease the generation of new ideas.
There are already disturbing signs of this trend: for example, the reduction in programs at leading research universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley, and in the fundamental hydromechanics research programs at the Navy's laboratories.
In the long run, this erosion in the fundamental research program will weaken the future technological leadership of the U.S. Navy.
On the basis of these findings, the committee recommends the following changes in ONR research policy as it relates to hydromechanics:
Funding for 6.1 should be less focused on immediate needs and more focused on broad, long-term research on fundamental problems in naval hydromechanics such as linear and nonlinear wave dynamics, including wave breaking, air entrainment effects, and air/sea interactions; all aspects of cavitating and supercavitating flows, including inception, noise, and damage; drag reduction and other aspects of flow control; surface and submerged wakes; hydrodynamic sources of noise; internal wave generation and propagation; and vortex dynamics and turbulence unique to naval surface and subsurface vehicle/sea interaction.
The 6.1 resource base should be stable and should be protected from the larger funding fluctuations associated with major acquisition programs.
In the 6.1 area, ONR should promote a culture of bottom-up research, which can bring novel developments and lead to solutions for unanticipated problems that may arise in the future.
Current ONR hydromechanics efforts are not well coordinated with higher-category technology development and demonstration efforts, for two main reasons. First, there does not appear to be a long-term vision for advanced concepts for ship and submarine platforms, so there is no well-defined 6.2/6.3 program plan with which to coordinate. Nor is there an equivalent to the Conform program of the 1970s, which contributed to the successful development of the Sea Shadow. Second, there is not enough S&T funding to pursue a robust technology development and demonstration program aimed at new platform concepts. This lack of funding is not new. For at least two decades, science and technology (6.1, 6.2, 6.3) funding in ship and submarine technology in general and hydromechanics in particular has been inadequate to support such a program. In the past, S&T funds were supplemented by the periodic infusion of major acquisition funding, which filled the voids and sustained research expertise at the same time as it responded to the needs of the acquisition managers. This reliance on major acquisition funding for S&T activities served as a deterrent to longer-term, more aggressive activities.