The Department of the Navy has been a major sponsor of studies since the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1863. Indeed, one of the very first committees, known as the “Compass Committee,” was appointed by the NAS on May 20, 1863, at the request of the Navy Department, communicated by RADM Charles H. Davis on May 8, 1863, and had a direct bearing on the operations of the Navy during the Civil War.
In 1946, following a long period of ad hoc studies (from 1863 to 1945), the newly established Office of Naval Research (ONR) requested that the NAS establish a standing committee—the Committee on Undersea Warfare (CUSW )—to advise the Navy on technical matters relating to submarine design and systems technology. In 1956, the CUSW was tasked by the CNO ADM Arleigh Burke to study the effect of advanced technology on submarine warfare. The resulting study, known as “Project Nobska,” advocated an increased emphasis on deeper-diving, ultraquiet designs utilizing long-range sonar. It has been reported within the Navy that USS Tullibee incorporated three design changes based on the results of Project Nobska. In 1955, the ONR again called on the NAS, requesting that it accept responsibility for the Mine Advisory Committee (MAC), which had been established in 1951 under the administration of the Catholic University of America in response to our nation’s experience with the minefield that blocked the invasion of Wonson, Korea, in 1950. The MAC was responsible for advising the Navy on research for the development of mines and effective countermeasures to them.
These two proactive committees, composed initially of scientists and engineers, produced approximately 200 reports in the years between 1946 and 1973. In 1973, the CNO, ADM Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., asked the president of the NAS to extend the charter of its naval advisory committees beyond the two existing warfare areas and form an advisory organization “to which [the] Navy could turn for advice on any area of its responsibility involving the interplay of science and technology with other national issues.” In response, the NSB, assuming the purview of both the CUSW and MAC, was established in 1974 and continues to operate today. Over the years, the activities of the NSB have reflected the language of the original request; to wit, its studies have dealt with the basic and applied science associated with virtually every area of the Navy’s overall mission.
At the request of Rear Admiral Charles H. Davis, USN, in 1863, the Compass Committee studied the magnetic deviation in iron ships and the means for better correction of their compasses, one of the first studies of the National Academy of Sciences.