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For the Warfighter: NSWC Dahlgren Test and Evaluation Division Pushes the Status Quo with Higher Engineering Competency

DAHLGREN, Va. – When you hear a high-energy clamor coming from Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), you’re likely hearing ordnance qualification testing done by Dahlgren’s test and evaluation division. Every product that reaches the warfighter must first be qualified for release. “We want to ensure products that are going to be used by the warfighter will survive any of the harsh environments they will likely be subjected to. We test everything from grenades to computer systems, or even missiles. We mimic every environment those products may see in their lifetimes,” said Dr. Luke Martin, shock and vibration technical expert.

Environmental testing is split into two main sections: dynamic and climatic testing. Climatic focuses on temperature, climate, humidity, salt, fog, rain, and dust. Dynamic testing is the shock and vibration aspect. “Dahlgren is all about weapons systems and developing material to go out into the fleet to help the warfighter,” said Shawn Schneider, vibration subject matter expert. “We have a responsibility to make sure that every product gets to the end user intact and still able to perform its mission safely.”

According to Schneider, product tests are developed with three customers in mind: the front-end consumer who requests the tests, the warfighter, and the American people. “We owe it to the warfighter to make sure that we do the right tests. We owe it to the taxpayer to make sure we are efficient and effective stewards of their money.” The test and evaluation team keeps this in the forefront of their minds as they prepare laboratory experiments. The division oversees three environmental test laboratories, including two at NSWCDD’s Explosive Experimental Area, otherwise known as Pumpkin Neck, and one at the Potomac River Test Range (PRTR) complex. The PRTR gunline and river range complex allows products to be tested over-the-water, for a more realistic naval environment.  

Another laboratory is expected to open for experimentation and testing in 2021. The fourth laboratory will further encourage effective and efficient testing, thanks to multi-axis vibration testing. While single-axis testing is more common, “multi-axis testing simulates all three axes simultaneously, saving a lot of time, energy, and money,” said Barry Mohle, NSWCDD test and evaluation division head.

Mohle started working on the range in 1986. “When I first got here, the division was mostly labor-based. As I started moving into the leadership team, it became apparent that technology was starting to outpace the labor force. From then on, we’ve been converting over to a more technical test and evaluation organization,” said Mohle. “Today, our organization is about 74 percent scientists and engineers.

This team is filled with some of best minds in the country relative to this type of work. It’s unbelievable how smart and forward-thinking they are. It’s just amazing.” 

NSWCDD’s move to a test and evaluation team with greater engineering competency has propelled the organization’s capacities forward. “Not only are we engineering the right tests, but we’re also going out and making sure the current military standards are right. We’re doing more research, pushing past the current standards, and questioning the status quo,” said Schneider.

The Military Standard 810 (MIL-STD-810) is an 1100-page document used across the Department of Defense (DoD), NATO, and commercial products. According to Schneider, 400 of those pages specifically discuss vibration environmental testing. “There’s no one size fits all, easy answer, to what vibration testing entails. Everything is tailored.”

Specified, or tailored, testing takes data measured in the actual deployed environment and brings it back to the lab. Engineers then take the data and create specific tests to assess a product’s viability in accordance with MIL-STD-810 methods. The specified tests remove overestimation in product testing compared to the default tests recommended in MIL-STD-810. Dr. Luke Martin is a representative on the MIL-STD-810 committee. “Most of the time, the default tests specified in the MIL standard are overly conservative. Because we’re making generic guesses about the environment the product will be deployed in, we end up inducing more stress on the products than what’s necessary,” said Martin.

“Tailored testing is a huge giveback to the designer. This could impact the entire DoD, not just the Navy,” said Mohle.

Mohle says NSWCDD’s impact on the DoD goes even beyond their testing capabilities. “We’ve got a lot on the horizon. Dahlgren is at the center of a DoD feasibility study for a large caliber multi-axis capability potentially designed and developed to test High Energy Laser systems.”

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