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UC San Diego’s Navy Research History

San Diego has one of the largest and most robust military communities in the country. Combine that with the growing tech and startup sector, and Hacking for Defense is a great platform for connecting the innovation ecosystem at UC San Diego with the big challenges engaging the different aspects of the San Diego technology and innovation system.

“In addition to the significant educational benefits to our students, Hacking for Defense provides many opportunities for building and strengthening relationships between the Jacobs School of Engineering and the many facets of our region’s military and defense communities,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering, who previously served as a program manager for the MEMS Program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). “San Diego is a military town, and we are pleased to be engaging with all of our regional constituents.”

Collaboration between UC San Diego and the Navy dates back to the 1930s when the Navy would charter the UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s sole research vessel, E.W. Scripps, for research.

In World War II, Scripps’s knowledge of the oceans was tapped to assist military operations, especially in the arenas of submarine warfare and wave prediction. The Navy Radio and Sound Laboratory in Point Loma, Calif. became the University of California Division of War Research and counted several of Scripps’s leading scientists as members. The oceanographers succeeded where other scientists, some of whom would go on to join the Manhattan Project, failed in understanding that the only way to “see” through the ocean was through sound waves, thus making marine acoustics an advantageous tool to the Navy.

In addition, Scripps researchers aided beach landings during World War II by producing some of the world’s first wave forecasts based on a formula devised just before America entered the war by renowned geophysicist Walter Munk, who was then a student at Scripps. By 1943, the researchers were able to give Allied forces a tactical advantage, timing landings using the formula and data from weather maps and aerial photography.

Signal processing and other aspects of marine acoustics and autonomous vehicle remain prominent areas of research at Scripps thanks in large part to support from the Office of Naval Research, which was established within a year after the end of World War II.

The addition of the Navy-owned research vessel Sally Ride to the UC San Diego fleet in July was the latest manifestation of the relationship. The 238-foot ship serves the mission of providing the military with what has been termed “environmental intelligence” and will focus at-sea science on areas of special interest to the Navy including acoustics and climate change-related research.