Defense Media Network

Interview with Rear Adm. Tom Druggan, USN

Commander, Naval Surface Warfare Center

Rear Adm. Tom Druggan is commander of the 8-Division strong Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) HQ. He leads more than 18,000 scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel located across the United States. A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Druggan is a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and previously commanded the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) destroyer USS O’Kane (DDG 77).


Edward Lundquist: Tell us about your command, and its divisions and detachments.

Rear Adm. Tom Druggan: There are two centers under Naval Sea Systems Command – Naval Surface Warfare Center, that’s me, and then Naval Undersea Warfare Center, under Rear Admiral Moises DelToro.

He has two divisions – Keyport out in Washington State and Newport up in Rhode Island. NSWC has eight divisions and that’s NSWC Port Hueneme out on the west coast; along with NSWC Corona, then NSWC Crane, Indiana, in the middle of the country; NSWC Panama City down in Florida; and then in the mid-Atlantic area we have NSWC Dahlgren, NSWC Carderock, NSWC Indian Head and EOD Technology Division, and NSWC Philadelphia. Those are divisions, but people refer to them as warfare centers, and they are each led by a commanding officer.


Who commands them?

They all have senior O-6 Captains as Commanding Officers. By organization structure, they are divisions. But we use ‘divisions’ and ‘warfare centers’ interchangeably.


Rear Adm. Tom Druggan, Commander, Naval Surface Warfare Center


What’s the command’s over-arching mission? Are there some things that all the centers have in common and there are some things where they’re highly specialized and they do quite differently?

Execute inherently government activity in support of Navy programs. That’s the core. So we are surface-warfare-centric, but we have a very significant submarine portfolio, a fair amount of naval aviation, and a fair amount of inter-agency and DoD business. And we’re the largest of all the warfare centers at the macro level. NSWC has 18,000 government scientists and engineers that constitute a Navy-smart, working brain trust. I say “Navy-smart” because we work on Navy systems, we understand the naval and maritime environment. We understand naval architecture and hydrodynamics and radar propagation, and other areas that are inherently naval. No one “gets it” like we do. We’re also a ‘working’ brain trust because we are a Navy Working Capital Fund activity. That means ‘service for pay.’ We provide services – whether it’s people, equipment or testing – when a program or a sponsor funds us and resources us to do that. So that inherently means that our size is directly related to the amount of work we receive from programs and sponsors. We are not mission-funded, so that keeps us right-sized. Finally, we’re a ‘brain trust.’ We have almost 600 PhDs and  several thousand people with Masters degrees working across the eight warfare divisions. I truly have some world-class experts – whether it’s in energetics or in radar propagation or missile control, electronic warfare, ship design you name it. In many areas, NSWC is the Navy’s brain trust and provides that continuity over time that enables us to do a good job when it comes to inherently-government work like oversight of contract performance and the products that are coming out of them. So, as I said, this ‘Navy-smart working brain trust,’ comprised of more than 18 thousand fantastic scientists and engineers. Our people are involved throughout the entire life cycle of systems, whether that system is at the large level like a whole ship, or at a small level, such as a specific system that goes on a ship, and in some cases, aircraft.


Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson visits Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD). During his visit, the CNO held an all-hands call, and toured various labs and workspaces including electromagnetic launchers, hypervelocity projectiles, and directed energy weapons. NSWCDD’s provides research, development, test and evaluation, analysis, systems engineering, integration and certification of complex naval warfare systems. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird


What’s your relationship to OPNAV?

We help OPNAV with the requirements definition and development, the concept of employment that goes along with that, and the design reference missions of where that system may operate. The many program offices take those requirements and turn them into requests for proposals and contracts, and we help with the evaluation of those proposals that come back from industry. We then move into an oversight role of the execution of those requirements by industry. We often do some independent testing – this is particularly true for weapons and weapon systems, because a company cannot take on the liability of a weapons system. That’s an inherently government function, so we’re in a position where we have to certify that. We then we do fleet introduction live testing – that’s a pretty significant effort for any new class of ship or any new weapon system. And then at the end of the day, once those systems are in service, the warfare centers provide direct support called ‘In Service Engineering Agent’ work (ISEA). That’s different than what the regional maintenance centers do, which is direct repair. It would be analogous to your washing machine where the local repair man comes and examines it and says, “I don’t know what’s wrong,” and has to call in the experts from Maytag or Whirlpool because he doesn’t have the depth of knowledge that’s needed to fully understand some of these complex casualties. That’s where the ISEA – professional engineers and master technicians — comes in. The ISEA is also a steward for improvements over time in systems. They’re watching the performance of a particular system across the entire fleet. The ISEA in their stewardship role, investigates things like systemic problems and works to understand the root causes, and determine the appropriate improvement plan. That might involve training because maybe it was improper operation that was leading to the problems, or it might actually be a material upgrade of the equipment, or a complete change-up.


Lawrence Snyder, a naval architect at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division, and Ben Ridenour, a mechanical engineer, check on the Ship-to-Shore Connector model between tests in the David Taylor Model Basin. The Ship-to-Shore Connector is the replacement for the Navy’s existing fleet of landing craft, air cushion (LCAC) vehicles, which are nearing the end of their service life. U.S. Navy photo by Monica McCoy


Your people offer a lot of options, then.

That’s exactly right. It may be a training option, a repair option, or an improvement option or even a replacement option. They all have different costs over a different amount of time. Those options then go back to the responsible program office for final decision-making. So some people would say the warfare centers are the technical ‘conscience’ of the Navy. I think that’s fair. And that’s a good description because that’s what they deliver with technical fortitude, by which I mean objective data-driven technical advice and counsel to the programs. … based on the fact that they’ve worked with those systems for many, many years. So ‘a Navy-smart working brain trust,’ ‘technical conscience,’ all those are perfectly accurate.

We also look at fielded systems and see how we might get those two systems connected to get a new capability out of it. We have to look for these gaps and seams and see if there’s value in closing them. And again, those are program office decisions that come through. In some situations we have our world-class talent create software or some production work. The warfare center supports the life cycle of Navy systems from inception through disposal, across the board. Our involvement changes over time, and that’s appropriate, as we go through the life cycle.


Do all the centers have similar basic roles and functions?

Each of them are stewards of different systems. Each warfare center will have a set of technical competencies, and they’re the primary provider of that technical competency. Dahlgren is the expert in weapons design and systems engineering, for example; and ship propulsion systems and system integration expertise resides at Philadelphia.


Christopher Flores, left, a range systems engineering department engineer, and Henry Varela, project lead, wire individual panels for the new video screen at Joint Warfare Assessment Laboratory onboard Naval Surface Warfare Center. The new screen, consisting of 180 individual LED panels, replaces an obsolete rear-projection system. U.S. Navy photo by Greg Vojtko


But is there some connective tissue and some sort of overlap where they complement each other?

There is, and in a couple different ways. We have communities of practice across the centers that provide lessons learned and recommendations, and feed the high velocity learning. This can be functional competency-driven, like contracting, HR, and public affairs. So there’s sharing within these communities of practice across the warfare centers.   We share best practices and also some of those hard lessons learned to make sure we’re on a path of continuous improvement at a command level.

Now once you get down into the scientists and engineers that are working on systems, they are pretty much focused in their own area. If I’m working on the combat system integration in the design and the evaluation phase, that might happen at Dahlgren. But then Port Hueneme is actually the ISEA for those systems on the ships. There’s cross-communication there.


But it goes even deeper than that.

Absolutely. There’s certainly a deeper level. Some of the basic drivers in our business of science and engineering – and you can look at that as system engineering as a methodology – where we can talk across the warfare centers.

There are a lot of areas where the centers will be working on the same problems, but in different ways. Each one will be using modeling and simulation for their particular systems, but there’s value in having some communication across the centers on the issue of M&S. For example, nobody’s hedged the market yet on cyber security, and we need the smartest people we have not only working on the problem, but making sure they understand the problem from lots of different perspectives and sharing best solutions because no single solution is sufficient. So we have to come up with a ‘suite’ of solutions, so that by working in a cyber security community of practice, under very senior technical leadership, we get value out of that. A lot of value. Because each program will only approach it from their small subset of need, and the reality is we can provide a richer solution by doing this.


Jessica McElman, an electrical engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, adjusts a magnetic field sensor in the model track located in the Magnetic Fields Laboratory in West Bethesda, Maryland. U.S. Navy photo by Nicholas Malay

Additive Manufacturing is another good cross warfare center collaboration, and data analytics is kind of a fundamental approach to problem-solving.


You mentioned being a ‘technical conscience.’ You have some specific technical duties as well, correct?

Well, just as important as my role of NSWC Commander, I’m also the Chief Technology Officer for the Navy’s Surface Warfare Enterprise. It’s my job to try and look to the future and help determine what sorts of technologies the Navy can harness for future ships as well as what we might be able to back fit onto our existing platforms. I am also assigned additional duties as the Department of Defense Executive Manager for Military Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technology and Training, with oversight responsibilities for joint military EOD systems and training.


Tell us about your STEM program.

Another important role for the warfare centers is reaching out to the next generation to get them interested in the Navy, whether it’s as a government service employee or to become an active duty Sailor or officer. The centers do STEM outreach on a very consistent basis – they reach hundreds of classrooms and thousands of students at the elementary through high school level. Each has a pretty strong relationship in their local community, and formal agreements with universities. And they do collaborative research in a lot of those cases. We have a certain number of scientists and engineers that are leaving us every year, so we are working to make sure that we have a good hiring pool of potential candidates, and that starts early.

Courtesy of Surface SITREP. Republished with the permission of the Surface Navy Association (


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...