Johns Hopkins APL Pilots U.S. Joint Forces Orientation Tour for Staff Members
The U.S. Marine Corps offered participants the chance to get hands-on experience with weapon system and simulated virtual reality firing, a combat convoy simulator and a joint terminal attack controller simulator. The goal of the program was to expose APL technical staff to the operational context of the joint force, and to interact with military personnel to gain an appreciation for their experience.
Credit: Ian MacLeod
Thu, 09/07/2023 - 11:20
In June, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, piloted a program that featured an orientation tour of U.S. joint force operations for APL staff members. The goal of the program was to expose APL technical staff to the operational context of the joint force, and to interact with military personnel to gain an appreciation for their experience.
In addition to APL’s National Security Analysis Department (NSAD) facilitators, the 19 attendees included individuals from the Laboratory’s Air and Missile Defense Sector (AMDS), Asymmetric Operations Sector (AOS), Force Projection Sector, Information Technology Services Department and Research and Exploratory Development Department (REDD).
The tour group visited several different military bases in Virginia and North Carolina over the course of four days.
“Each military service had something different planned that was just very cool every day,” said Nikki Rauser, NSAD operations coordinator and one of the tour organizers. “Everything that we did was interactive, and the participants were so engaged and asked a lot of great questions.”
APL tour participants had the opportunity to get hands-on with a U.S. Navy MH-60S helicopter.
Credit: U.S. Navy/Lt. Margaret Wall
The attendees participated in a multitude of activities, including visiting the National Museum of the U.S. Army, observing a U.S. Marine Corps infantry fire team conduct assaults against autonomous robotic targets, “flying” F-15E Strike Eagles in virtual reality mission simulators, drinking tactically purified pond water, trying on flight gear and night vision goggles, and touring several U.S. Navy and Air Force craft, including an F-15E, an MH-60S helicopter, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, a San Antonio-class amphibious assault ship and a Virginia-class fast attack submarine.
“People were so energized at all of the different stops,” said Michael Moskowitz, an NSAD section supervisor and tour organizer. “The feeling was contagious. We heard ‘This is so cool’ a lot.”
The discussion and questions ranged from tactical to operational considerations and addressed fundamental challenges from materials and core technologies to operational integration and employment of new capabilities.
The diverse APL staff who participated took lessons and insights directly relevant to their projects from the interactions.
“This visit was extremely helpful in grounding my understanding of what mission capabilities service members seek to develop, and what the appetite or expectation is for them to use, repair and build robots in the field,” said tour participant and REDD robotics research scientist Brian Bittner. “It was also insightful to see a strong example of a fully realized robotic innovation for training military personnel.”
Tour participants were also able to observe a U.S. Marine Corps infantry fire team conduct assaults against autonomous robotic targets.
Credit: Ed Dillard
Arpad Voros, an AOS imaging engineer, said he thought the program should be a permanent offering. “I came into APL directly from graduate school with no knowledge of our military forces,” he said. “Going to these bases to see the state of things, hear testimonials and physically interact with equipment gave me an improved level of insight into our forces. This experience will stick with me throughout my time at APL.”
Katie Newell said the tour helped her to come to a broader understanding of how APL best supports sponsors, and seeing the advanced technology that goes into creating realistic training environments reminded her that operators remain the nation’s most valuable asset.
“I really enjoyed the hands-on nature of the tour,” said Newell, a group supervisor in AMDS. “Putting engineers and scientists in a room where they can really interact with new information produces infinitely more questions than just in a brief. Having other participants from diverse backgrounds around the Lab meant I was learning as much from the questions being asked by the other APLers as I was from the answers being given by the service members.”
This program arose in part from an APL strategic education course taught by Moskowitz and NSAD group supervisor Ian MacLeod, titled “DOD 101: Forces, Concepts, Functions.” They are planning to organize another program tour with new participants in September and are hoping to be able to continue providing the program in later years.
“Almost all of the tour participants at some point said, ‘Hey, I’ve worked on a part of this, but I never knew what it looked like, or how it fit in with everything else,’” MacLeod said. “And that was really a big goal of ours, to get at that context, and get them to see how it all comes together. So that was really rewarding.”
The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.