Undersea warfare center’s work is more than submarines

Rear Adm. Michael E. Jabaley became the new commander of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport in September. He is also deputy commander for undersea warfare, Naval Sea Systems Command, in Washington, D.C.
Jabaley has spent much of his career on submarines. The Undersea Warfare Center is a shore command of the Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which supports the nation’s fleet of submarines, as well as a center for research and development. The base helps fuel Rhode Island’s $3.75 billion defense industry.

PBN: Tell us about your background with submarines.
JABALEY: In college I had a summer job with an industrial catering company that supplied food to prisons and schools and other institutions. It made me realize I wanted to do something more exciting. Then I received a recruitment letter from the Navy about the Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate program, and I realized that could be for me. After college graduation I went through Officer Candidate School in Newport, and then became part of the submarine community. I’ve served on four submarines, including command of the USS Louisville, home-ported in Pearl Harbor.

PBN: How did that lead to your taking command of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center?
JABALEY: I have another job, deputy commander for undersea warfare for naval sea systems, which I’ve had for the past 15 months. Because of budget constraints, the Navy has been tasked with reducing the number of admirals on active duty. One result has been the combination of two jobs, done by one person. That’s what I’m doing. … My other job is mainly focused on maintenance and lifecycle support for submarines. That focus is on the hull. The Naval Undersea Warfare Center has a similar mission with electronic systems. The platform may be 30 years old, but the electronic systems are current. That makes a 30-year-old submarine as capable and relevant as a brand-new one. The synchronicity there makes sense.

PBN: Can you give us some idea of the scope of the work being done at the Undersea Warfare Center?
JABALEY: Undersea warfare doesn’t mean only submarines; it’s anything that goes on beneath the surface, and there are quite a few things.
It could refer to a surface-towed sonar array. That’s a long string of hydrophones towed behind a ship and underwater, to get the sensors away from surface ocean noise.
There are also unmanned undersea vehicles that could be launched from surface ships, from submarines, or from the air. You could compare them to drones, but drones have some artificial intelligence. These are completely controlled by us. When you have an unmanned vehicle deployed, you can use its sensors to expand the reach of your ship. And there’s also a whole field of weapons, such as torpedoes deployed by submarines, ships and aircraft.

PBN: How about physical changes at the undersea warfare center?
JABALEY: In April we opened a $24 million support center for electromagnetic sensors in the Narragansett area. And we [recently opened] the new Virginia Payload Tube Facility. The Virginia class of submarines is our newest class; we’ve delivered 11 so far. The first 10 had 12 individual Tomahawk missile launchers. Starting with the 11th, the USS North Dakota, we’ll be using a modified design: it will have two Virginia payload tubes. They’re much bigger. If you tipped one sideways you could stand up in it. You can fit six missiles in each one. But you could also take the canister out and have a large volume tube that could be used for other payloads. Now we’ve got the prototype on our Newport campus, and we can invite industry to come in to test other payloads. We’re telling them we want them to innovate. What’s great is that everything at Newport is connected by fiber optics. When they’re testing something they’ll also be connected to the fire-load system, to the communications system.

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PBN: In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended that Congress authorize another BRAC round in 2015. Does that mean Newport could be on the list?
JABALEY: The BRAC process is a legislative-branch process. We’re not currently under a BRAC process and I can’t tell you if we will be. It’s up to Congress. We have no information to suggest it could go one way or the other.
I will say that the Naval Warfare Center does incredible and important work. We have 2,700 people there working every day to support the fleet. I can give you an example of that from when I was commander of the USS Louisville. We were in the Red Sea training, running Tomahawk-missile exercises. At one point we had two different electronic faults that would have prevented us from shooting missiles. We were able to communicate with engineers in Newport in the middle of the night and repair them.

PBN: Is Rhode Island filling your demand for workers with engineering and science backgrounds?
JABALEY: We’re always competing with high-tech industries for top-notch graduates, but up to this point we’ve had great success. About 25 percent of our people have degrees from the University of Rhode Island, and we also get a bunch from UMass Dartmouth. We have paid internship programs and get a lot of interns from those schools, too. •

Rear Adm. Michael E. Jabaley
POSITION: Commander of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport
BACKGROUND: Thirty years as a U.S. Navy officer; served on four different submarines, including command of the USS Louisville
EDUCATION: Bachelor of science degree from Vanderbilt University, 1984, with a double major in mathematics and computer science; master’s in engineering administration, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1997; MBA from the Naval Postgraduate School, 2008
FIRST JOB: Summer job while in college with Bill’s Industrial Catering outside Jackson, Miss., configuring programs to manage inventory
RESIDENCE: Annandale, Va.
AGE: 51