The Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) is the United States Navy's full-spectrum research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support center for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, and offensive and defensive weapons systems associated with undersea warfare. One of the corporate laboratories of the Naval Sea Systems Command, NUWC is headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island, and has two major subordinate activities—Division Newport and Division Keyport (in Keyport, Washington). NUWC also controls the Fox Island Facility and Gould Island.
In 1869 the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station was founded in Newport on Goat Island, the site of a military fort since 1703. During the 1890s Charles Munroe and John Bernadou worked at Newport, patenting a formulation of nitrocellulose colloided with ether and alcohol used as smokeless powder for United States naval artillery through the World Wars. The United States Army adopted the Navy formulation in 1908 and began manufacture at Picatinny Arsenal.
A factory was built in 1907 to manufacture steam torpedoes for the United States Navy. The torpedo factory became a major employer in the Newport area as Rhode Island congressmen protected the factory from competition. The Torpedo Station designed the Mark VI magnetic influence fuze for torpedoes during the 1920s. Fuze design and production was undertaken in great secrecy for the newly designed Mark 14 torpedo. Economies of the Great Depression limited torpedo production and prevented adequate testing of either the Mark 14 torpedo or the new Mark VI fuze. Skilled craftsmen at the torpedo factory unknowingly produced a nonfunctional design. Newport's torpedo factory was unable to produce enough torpedoes to match combat use through the first year of World War II, and was reluctant to use scarce torpedoes in tests. Newport Torpedo Station's unjustified confidence in their precision-crafted torpedoes delayed recognition of problems being reported by submarines using the torpedoes in combat. Testing which might have been efficiently completed at the Torpedo Station was less effectively undertaken by operational submarines. Acknowledgment of inaccurate depth settings was delayed until August 1942, and recognition of Mark VI fuse malfunctions was delayed until June 1943.
The Naval Torpedo Station researched and tested underwater weaponry through World War I and World War II creating additional facilities on Rose Island, Fox Island and Gould Island. In 1951 the station on Goat Island was reorganized:
For the next 15 years, it was the Underwater Ordnance Station, and then the Underwater Weapons Research and Engineering Station until 1970. That year, the Underwater Sound Laboratory from New London, Conn., was combined with the Newport facility to form the Naval Underwater Systems Center or NUSC. In 1992, the command was reorganized as the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Newport.
The Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory had its origins in the establishment of two sonar research facilities in 1941; an office of Columbia University's Division of War Research at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut, and the Harvard Underwater Sound Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Connecticut office concentrated on passive sonar systems and devices while the Massachusetts office developed active systems and devices. Significant accomplishments during World War II included the development of greatly improved surface ship and submarine sonar systems, acoustic homing torpedoes, sonobuoys, and acoustic mines. This work contributed greatly to the success against U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic and the near-total destruction of the Imperial Japanese Navy and merchant fleets in the Pacific War.
Also in 1941 the United States Navy established the Underwater Sound Reference Laboratory in Orlando, Florida. The lab was built on the archeological site of Fort Gatlin on the shore of Lake Gem Mary because the sinkhole-formed lake is very deep. The Orlando lab closed in 1997 and the building was turned over to civil administration thereafter.
By 1946, the sonar efforts of the Harvard and Columbia labs were combined at Fort Trumbull as the Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory under the Navy's Bureau of Ships, now Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). Research intensified during the Cold War, which was as much a technology race with the Soviets as it was an arms race. The Sound Lab's efforts were key to the further development of both submarine and anti-submarine warfare. In 1970 the Sound Lab was organizationally combined with the Naval Underwater Weapons Research and Engineering Station at Newport, Rhode Island to form the Naval Underwater Systems Center. In 1996 the facility at Fort Trumbull was closed and activities were merged at Newport.
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