Coast Guard R&D Center showcases work, welcomes commandant

The Day

By: Erica Moser

February 27, 2023

New London ― Monday was a rare opportunity for the public to see the work the Coast Guard Research and Development Center is doing with autonomous aircraft systems, drug interdiction, polar technologies and more, during a science-fair-style open house that followed a private ceremony with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan.

The events celebrated the 50th anniversary of the RDC, which was established in September 1972, moved from Groton to New London in 2009, and now has 82 uniformed and civilian staff members.
Research engineer DJ Hastings stood Monday in front of a narcotics detector the center is testing, a newer model than the one currently on Coast Guard cutters. She explained that when a Coast Guard team boards a boat suspected of carrying drugs, a member will swab different locations and run swabs through the machine.

Hastings said the RDC is also testing a smaller device that personnel could carry, but the issue is it hasn’t been certified so evidence might not hold up in court.

Shelly Wyman, a research scientist for the aviation branch, talked about the Puma, an unmanned aircraft system with cameras on it that can fly for three to four hours without a battery charge.

Cmdr. Blair Sweigart, chief of the modeling, simulation and analysis branch, said his team is currently looking at the Polar Code, which requires a ship owner to have at least five days’ worth of survival equipment onboard.

Sweigart said the RDC is researching the time it takes to rescue people and whether five days is appropriate, because a period that is too short puts lives at risk but a period too long overburdens vessel owners.

Lt. Cmdr. Anderson Ogg explained the work of the rapid reaction technology branch, which Ensign Curtis Bates explained aims to quickly take well-developed technology used in the commercial world and apply it to Coast Guard settings.

Ogg showcased a few pieces of technology: a camera-containing ball that could be thrown in a window or hole; different versions of LIDAR (light detection and ranging), a remote sensing technology that could have multiple applications; and a terminal from Starlink, the satellite internet constellation from SpaceX. Ogg said the idea is to have high-speed internet available everywhere in the world.

Public affairs officer Joe DiRenzo said more than 165 people visited the RDC for the open house Monday, including parents of prospective Coast Guard Academy cadets, former RDC employees, veterans, and people from the Naval Submarine Base, Connecticut National Guard and Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

“Not filled with people in white lab coats”

“Over 50 years, the RDC has served as the center of gravity for the research that has impacted every level, from the tactical to the strategic,” RDC Commanding Officer Capt. Dan Keane said at a private event before the open house.

He added, “Our center is not filled with people in white lab coats, far from it. Our research takes place in the field.”

He said they embrace a statement Fagan made when she became commandant: “Tomorrow looks different. So will we.”

RDC Executive Director Bert Macesker said Fagan has worked with the center in a variety of capacities, and Fagan said she first met Macesker 30 years ago, when she was a young lieutenant.
“There is a not a single Coast Guard mission today that is taking place around the world that has not been touched by the work that you do here,” Fagan said. She spoke a bit about the history of the RDC, from research in oil spill response and buoy technology in the 1970s to the dawn of the computer age in the 80s and the response to 9/11.

“This is a unique unit. It’s the only unit like this we operate as a Coast Guard, and it’s just exciting it’s here in New London,” Fagan said.

She added she is in New London until Thursday and noted that she stopped by the National Coast Guard Museum construction site on Sunday.

Also at the private ceremony, Mayor Michael Passero presented a proclamation designating Feb. 27, 2023 as Coast Guard Research and Development Center Day in New London.

Passero also recognized the RDC for being the sole facility at Fort Trumbull, which has been vacant for decades. But he noted that city intends to turn that around by bringing a community recreation center ― to be built over the next 18 months ― and housing to the area.

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