The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) began operations in 1923 as the United States Navy's first modern research institution, and it continues today as one of the Navy's premier R&D resources. NRL's early 20th Century founders knew the importance of science and technology in maintaining naval power and preserving national security.
During the years since World War II, NRL has conducted basic and applied research pertaining to the Navy's environments of Earth, sea, sky, space, and cyberspace. Investigations have ranged widely, from monitoring the Sun's behavior, to analyzing marine atmospheric conditions, to measuring parameters of the deep oceans. Detection and communication capabilities have benefitted from research that has exploited new portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, extended ranges to outer space, and provided a means of transferring information reliably and securely, even through massive jamming.
Submarine habitability, lubricants, shipbuilding materials, firefighting, and the study of sound in the sea have remained steadfast concerns. Recent explorations have been within the fields of virtual reality, superconductivity, biomolecular science and engineering, and nanotechnology.
NRL has pioneered naval research into space, from direction of the Vanguard project (America's first satellite program), to inventing and developing the first satellite prototypes of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Today, NRL is the Navy's lead laboratory in space systems research, as well as in fire research, tactical electronic warfare, microelectronic devices, and artificial intelligence.
NRL operates as the Navy's full-spectrum corporate laboratory, conducting a broadly based multidisciplinary program of scientific research and advanced technological development directed toward maritime applications of new and improved materials, techniques, equipment, systems and ocean, atmospheric, and space sciences and related technologies.
NRL is now focusing its research efforts on new Navy strategic interests in the 21st Century, a period marked by global terrorism, shifting power balances, and irregular and asymmetric warfare. While continuing its programs of basic research that help the Navy anticipate and meet future needs, NRL also moves technology rapidly from concept to operational use when high-priority, short-term needs arise for pathogen detection, lightweight body armor, contaminant transport modeling, and communications interoperability, for example.
In the late 1940s, NRL led in developing instruments and techniques for taking weather-related measurements. By 1952, NRL developed a balloon-borne meteorological station for collecting data on temperature, pressure, and humidity over remote ocean areas. Today, NRL's Monterey site is the only scientific center in the Navy wholly dedicated to atmospheric research, conducting research to provide local, regional, and global atmospheric analysis and prediction, as well as the development of automated weather interpretation systems to support Naval Operations; that is, the effect of atmospheric changes on naval communications and weapons systems.
The NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) Program is a Department of Defense program to provide precise navigation data to military and civilian users by means of a constellation of 24 satellites. NAVSTAR is based on NRL's TIMATION research program begun in 1964. NRL conceived the idea of the time-based navigational system, which led to the Global Positioning System.
NRL invented the first modern U.S. radar. The invention of radar and the developments that flowed from it are among the foundations of modern military power. Radar plays a major role in the operation of civilian transportation systems, weather forecasting, astronomy, and automation, among other uses. Before the development of radar, Navy ships could track other ships or aircraft only by using optical techniques, sound ranging, or primitive radio.
In 1937, NRL developed the first Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system in the United States. Since 1979, NRL has collaborated with the Air Force and Army to develop new IFF systems, which are urgently needed to make efficient use of beyond-visual-range weapon systems.