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Kevin Smith, PhD

Vice Provost for Research

Dr. Kevin Smith received a BA in physics from Rollins College in 1986, an MS in physics from Yale University in 1988, and a PhD in Applied Marine Physics from the University of Miami in 1991. He worked as a postdoctoral research associate in the Marine Physical Lab of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD, until taking a faculty position in the Department of Physics at the Naval Postgraduate School in 1995. From 2005-2008, he worked as a visiting faculty member in the Sensors and SONAR Systems Dept at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, RI. From 2008-2012, he relocated to the D.C. area, and was designated as the Director, NPS-National Capital Region, leading the development of a presence in the NCR to support the DOD and federal agencies. Smith returned to the Monterey campus in 2012. He served as Chair of the Department of Physics from 2015-2021 and Chair of the Undersea Warfare Academic Group from 2021-2022. In March 2022, Smith was appointed the NPS Vice Provost for Research to oversee the broad NPS Research Enterprise portfolio and to help coordinate NPS interdisciplinary research and education to accelerate and enhance warfare concept and capability development.

During his career, Smith has been recognized as a leading expert in the field of underwater acoustics and Undersea Warfare. He has over 50 refereed publications, over 25 conference proceedings and has presented over 80 talks at various national and international conferences on acoustics. Smith is a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America and serves on the Underwater Acoustics and Signal Processing Technical Committees.

"The Navy has called upon NPS to do more with the unique opportunities we have with our operationally experienced student body, defense-focused faculty, and our partnerships with DON/DOD labs, academia, and our proximity to the innovation ecosystem in nearby Silicon Valley. The threats facing the Navy and our broader national security are challenging our status quo and relying upon our innovative spirit and commitment to enhancing the capabilities of the warfighter in ways that require us to expand our notion of research and education at NPS."

What led you to the Naval Postgraduate School and what has been the most impactful moment(s) of your time on faculty here?

My graduate school research was in underwater acoustics and SONAR systems, so I was working Naval problems before I arrived at NPS. When the position opened in the Physics Department in 1994, I jumped at the opportunity to work for the Navy. I admit that I had no idea how special NPS was and what a fantastic opportunity working here would provide, not only the type of research in which I have been able to engage, but also the relationships I have been able to build with students over the years. Certainly one of the most impactful moments early in my career at NPS was when a student in one of my classes organized an opportunity for me to spend five days on the USS Houston, a 688-class fast attack submarine, for SONAR training exercises off Southern California. Another highly impactful period was when I had the opportunity to spend 2 ½ years working at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, RI as a visiting scientist. That really impressed upon me the significant capabilities and commitment of the Navy’s civilian workforce in our Naval Research and Development Establishment. The other highly impactful period in my time at NPS was when I was able to create a partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to support the deployment of a directional acoustic sensor on their underwater cabled observatory just outside of Monterey Bay. The data we’ve been able to collect from that sensor through our partnership has provided my students and my classes with unique and highly valuable data for evaluating new algorithms to explore the underwater acoustic environment.

As the Vice Provost of Research, you have your finger on the pulse of all the research taking place at NPS. What are a couple of the current research projects that you find particularly interesting and how will these projects impact the DOD?

There is so much fantastic foundational research taking place at NPS that it is difficult to highlight just a few. But as I’ve learned about the various efforts across campus, there are some that really impress me that could have significant value to the DOD and DON. Some that come to mind are the Applied Physics work in quantum sensing and precision PNT, the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering work in hypersonics and energy, the Electronic & Computer Engineering work with Computer Science in cyber, the advanced studies of underwater wake dynamics being conducted in Oceanography, the Information Sciences work in networks, the innovative acquisition studies taking place in Defense Management, all speak to the outstanding and relevant work being conducted at NPS.

If I had to select just a couple, I would highlight the significant work being done by our Space Systems Academic Group in satellite tracking and networking, and how that applies to C2 and long-range fires, as well as the work being done within our Consortium for Additive Manufacturing Education and Research (CAMRE) in advancing the science and application of Additive Manufacturing in support of logistics and maintenance in the fleet and in forward operating areas.

In what ways is NPS transforming its research and innovation to address current and future national security challenges? How do these changes support NPS as a leader in innovation adoption across PME and the DOD?

NPS research has always been about addressing current and future national security challenges. In the past, this was done in fairly singular, but still outstanding, research efforts by faculty in order to provide NPS warrior-scholars with opportunities to apply what they had learned in the classroom to applications in the lab or in the field. The focus was principally and appropriately on graduate education. Over the past few years, however, the Navy has called upon NPS to do more with the unique opportunities we have with our operationally experienced student body, defense-focused faculty, and our partnerships with DON/DOD labs, academia, and our proximity to the innovation ecosystem in nearby Silicon Valley.

The threats facing the Navy and our broader national security are challenging our status quo and relying upon our innovative spirit and commitment to enhancing the capabilities of the warfighter in ways that require us to expand our notion of research and education at NPS.

The transformation we are undergoing is in response to these threats and will involve multidisciplinary teams of faculty and students, working with other laboratories, academia, and our industry partners to allow the warfighter to create the foundation for innovation. 

This year, we are establishing the Naval Innovation Exchange (NIX) program at NPS that will bring together these various partners in order to iterate around a specific problem set, including S&T, prototyping, experimentation, operations, and acquisition pipelines to help speed the adoption of capability into the hands of the warfighter. Throughout the process, these NIX teams will incorporate the operators’ experiences and connections to the Fleet and Fleet Marine Forces. No other institution in the country has as unique a combination of critical elements to defense innovation in one place as NPS.

How does the interdisciplinary environment at NPS enable students and faculty to address operational challenges and develop solutions?  

National Security is a shared responsibility. Furthermore, other organizations, especially private industry, have capital to invest in technology development that is beyond the capabilities of NPS. Private industry has been outpacing the DON/DOD investments in S&T for decades. We need to be able to partner with them, and the great brain-trust that exists within other academic institutions and research labs, in order to advance the state-of-the-art beyond what NPS or the DON is capable of doing on its own. We have also found that these other organizations also value that shared responsibility of national security and want to engage with us in support of the warfighter. NPS has the opportunity to serve as a convening place for the exchange of ideas, and an honest broker for the DON/DOD through testing and evaluation of new technologies, systems or concepts of operations.

Why is it important for NPS to develop partnerships with other academic organizations, research labs or industry? What role is NPS playing, or should be playing, in facilitating that collaboration for the DOD?

One of the keys to innovation is a multidisciplinary approach to problems. Another key is regular engagement with and feedback from the customer. At NPS, we have expertise in science, technology and engineering, operations analysis, information and networks, cyber, and defense acquisition. We also have strong connections with other defense laboratories and industry partners. Combining all of this with our warrior-scholars, who are the future customers, and our relationships with the Fleet/Fleet Marine Forces enables us to better understand the operational challenges and develop solutions more directly applicable to the warfighter than other institutions could. 

The Secretary of the Navy recently announced the development of the Naval Innovation Center at the Naval Postgraduate School. What capabilities would a facility like the Naval Innovation Center bring to NPS and the Department of Defense? 

Before developing concepts for what might go into a new facility, several NPS personnel toured multiple venues at other institutions, labs, and industry to develop a sense of best-of-practice designs and capabilities. The Naval Innovation Center at NPS is being designed with state-of-the-art technical labs, as well as spaces that encourage collaboration and interactions. It would have modular spaces that would allow for prototype testing, and could be easily modularized to address various scopes of activity. It would include state-of-the-art immersive domes and simulation labs to support the exploration of new concepts and advanced modeling and simulation. And it would contain multiple spaces at varying degrees of security so that the work could advance at the appropriate level of classification. 

What is it about NPS that makes it uniquely suited to be the location for the Naval Innovation Center?

The Naval Innovation Center could be built anywhere. If the intent is to place it near a hub of intellectual activity, there are dozens of places across the country that would support it. If having it near an industry innovation ecosystem is valuable, there are several places that could serve it well. But if you want to have all of those conditions for defense-focused innovation collocated with the customers - the operationally experienced warfighter - then there is no other place in the country with the convergence of all those features except at NPS.

How would the integration of state-of-the-art technologies and spaces, like immersive domes and simulation labs, impact education and research at NPS? How will this impact NPS’ ability to support the DOD’s key research priorities? 

The primary function of the Naval Innovation Center is to provide the type of collaborative space to explore the integration of ideas and technology into prototype systems for transition into the Fleet. NPS currently has no spaces available for this type of work. The Naval Innovation Center would provide NPS faculty and students the freedom to directly engage in this type of innovation ecosystem, using state-of-the-art facilities in support of DON/DOD key research priorities, while still pursuing their resident academic degree programs. This expands the opportunities for NPS research to make an impact on operational problems, which results in a much more meaningful educational experience for our warrior-scholars.

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