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Cmdr. Thor Martinsen, PhD

NPS Permanent Military Professor

Cmdr. Thor Martinsen serves as a Permanent Military Professor (PMP) at the Naval Postgraduate School where he teaches and conducts research in applied mathematics, cybersecurity and electronic warfare. He has over 10 years of Navy Education & Training experience, including service as Commanding Officer of Information Warfare Training Command Monterey. Prior to becoming a PMP, Martinsen served in numerous cyber, signal intelligence, and electronic warfare assignments ashore and afloat as a U.S. Navy Cryptologic Warfare Officer. His education background consists of a doctorate in applied mathematics, masters degrees in computer science and applied mathematics, as well as undergraduate degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications and a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

"In a resource-constrained environment, it is helpful when allies can share expertise along with the burden of improving our common defense. Undertaking collaborative research with our allies, increases cooperation and strengthen ties between our countries."

What led you to NPS, both as a student and now as a permanent military professor (PMP) of Applied Math and Cybersecurity? What was the most important thing you learned as a student? What has been most impactful during your time on faculty?  

I have been interested in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics as long as I can remember. When given an opportunity to study at NPS, I naturally said yes. My time at NPS as a master’s degree student was very rewarding, both academically and personally, so when later in my career I was informed that NPS was looking for a Permanent Military Professor of cybersecurity, it didn’t take much convincing for me to apply for the PMP program. NPS teaches students a lot of valuable skills. I think the most important thing I learned as a student, and continue to pass on to my students now as a faculty member, is critical thinking. Technologies are continually changing. Faculty cannot always anticipate the challenges students will face in the future. However, by providing them with a solid foundation of critical reasoning skills, we can equip them with the confidence and tools they need to begin to solve even unforeseen problems. The most rewarding part of being a PMP is providing operational context to the material taught in the classroom and connecting with our military students. With one foot in both worlds, PMPs seek to put theory in to practice, and serve as an interface between the academics and warfighters.  

You were the first NPS Permanent Military Professor to receive a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award to attend the Selmer Center for Secure Communications at the University of Bergen, Norway. How did this opportunity expand your professional relationships and enhance your research/education? Why are programs like the Fulbright Scholarship important for global outreach?

Participating in the Fulbright U.S. Scholars program has been a fantastic experience. It has given me the opportunity to collaborate with cryptography researchers at the University of Bergen. This has resulted in several new research projects, which I will continue working on when I return to Monterey. Additionally, I have had an opportunity to travel and speak at other Norwegian organizations. During my stay in Norway I was invited to the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy where I gave a talk and met with their midshipmen, faculty and staff. I also had the opportunity to meet researchers at the Norwegian Security Authority and give a talk during their annual retreat. Most recently, I was asked to serve as an external examiner for a master’s degree thesis on cryptography at the Western Norwegian University of Applied Sciences. The Fulbright program is important because it provides opportunities for university students, young scientists, as well as established researchers from different countries to connect and collaborate. The program improves cultural understanding, enhances international cooperation, and enables scientific dialog and discovery.

From your time as a student to your time as faculty, how has international collaboration at NPS evolved? Why is the presence of international students important to the U.S. and how does it support our partner nations?

International collaboration at NPS has grown since I first came here as a student in 2005. These days, I see a lot more collaborative research taking place on campus, particularly with our NATO allies. NPS has alumni in over 125 countries. When attending NPS, students not only benefit from a world-class education, but they get to meet, befriend and often develop life-long connections with officers from many different countries. These social and professional connections are extremely rewarding and often come in handy when we later work with our allies and foreign partners. During my Fulbright stay in Norway, I have been able to reconnect with many Norwegian military friends that I first met as students at NPS.

Tell us about your experience in the DOD’s Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program. How can collaborative research between partner nations increase America’s and our ally’s competitive advantage and make our nations more secure?

The Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program (ESEP) is a DOD initiative that promotes international cooperation in military research, development, and acquisition through the exchange of defense scientists and engineers. It provides assignments for U.S. military and civilian engineers and scientists in allied and friendly governments’ organizations and reciprocal assignment of foreign engineers and scientists in U.S. defense establishments. Working with the Norwegian Security Authority and the Navy International Programs Office, which administers the ESEP program on behalf of the Navy, I was able to help arrange for one of Norway’s scientists, Dr. Tron Omland, to visit NPS for a year and collaborate on cryptographic and cybersecurity research currently taking place in the Applied Mathematics Department. Defense-related research can be a complex and expensive undertaking. In a resource-constrained environment it is helpful when allies can share expertise along with the burden of improving our common defense. Undertaking collaborative research with our allies, increases cooperation and strengthen ties between our countries.

You are part of a team of faculty at NPS conducting research on a pseudorandom number generator for use in future military systems and to improve the security of a host of military and civilian technologies. Earlier this year, this research was selected to receive seed funding from the NPS Foundation. How does this rapid funding help move the project from concept to capability? How will this research increase Department of Navy and DOD’s tactical cryptography capabilities?

The NPS Foundation seed funding will speed our research along by helping to provide funding for some research labor as well as equipment needed to develop a hardware implementation of our pseudorandom number generator. Pseudorandom number generators are important parts of many Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber and Intelligence (C5I) systems. Our research is focused on developing PRNGs with improved security features and low power and computation requirements. Such systems are in growing demand and are important in tactical cryptographic and communication applications.

Partnerships Support Science, Research Exchange Between NPS, Norway

Through the Department of Defense’s Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program, Naval Postgraduate School Permanent Military Professor U.S. Navy Cmdr. Thor Martinsen worked with respected cryptography expert and researcher Dr. Tron Omland of Norway’s National Security Authority (NSM). Martinsen and Omland are conducting collaborative research at NPS in the fields of cryptography and secure communications, with the intention for both countries to develop improved cyber security systems. According to Martinsen, their investigation into the security properties and vulnerabilities associated with Boolean functions is expanding their knowledge of cryptographic primitives and will help cryptographers design more secure systems in the future.

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