The Naval Security Group Activity (NSGA) Potomac, Washington Unit, was originally established at the Anacostia Naval Annex, Washington DC, in October, 1952 and then re-established as an NSG Communications Detachment, at the AnacostiaNaval Annex in September, 1995. The U.S. Naval Security Detachment Potomac, Washington DC was commissioned in 1999. NSG Det Potomac was subordinate to NSGA Denver, in Aurora, CO. In 2002, NSG Det Potomac moved from the Anacostia Naval Annex to the NRL complex, approximately 2 miles away.
On September 30, 2005, NSG Det Potomac was administratively closed and was re-established on October 1, 2005 as the Navy Information Operations Detachment (NIOD) Potomac, Washington DC. NIOD Potomac was disestablished on September 30, 2006.
The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) complex is located in the Southwest quadrant of Washington, convenient to downtown, the Pentagon, and Bolling Air Force Base. Spread over 100 buildings on a 130 acre site along the Potomac, NRL sits just across the Potomac River from Old Town Alexandria, VA, just off I-295. NRL has existed since 1923. The NRL was based on an idea, and at the instigation of, the inventor Thomas Edison. “The Government should maintain a great research laboratory …. In this could be developed…all the technique of military and Naval progression without any vast expense.” NRL opened, under the Office of Naval Research, on the site of an annex to the Navy’s Bellevue Arsenal, a location that won out over competing proposals from Annapolis and West Orange, N.J. NRL still occupies its original site. The NRL’s most recognizable physical feature, a 50-foot radio telescope atop the headquarters building, was installed in the early 1950s. Though no longer operating, the telescope was used in determining the surface temperatures of Venus, Mars and Jupiter.
NRL has been responsible for a host of critical scientific developments, and pioneered Naval research into space, from atmospheric probes with captured V-2 rockets, to the discovery of radar in the 1920s, to directing the first American satellite program, the Vanguard project, in the 1950s, to a pivotal role more recently in developing the Global Positioning System (GPS). NRL’s many other accomplishments include the development of gamma-ray radiography, the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph Experiment (LASCO) and Dragon Eye, a robotic airborne sensor system.
The laboratory first proposed a nuclear submarine in 1939, and developed over-the-horizon radar in the late 1950s. The laboratory also developed the Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) system. Many projects developed by the NRL often became mainstream applications, without public awareness of the developer. An example in computer science is onion routing. The Timation system, developed at NRL, provided the basis for the Global Positioning System.
The previously classified spy satellite system, Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB), was launched in June, 1960 and became the nation’s first reconnaissance satellite system, gathering information on Soviet air defense radars only weeks after Francis Gary Power’s U-2 was shot down over the Soviet Union. GRAB was proposed, developed, built and operated by NRL. GRAB was “a milestone in the history of the laboratory and in the history of U.S. intelligence” said Keith Hall, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, in announcing the declassification of the GRAB system (June, 1998).
As part of the SDI program, the Low-Power Atmospheric Compensation Experiment (LACE) satellite was designed and built by NRL. Today, NRL is the Navy’s lead laboratory in space systems research, fire research, tactical electronic warfare, microelectronic devices, and artificial intelligence. NRL serves as the lead Navy laboratory for research in ocean and atmospheric sciences with special strengths in physical oceanography, marine geosciences, ocean acoustics, marine meteorology, and remote oceanic and atmospheric sensing. The expanded Laboratory is focusing its research efforts on new Navy strategic interests and needs in the post-Cold War world. Although not abandoning its interests in blue water operations and research, the Navy is also focusing on defending American interests in the world’s littoral regions. NRL scientists and engineers are working to give the Navy the special knowledge and capabilities it needs to operate in these waters.