Military Meets Main Street

Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center. Just the name stirs up images of shadowy characters from a Tom Clancy novel.
NSWC-Crane is the third largest naval installation in the world, employing about 3,700 people in a sprawling facility that occupies nearly one-third of sparsely populated Martin County in Southwest Indiana. Crane is not a place where you walk right in with your camera and take a look around. After all, its focus is “harnessing the power of technology for the Warfighter.”

Rather than thinking of Crane in terms of weapons that would turn an elephant into a small pile of ashes, think of Crane as a place where engineers and scientists might find ways for mobile homes to withstand tornadoes, or make tools for heart surgeons that are less invasive.

That’s where the University of Southern Indiana and the Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville (GAGE) come in. Government officials at Crane have reached out to USI and GAGE for a couple reasons. Crane is hoping to build its base of future engineers and scientists by promoting USI’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curriculum, much like it has done with Ball State University and Indiana University. Most importantly for job creation and growth in Southwest Indiana, Crane is committed to transferring technology that supports the war fight from military to commercial use, with GAGE serving as matchmaker and liaison.

“The GAGE-Crane-USI relationship is working to create opportunities for regional businesses and entrepreneurs by making the assets of Crane and a network of 700 federal labs available for technology-based economic development,” explains GAGE President Debbie Dewey. “We are developing an approach that pulls technology from Crane to meet business-specific needs, and that pushes patents from Crane to businesses that can benefit from the new commercial applications.”

Will this military-meets-Main-Street concept work? It certainly has in the past. The basic GPS system now used in many vehicles was invented in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Defense because it needed more precise accuracy for nuclear weapons. You can tip your cap to Britain’s Royal Air Force for the microwave oven, thanks to the radar it developed in the 1930s. Nazi Germany even gets credit for speeding up U.S. space exploration and the ability to launch communication and weather satellites, because of its ballistic missiles program.

“Crane has been quiet in the past,” says Dr. Mark Bernhard, associate provost for outreach and engagement at USI, “but they have made a conscious decision to make themselves more visible. Some things they simply can’t share with us. They are very careful about what they do share, but they want the public to realize they are an asset.”

To find out more about the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, visit

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