While Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) is well-known for its work in both lasers and pulsed power systems, incorporating lasers into pulsed power is a new area of research. As such, the basic requirements of the research effort must be built from scratch.
Dr. Jon ‘Cameron’ Pouncey of the High Power Microwave (HPM) Technology Development Branch, E13, of the Gun and Electric Weapon Systems Department (E Department) at NSWCDD is the principal investigator of a new project, funded through a grant initiated by the Department of Defense (DoD) Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship program.
Pouncey was awarded the SMART scholarship in 2017, with NSWC Dahlgren as the sponsoring facility.
SMART is a scholarship for service program funded by the DoD with the mission of providing education and career opportunities for students pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees that will enhance the DoD civilian workforce. The terms of the scholarship make it competitive, with an annual acceptance rate of around 10%.
“My initial thought on receiving the scholarship was, ‘finally!’ It is very competitive, and this was the third time I had applied. I did not give up after the first two attempts because I knew that this scholarship was the best way for me to be able to focus my research efforts on technologies that could make a real difference in the state of the art for directed energy. Having the scholarship meant that I was not constrained to the research that my adviser had been funded for,” said Pouncey.
SMART Scholar Seed Grant (SEED) provides recent SMART scholarship Ph.D. graduates the chance to obtain funding for the development of their own research projects within their support facilities.
Pouncey saw this as an exciting opportunity to extend his dissertation work and bring a new capability to NSWCDD. His proposal to establish an organic research and development capability for laser triggering of spark gap switches in compact pulsed power systems was awarded a 3-year, $300,000 grant beginning in fiscal 2021.
Pouncey’s dissertation research focused on the development of compact pulsed power technology. The development of compact, reliable, and efficient pulsed power systems is critical to enable the fielding of HPM systems.
His most important contribution to the field has been the pioneering use of infrared micro-lasers as triggers for compact spark gap switches. This technology has the potential to provide significant improvements in the reliability and performance of compact pulsed power systems.
Work has already begun on establishing a laboratory space and ordering necessary equipment. In addition to this effort, Pouncey is also technical lead on three other HPM projects that are working toward the ultimate goal of delivering this important technology to expand the advantage of the warfighters.
Pouncey joined the HPM Technology Development Branch in July 2020.
His path to becoming an HPM engineer was unconventional and has led to new opportunities for himself as well as NSWCDD. A native of northwest Florida, Pouncey began his engineering career in Panama City, Florida after obtaining his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Florida State University in 2003. His work for various defense contractors in support of Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City covered a wide range of engineering challenges, from micro-electronics to power distribution systems. However, it was the high voltage and pulsed power systems that he worked with as part of the Navy and Marine Corps counter-improvised explosive device efforts that provided inspiration for a path to the graduate degree that he had always aspired to obtain.
“Starting back to school in my mid-30s, 11 years after receiving my bachelor’s degree, was a challenge from both a financial and academic perspective. However, having a great deal of work experience in a variety of electrical engineering areas provided a clarity of purpose for my graduate studies. I knew that I wanted to focus my research on directed energy,” said Pouncey.
After 10 years as a practicing engineer, Pouncey took the ambitious step to move across the country to Albuquerque, New Mexico so that he could work full time on a doctorate degree in electrical engineering in one of the premier pulsed power and directed energy research programs in the country.
Under the guidance of his adviser, Dr. Jane Lehr, Pouncey worked for six years to obtain both a master’s degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in electrical engineering. With his extensive work history, Pouncey became the manager of Lehr’s lab and mentor to the young undergraduate and graduate students in the program.
Because of his history supporting the Navy and his knowledge of the important directed energy weapons work taking place at NSWC Dahlgren, Pouncey knew that he would want to continue his post-doctorate career at Dahlgren. This made it natural for him to apply for the SMART scholarship program.
“I believe that HPM technology has the potential to provide significant advantages to the warfighter. It is an exciting technology area, with an excellent community of both government and private-sector contributors. I am very proud to be a part of that community and hope to continue to elevate the reputation of NSWCDD in the field,” said Pouncey.