Photo By David Stoehr | Dr. Brett Seidle (from left), Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Engineering, congratulations Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport Technical Director Ron Vien during Vien’s retirement ceremony on March 30, 2023. During the ceremony, Seidle complimented Vien for his dedication while serving as Division Newport’s technical director since April 2018. Vien retires on March 31, after nearly 36 years at the command. see less | View Image Page

Story by Public Affairs Office , Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport

NEWPORT, R.I. – Technical Director Ron Vien closed the book on an illustrious nearly 36-year career at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport with a well-attended retirement ceremony held on March 30. Speakers at the event continually touched on one attribute when discussing Vien and his time at the warfare center: Passion.

“Your legacy, to me, was that passion that you brought,” Division Newport Commanding Officer Capt. Chad Hennings said.

“I’ve had the pleasure to work with Ron over the past three years, and very quickly you understand the passion he has for the undersea community and really for the workforce also,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Byrne, commander, Naval Undersea and Surface Warfare Centers.

“You never had to worry about where Ron’s head was at. You always knew he was going to be about the people, passionate about the work, cared about the culture,” said Dr. Brett Seidle, SES, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Navy, Research, Development, Test and Evaluation.

Jeffrey Prater, director of the Public Affairs Office, served as master of ceremonies during the 35-minute program that included a very special presentation — the Department of the Navy Superior Civilian Service Award, the Navy’s second highest honor for a civilian employee.

Vien joked he was the “Susan Lucci of technical directors” — often a nominee for service awards, but never a winner. This time, though, the spotlight was cast on him for his years of dedication, and his appreciation was apparent.

“I’ve got to tell you, getting that Superior Civilian Service Award, they don’t give those away,” said Vien, who grew emotional as he addressed the audience.

“That award reflects the great work of this organization,” he said. “It’s not me that does it that gets that award. It’s the great work of the people in this organization. I would say I accept that award on behalf of all the employees at Division Newport that made that happen.”

Vien, a resident of Westport, Massachusetts, first was employed at Division Newport on May 11, 1987, as an intern while attending the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. As he worked his way up the ladder, he said he surrounded himself with “so many talented and amazing people.”

“It’s the people I’m going to miss the most because, truly, you are my family,” he said. “I’ve been here more than three decades and I’ve built relationships. I have friends I still go out to lunch with that I did in my first year or two here. That’ll be the hard part.”

Vien also had plenty of support behind the scenes in his wife, Susan, who was seated in the front row during the ceremony. The job called for a lot of travel, Vien said, but “all those trips, I could just hop on a plane at any time and I never had to worry about it. That truly meant a lot to me … She is really the strength.”

When discussing his retirement plans with his family, Vien recalled speaking with his nephew, who asked why he remained at Division Newport for so long. Vien explained he enjoyed the stability and the ability to rise in the ranks, but above all, it was the meaningful work.

“When you came here, you’re helping to protect our nation,” he said. “You’re not making anybody rich. It’s not stock options and all that stuff. It’s just a different role. It’s the role that we serve, and every one of you here, you understand that.”

That level of commitment did not go unnoticed. Seidle said he’s always impressed when he visits Division Newport, and attributes that partially to Vien and the culture he’s built as technical director, a role he’s held since April 2018.

“Today is the best of what we do, when we celebrate folks who have dedicated their life to a cause, to the undersea community, the Navy and the nation,” Seidle said. “Thirty-five years is a long time to dedicate yourself singularly to a thing.

“Ron, I want you to know that you absolutely are making a difference in a whole host of ways, big and small,” he said.

Byrne said he got to know Vien on a personal level early in 2022, when Vien volunteered to serve for five weeks in the interim role of warfare centers’ executive director in Washington, D.C.

“One part of Ron’s legacy will be the people he mentored and prepared to lead this organization into the future,” Byrne said. “Ron’s leaving Newport in a better place and leaving Newport with a leadership to continue the great work and reputation.”

In addition to the Superior Civilian Service Award, Vien was presented with a U.S. flag that flew high above the command on his birthday in February. Folded in a shadow box marked with the dates of his tenure at Division Newport, the flag was accompanied by a certificate signed by Captain Hennings.

“It provides a visible national symbol of the country he has served with honor and will present a suitable and lasting reminder of the precious freedom he has devoted his life to,” Prater said.

From intern to early leader

Vien began his career in 1987 while attending the UMass-Dartmouth as a part-time employee. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology in 1988 and a second bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1989, he accepted a permanent position in the Submarine Combat Systems Department. There, he designed and produced prototype combat system hardware for both the Los Angeles- and Virginia-class submarines. After a few years of experience, he took on his first leadership role as a project manager.

Vien earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, in 1996, and a year later transferred from the Combat Systems Department to the Surface Undersea Warfare Department to become the operations manager of the AN/SQQ-89 surface ship sonar system Land Based Integration Test Site (LBITS).

In this role, he supervised a team of engineers and technicians who provided software lifecycle support for all fleet variants of the AN/SQQ-89 surface ship sonar system.

From 1998 to 2004, Vien served as head of the Operational Systems Engineering Branch, where he led a team dedicated to the development, integration and deployment of surface ship sonar systems. This incorporated the design and the development of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), and included the Spartan USV project.

The department’s largest USV program, the Spartan Scout Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) provided USVs with operational mission capabilities in force protection, ASW, mine warfare and precision engagement.

In 2003, he graduated from the Office of the Secretary Defense’s Executive Leadership Development Program and also is certified at DAWIA Program Management Level III.

Moving up the ranks

From 2004 to 2014, Vien served as head of the Sensors and Arrays Division, responsible for leading a collaborative team of government and contractor scientists, engineers and technicians in the design, development and lifecycle support of Navy sonar sensors. The team provided comprehensive lifecycle systems engineering, featuring expertise in the roles of systems acquisition, technical direction agent and in-service engineering.

During this 10-year span, Vien and his team developed marked improvements on a number of the Navy’s arrays. One of which was a full-scale test event of the Virginia-class submarine Large Aperture Bow. This test required an entire suite of sonar signal processing hardware to be designed, procured, assembled and tested.

In response to the Navy’s need for 360-degree sonar situational awareness on submarines, Vien led a team, performing as the technical direction agent of the Integrated Product Team, which was responsible for the design and development of a new Low Cost Conformal Array (LCCA). The LCCA transitioned to full-rate production in 2011 and has since been installed on more than 20 submarines.

Vien also led a team responsible for the design, development, construction and test of an Instrumented Towed Array that provided the Navy with measured hydrodynamic data on submarine towed arrays. This project improved towed array reliability and was critical in future advances in the field.

Some of those advances came to fruition during his time as head of the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department from 2014 to 2018. As a senior scientific technical manager, Vien led a diverse team of scientists, engineers, and technicians engaged in a broad spectrum of naval research, development, systems engineering, acquisition, and in-service engineering for the Navy’s surface ship and submarine sonar systems.

The department went beyond traditional sonar methods by investing in bio-acoustics and laser-based sensing methods to make the ocean more transparent. Significant advancements in the field of towed array reliability were made during this time, as an effort resulted in thin-line towed array reliability increasing from 12% to more than 40%.

Vien and his team also played a critical role in the development of the most advanced sonar system in the history of the U.S. Navy, the Large Vertical Array (LVA). Specifically, the department was responsible for completing the LVA sonar analysis studies.

Vien’s experience as a department head, which included a project portfolio of more than 75 projects with an annual operating budget of more than $250 million, helped him gain greater perspective for when he was named technical director.

“It’s the classic leadership style, seek first to understand. When I was a department head, there were a million things going on, but it was like why do technical directors do this, why do they do that,” Vien said. “I had trouble understanding some of the decisions that were made in the technical director seat, but when you come in and realize the ramifications of your decisions and the impacts — and quite frankly, many times it’s higher-level policy that drives these things. Gaining an understanding of that is probably the most important thing. Seek first to understand. Get in the job, see how things go and then make the decisions that you feel are right for the organization.”

The technical director years

Vien officially took over as technical director on April 29, 2018, and was named a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) on June 7, 2018. He was the 15th person to serve as technical director since the position was established in 1951.

In addition to his responsibilities as technical director, Vien concurrently served as the deputy warrant officer, Undersea Warfare Systems Engineering, where he was responsible for oversight of a team of technical warrant holders and engineering managers to ensure that the Navy maintains its position as the foremost technical authority over a broad portfolio of undersea warfare systems.

There have been a number of memorable technical achievements in the past five years, particularly notable given a good chunk of that time required navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

On Nov. 12, 2019, Division Newport’s Underwater Sound Reference Division (USRD) was named an officially Designated Institute (DI) for “Acoustics: Sound in Water” by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The effort, which began in 2016 under Vien’s leadership as head of the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department, established national measurement standards for sound in water for the very first time. Division Newport’s USRD is the only DI to be recognized by NIST.

In 2020, Vien implemented his “moonshot” initiatives. The goal was to invest internally in larger, more impactful projects tied to defined fleet needs. These efforts are short in duration (one to three years) with specific prototype capability demonstrations each year.

Of all this achievements, though, Vien is most proud of the workforce and his efforts to support it. He has made a number of efforts to better connect with the workforce, which was particularly critical with a shift to a more hybrid working environment.

Vien has held periodic, one-on-one, informal mentoring sessions with employees both in-person and virtually, as well as town hall-style leadership livestreams with Hennings to inform the workforce on the latest happenings and technical initiatives at Division Newport.

“It’s been an amazing five years together. We celebrated our 150th anniversary, hosted some amazing VIP visits and, most importantly, delivered to our Navy the world’s most advanced undersea warfare systems,” Vien said in a farewell message to the workforce. “We’ve been through challenging times together, battling through the COVID-19 pandemic and through the years lost a few of our own, but through it all you have continued to serve as the Navy’s technical stewards in the undersea domain. Take pride in the fact that the work you’re doing is contributing to the protection of our nation!

“As I prepare to retire, I’m comforted knowing that the talent pipeline for future technical directors is strong. NUWC Division Newport has a proud history of 154 years of dedicated service and will continue to fulfill its vision of ‘Undersea Superiority, Today and Tomorrow.’ It has been an honor to serve as your technical director. All my best for continued success!”

Watch a video of Vien reflecting on his career, here:

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher’s Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.

More From What'sUpNewp


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.