February 25 2020 | Article originally published in UConn Today by Jessica McBride, Office of the Vice President for Research.
As an Air Force pilot for over two decades, Erik Brine has served his country from thousands of feet in the air. Now Brine is focused on research and development activities to safeguard our national defense from the depths of the ocean floor.
In September 2019, Brine became the Executive Director of the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology (NIUVT). NIUVT is a collaborative effort between academia, industry, and government founded by partners General Dynamics Electric Boat and the schools of engineering at the University of Connecticut (UConn), and the University of Rhode Island (URI).
NIUVT’s mission is to enhance performance and reduce costs associated with advanced technology integration in the undersea domain. These activities include conducting advanced research, facilitating workforce development, and accelerating technology to meet the needs of industry in the defense sector. The institute’s regional academic and industry horsepower are further strengthened by the expertise and close relationships with Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) and the Undersea Warfighting Development Center, which are pillars of the Navy’s undersea community.
In 2018, the Navy announced plans to purchase 301 new ships by 2048, including an increase in submarines from 48 to 66. This significant ramp-up in submarine production could place strain on the 600 small and medium companies that are suppliers to the submarine industry. NIUVT aims to help alleviate that stress and allow for greater innovation, performance, and cost savings.
“UConn and URI have a strong record of supporting the naval community in Connecticut and Rhode Island through workforce development and collaborative research. NIUVT will bring this to the next level and we are very pleased that Erik has joined our team to help lead this growth and development,” says Dean Kazem Kazerounian, UConn School of Engineering.
Before joining NIUVT, Brine served as an expert on defense, technology, and veterans issues in both the legislative and executive branches. He spent time at the State Department supporting the bureaus of Political Military Affairs, International Security and Nonproliferation, Arms Control Verification and Compliance, Counter-terrorism, Conflict Stability Operations, and Intelligence and Research. He worked in the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and was an advisor to Senator Tim Kaine on defense and veterans issues. Most notably, he served at the White House as a budget and policy advisor overseeing $93 billion of Department of Defense Research and Development investments and industrial policy issues. Brine remains a colonel in the Air Force Reserve and co-founder/president of a non-profit called Operation Encore that supports singer-songwriters and musicians from veteran and military communities.
Through these experiences, Brine says he recognized the need for better partnership and resource sharing between academia, industry, and government to compete for international defense dominance. A major priority for NIUVT will be to foster an active ecosystem, leverage state-of-the-art facilities at UConn and URI, and connect the right people to improve national defense and the economy, he says.
“Along with space, the undersea domain is really one of the final frontiers of exploration for military and commercial utility. That’s one of the things that got me excited about the opportunity to lead NIUVT,” says Brine. “NIUVT will play a critical role in allowing the U.S. to compete on an international scale by leveraging coordinated investments in research, workforce, and technology to address major challenges in this dual-use environment.”
NIUVT is located throughout the Northeast’s “blue tech corridor” at UConn’s Innovation Partnership Building at UConn Tech Park, UConn’s Avery Point campus, URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus, and in URI’s new engineering building. NIUVT was established in 2017 to develop the personnel and knowledge to accelerate critical research and enhance U.S. dominance in submarine and other undersea technologies.
“As a main supplier of workforce to Division Newport, we need to continue our work with the URI College of Engineering, as well as other regional universities like UConn to help us build the workforce we need into the next century,” says NUWC Chief Technology Officer Vic Ricci. “NIUVT is set up to foster collaboration in cross-disciplinary teams, not limited to engineering, that will truly bring engineering education to a new standard that will drive innovation.”
“The collaborative research and workforce development initiatives that have resulted from our partnership with UConn and the Navy have been a great benefit to our students at URI,” says Dean Raymond Wright, URI College of Engineering. “Erik’s 20-plus years of experience in national security and military leadership will help strengthen those partnerships and create more opportunities for our students and faculty going forward.”
NIUVT will grow considerably in 2020, with the addition of about 50 total faculty and students. To date, the institute has received $10.5 million in federal funding. NIUVT will also have the opportunity to compete for another $10 million made available by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that was passed by Congress recently.