“Norway used to be an international leader in defence research on protective structures,” says Professor Ted Krauthammer. From which follows the underlying message: not to the same extent any more.
Dr Krauthammer is Director of the Center for Infrastructure Protection and Physical Security at the University of Florida. Last June, he was one of the opponents when CASA candidate Erik Løhre Grimsmo defended his PhD thesis on the behaviour of steel connections under quasi-static and impact loading.
Krauthammer’s visit to Trondheim was far from the first. Welcome to history class.
Back to the eighties
Sometimes it is useful to remind ourselves that SIMLab’s world-leading position didn’t just happen. It is the result of decades-long research, important allies, reliable funding and many other factors.
Ted Krauthammer knows parts of this history rather well. He first met Professor Rolf Lenschow from NTNU’s predecessor NTH in 1983 when the two collaborated on structural concrete behaviour at the University of Minnesota.
Krauthammer was invited to Trondheim. Before long, he also met Arnfinn Jenssen, head of R&D at the Norwegian Defence Construction Service (currently the Norwegian Defence Estates Agency). As many readers of this newsletter know, Jenssen was a key player in building the research group that now carries the name SIMLab.
A major driving force
“Arnfinn Jenssen’s big advantage, besides being a visionary, was his level of communication. It was unique. He would get an idea and then he would ask: “Wouldn’t it be interesting to explore…?” Then he would set up a program.
He knew people all over the world. He knew where he could get the help he needed to solve any given challenge. Moreover, he was a catalyst.
During the 90s, our technical collaboration was very strong. This often included Lenschow and other people from NTH and SINTEF. We had complementary competence, us being more focused on protective structures. We soon started buying services from each other. I had several month-long stays in Trondheim in 1993 and 1996. In 1996, we organized a workshop on precision testing. In 1998, we did a follow-up.
Arnfinn Jenssen was a major driving force. He had multinational influence and took part in many programs internationally. After he retired, the entire field of protective structures suffered a big loss. Norway used to be an international leader in defence research. We don’t see this kind of leadership anymore and not the same kind of visibility.
The “Arnfinns” are gone
“How would you describe the situation today?”
“After World War II, things had to be done. The message would be “You take care of it.” We had far less bureaucracy and much greater freedom to act.
Today, government agencies do what government agencies do. People like Arnfinn come from within a bureaucracy and even if they wanted to, they cannot act like he did. It isn’t permissible. I remember a meeting in Washington DC to set up a US – Norwegian programme. After two days of negotiations, the time had come to sign. It was not clear if Arnfinn was authorized. “Let me find out,” Arnfinn said, and called his embassy. He came back with an authorization to sign. Those days are gone. The “Arnfinns” are gone in the US, too.”
Today, SIMLab and Krauthammer’s centre in Florida are still complementary.
“Our focus is predominantly defence-related structural systems, while SIMLab is more industrial. We focus on structural systems under blast and impact loading and leave other areas to other people. Your funding is mostly from civilian and industry, ours is from defence organizations.
Still, physics is physics. Research related to defence may well be relevant to civilian applications. Development of behaviour can be transitioned.”
“Where do you see SIMLab’s greatest challenge?”
“We all have the same challenge: we depend on government and/or industrial funding. The key is to find the persons in government who have the vision and interest to support such academic centres. We need to educate the next generation. If we don’t it will be detrimental to our nations. You cannot expect to excel with only general education. You must ensure to gain experience. That is the only way to educate. If you don’t educate experts, you lose.
A situation where you don’t only have nation A against nation B raises unique needs. We cannot meet these needs without professionals. The challenge is that while governments invest in scientific research, they don’t in this field. Yet somebody has to do it. I am worried that there are not enough people in government that understand this, in Norway, in the US or elsewhere. There is a lack of patience and of vision,” Krauthammer fears.
In Arnfinn Jenssen’s days
Anecdotes about Arnfinn Jenssen are plentiful. Ted Krauthammer has a whole collection. Here is one, as wonderful as it is illustrative:
Many years ago, Norway and USA agreed to cooperate on a research programme for aircraft shelters. They decided that Norway would build the shelter doors in addition to a contribution of 250 000 dollars.
After some time, the US military approached their Norwegian counterparts and wanted to withdraw from the project, and used the excuse that Norway didn’t deliver according to plan.
Arnfinn Jenssen found out and opted to intervene. He soon discovered that the doors had been produced and were ready for delivery. The obstacle was transport. The US Air Force that was expected to ship the doors had pulled out of the agreement to fly them over the Atlantic.
Jenssen called Lufthansa, asked if they could do it and what it would cost. It turned out they had an empty plane set to fly from Frankfurt to Los Angeles. They readily agreed to make a stop in Norway to pick up the doors, and another stop at the US military base on the way to Los Angeles. All that for about $5000.
Deal in hand, Jenssen called the base and told them to have unloading equipment ready. He also asked that the commander of the R&D unit at the base be present when the plane arrived. Unloading finished, Jenssen went to the commander’s office. There he opened his briefcase containing $ 250 000 in cash and asked the commander to sign the receipt.
“That’s how he operated,” Professor Krauthammer sums up. “Those days are gone.”