Military labs create world-class future tech

Laboratory directors from all three services addressed innovation through science and engineering in support of military operations during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee.

Testifying before the panel were Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert D. McMurry, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory; Dr. Philip Perconti, acting director of the Army Research Laboratory, Dr. Jeffery P. Holland, director of the Army Engineer Research and Development Center of the Army Corps of Engineers; and Dr. Edward R. Franchi, acting director of research at the Naval Research Laboratory.

Air Force Research Lab

In his comments before the panel, McMurry said 99 years of technology breakthroughs have contributed to or supported every major operational Air Force platform.

“Just as the laboratory provided key innovations in support of the fir st and second offset strategies, I’m pleased to confirm that our game-changing technologies are already providing foundation and support for realizing a third offset strategy,” he said.

The president’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for Air Force science and technology is about $2.5 billion, a 4.5-percent increase over the fiscal 2016 request, the general said.

“The budget request provides funding for the small advanced-capability missile; the low-cost delivery vehicle; the high-speed strike weapon demonstration; component weapons technology; and for position, navigation and timing technologies in direct support of the third offset,” McMurry said.

The Air Force Research Laboratory is investing heavily in basic, applied and advanced research, he added, and is continuing to focus on “game-changers” such as autonomous systems, unmanned systems, nanotechnology, hypersonics and directed energy.

Air Force Materiel Command recently established a strategic development planning and experimentation office to reinvigorate development planning at the Air Force enterprise level, McMurry told the panel.

“The new effort will shift the Air Force from platform-centric to strategy-based multidomain solutions spanning air, space and cyberspace … [and] will support enterprise capability collaboration teams by providing modeling and simulation, war gaming and data to facilitate development planning for the highest-priority Air Force mission areas,” he said.

Army Research Lab

ARL is part of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command, Perconti said, the Army’s lead agency for technology integration and the enabling command in the development and delivery of unprecedented capabilities for the warfighter.

“The uncertainty and complexity of future warfare necessitates innovation across a broad range of science and technology, which requires a research culture that is agile and effective, with an emphasis on collaboration that enables the continuous flow of people and ideas among government, academia and the private sector,” he added.

Perconti said ARL is piloting a new business model to create a science and technology ecosystem that emphasizes mutual reliance and interdependent collaborative research as a critical element of national security.

“This new business model we call ‘Open Campus’ focuses on three major initiatives: modern workforce management and policies, shared facilities with our partners, and fostering an entrepreneurial and innovative culture,” he told the panel. Through the Open Campus, ARL scientists and engineers work side by side with colleagues from academia, government and industry at ARL and at partner facilities, he added.

Over the last year alone, Perconti said, the number of Open Campus agreements with academia and industry has grown from 60 to more than 180, with 170 more in negotiation, and the agreements have leveraged more than $23 million from ARL’s Army partners.

“Early in 2016, we opened ARL west in Playa Vista, California. As part of the Open Campus initiative, ARL is hiring scientists and engineers on the West Coast to gain access to subject matter experts, technical centers and universities not well represented east of the Mississippi,” he said.

By the end of this year, he added, ARL will have similar hubs established in Chicago and in Austin, Texas.

The Army Research, Development and Engineering Command now is developing capabilities for the Army of the future, and its scientists and engineers were intimately involved in developing concepts for the DoD’s third offset strategy, Perconti said.

“The third offset strategy places major emphasis on technologies incorporating unprecedented levels of automation and integration, and ARL is concentrating on research areas that are essential to enabling this third offset,” he added.


The Army Engineer Research and Development Center, or ERDC, is the science and technology arm of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Holland said.

“We conduct research and development in support of the warfighter, military installations and the core civil works mission,” he told the panel. “We also manage the Department of Defense’s high-performance computing modernization program that provides supercomputing capabilities for DoD research, development, testing and evaluation communities throughout the department.”

In fiscal year 2016, ERDC is executing a $1 billion program, $500 million of which is associated with reimbursable projects from every military service, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and most federal agencies, he said.

“Innovation requires a talented workforce, and I’m proud to represent ERDC’s 2,100 engineers, scientists and support personnel. ERDC’s human capital goal for this fiscal year and the next five years is to hire more than 800 new scientists and engineers to our organization,” Holland said.

“Service laboratories play a key role in national security,” Holland said,” “and ERDC has a long history of providing innovative solutions to keep our warfighters and civilians safe.”

ERDC force-protection technologies are installed in the combat theater to protect troop installations from rocket and mortar attacks. The State Department also uses the technology to protect critical facilities and personnel worldwide, Holland said, and many buildings in the national capital region, including the Pentagon, are safer because of ERDC protection technologies.

“Our airborne counter (improvised explosive device) systems currently provide U.S. Central Command with unique capabilities,” he said. “ERDC tunnel-detection technologies have been applied in Iraq, along the Egypt-Gaza border and along the U.S.-Mexico border in support of DoD and the Department of Homeland Security.”

ERDC delivers environmentally sustainable solutions for energy, water and waste, and installations, and it is the Army’s leader in energy research and development in support of contingency basing, Holland added.

Naval Research Lab

NRL was born from an idea conceived in 1915 by inventor Thomas Edison, and that became a reality in 1923, Franchi told the panel. NRL, working with industry and academia and knowledgeable about Navy needs, would help to build U.S. sea power through long-term mission-related research and development.

Over its 90-year history, NRL scientists invented the first U.S. radar and developed the first operational U.S. sonar, the first U.S. intelligence satellite during the Cold War, and later, the concept and two prototype satellites for what is now the Global Positioning System, he added.

“As we go forward into regional conflicts and an uncertain future, we’re focusing on key technologies that encompass the third offset strategy,” Franchi said.

The laboratory, for example, is making important contributions to laser weapons and railguns. NRL scientists were first to prepare and simulate the use of incoherently combined high-power fiber lasers as the architecture for the Navy’s new laser weapon system, he added.

“NRL’s railgun program began in 2003, and has since become a critical element in the efforts to develop hypervelocity electric weapons,” Franchi said.

Rapid prototyping and experimentation is an important process used at NRL to transition science and technology to demonstrations of operational capabilities, he said.

Franchi said the biggest reason for NRL’s success in providing science at the cutting edge is a world-class workforce of about 1,600 scientists and engineers, more than 870 with Ph.D. degrees.

NRL’s most serious challenge is the need to modernize its aging infrastructure, he told the panel, noting that the average age of buildings at the NRL main campus is 59 years.

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