Warfighters Drive Science and Technology

Warfighters Drive Science and Technology

Photo by: U.S. Army

In its quest to deliver the latest scientific and technological innovations to soldiers in the field, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory is drawing heavily on the hard-won expertise of its consumer base—warfighters themselves.

The lab has “a very tight relationship” with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Acting Director Philip Perconti said at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s emerging threats and capabilities panel. “Much of what we do for the command is to really understand what the Army’s future warfighting challenges are, and how we can bring technology to bear … on those challenges.”

The nearly 3,000-employee lab, headquartered in Adelphi, Md., is intimately involved with TRADOC’s “Big 6 + 1” initiative, which focuses on the Army’s most critical future warfighting needs: future vertical lift; combat vehicles; cross-domain fires from ground to air or sea; advanced protection for soldiers and equipment; expeditionary mission command; robotic and autonomous systems; and the “plus” – “enhancing soldier and team performance to enable overmatch.”

“We love to have TRADOC soldiers … really reach out to our scientists and engineers about what warfighting means,” Perconti said.

The laboratory, known as ARL, is staying on the leading edge of innovation in other ways as well. For example, through a relatively new business model called Open Campus, ARL scientists and engineers work side-by-side with colleagues from academia, government and industry at the lab’s facilities, while ARL scientists and engineers also participate as visiting researchers at collaborators' institutions.

Over the past year alone, the number of Open Campus agreements has more than doubled, from 60 to more than 180, and 170 more are in negotiation. “These agreements have leveraged over $23 million from our industry partners” to help the lab push forward on various initiatives, Perconti said.

The goal is to have 10 percent to 15 percent of ARL research staff on rotational assignments outside the lab at partner locations, “with at least that number of collaborators actively participating at ARL locations,” he said.

Asked to name a problem that is holding back the lab’s efforts, Perconti cited frustration with a lack of speed and agility in the government hiring system. Delays for security processing and other issues often “cause us to lose high-quality candidates.”

Any initiatives that might streamline those hiring processes, he said, “would be very helpful.”