Critical collaborations

By February 20, 2018August 13th, 2018Army ALT Magazine, Science and Technology
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Bringing industry, academia, other government agencies, and international and nontraditional partners into the Army S&T enterprise.

by Dr. Matt Willis

The Army science and technology (S&T) program is critical to ensuring that the U.S. Army—America’s principal land force—can continue to operate and dominate in complex environments characterized by adaptive adversaries employing conventional, unconventional and hybrid methods that are designed to challenge U.S. national security and vital interests. The future operational environment—2025 and beyond—for the Army and joint force will demand land power dominance through increased flexibility, adaptability and speed of response; mechanisms to mitigate or wholly eliminate tactical surprise; improved joint interoperability and compatibility; an ability to effectively accommodate evolving alliances and partnerships; and seamless Soldier proficiencies across myriad functional domains.

Such dominance will be critical to prompt, sustained and synchronized operations, as will a force that can adapt to mission demands and readily execute both combat and noncombat missions in air, ground, maritime, space and cyberspace. Excellence and overmatch in an extremely diverse spectrum of technical competencies are predicated on modernization—building greater capacity and capabilities in the longer term to prevail in future conflicts.

This section will explore Army S&T’s growing engagement with international partners in cooperative S&T efforts, as well as the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) Open Campus, devised to cultivate a 21st-century research ecosystem that brings together government laboratories, academic institutions and the private sector to address tough Army challenges. The potential partners within the federal sphere alone are numerous, including the other services, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, federally funded research, development and engineering centers and university-affiliated research centers.

The two follow-on articles explore in depth two approaches the Army S&T enterprise is taking to broaden collaboration in the United States and overseas: strategic international S&T engagement and ARL’s open-door approach to innovation.

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A new, fully articulating thermal mannequin, developed under a U.S. Navy Small Business Innovation Research contract by the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility, undergoes a burn test inside the Ouellette Thermal Test Facility. Outellette, a joint Army-Navy facility, is managed by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Natick, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jeff Sisto, NSRDEC Public Affairs)


State-of-the-art technical facilities are essential to positioning the Army’s S&T enterprise for discovery and maturation of technologies that are expected to be critical to Army and joint force operations well into the future. Because of myriad contributing factors, many technical facilities used by the S&T enterprise have become obsolete and require revitalization and recapitalization. Renovations and upgrades to existing facilities or construction of new ones will vastly improve safety, innovation and the Army’s posture for exploring emerging scientific fields that would be difficult, if not impossible, to pursue using current facilities.

An enterprise-wide approach to modernizing this technical infrastructure will provide an integrated system of facilities accessible to technical personnel from across Army S&T, allowing the Army to execute its S&T strategy:

  • Pursuing foundational technology developments for the future.
  • Maturing technologies into innovative, affordable and sustainable solutions over the full system life cycle.
  • Executing fundamental S&T initiatives that will ensure breakthroughs for affordable, decisive warfighter advantages.

The U.S. Army, however, cannot expect to be subject matter experts in all iterations of future S&T. Rather, it must promote critical cross-disciplinary research via mechanisms such as Open Campus; public-private partnerships and infrastructure investments; engaging nontraditional partners such as the entrepreneurial high-tech community and small businesses; and developing targeted and strategic international partnerships.


ARL launched the Open Campus initiative in 2014 with the goal of integrating government laboratories, academic institutions and the private sector, including nontraditional partners, into a global collaborative network to address multiscale and multidomain Army S&T challenges. Open Campus lays the foundation for a global S&T ecosystem to pursue groundbreaking advances in basic and applied research areas of importance to long-term national security.

The model is based on three primary tenets:

  • Modern government workforce and management.
  • Sharing of facilities among government, academia and the private sector.
  • Collaborative culture that fosters an entrepreneurial and innovative environment.

Since its inception, ARL has developed a diversified hub-and-spoke infrastructure to partner across the national and international S&T ecosystem. Active Open Campus sites are co-located with ARL labs in Adelphi and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. ARL has also established hubs in California, Texas and Illinois, is exploring a future hub in Massachusetts, and has expanded internationally, with a presence in Tokyo, London and Sao Paulo. Through the Open Campus framework, ARL scientists and engineers work side by side with visiting scientists in ARL facilities and as visiting researchers at collaborator institutions.


Students from the University of Maryland and Penn State University deliver presentations and display their micro air vehicles for Army researchers during a visit in July 2017 to Aberdeen Proving Ground. The students designed and built small aerial vehicles that could fly autonomously around obstacles and identify targets for a May 2017 competition that caught the attention of ARL researchers. (Photo by David McNally, ARL)


Public-public and public-private (P4) collaborations represent an innovative strategy for infrastructure modernization and access, including voluntary relationships between federal and nonfederal entities (NFEs) through which the parties leverage each other’s expertise, resources and incentives to address technical opportunities with greater speed, effectiveness, efficiency and residual benefit than they could achieve individually. P4 arrangements require no monetary transaction between parties. Collaborators may establish mutually useful, state-of-the-art technical infrastructure to pursue common goals. They have the flexibility to build and configure facilities to support multiple public and private sector entities simultaneously.

Potential partners include a broad array of NFEs, including businesses, nongovernment organizations, foundations, academic and research institutes, state and local governments, community-based or other nonpublic organizations, and international entities. P4 collaborations instill and establish a flexible, cross-functional Army intellectual infrastructure with surge capacity for critical Army modernization priorities.


Dr. Mark Griep, third from left, a materials engineer working in the nano- and bio-nanomaterials field at ARL, recently returned from a one-year tour working at the Agency for Defense Development in Daejeon, Republic of Korea. The assignment was part of DOD’s Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program, one of Army S&T’s multiple avenues of international collaboration. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Mark Griep)


The Army also embraces partnerships with organizations it has not traditionally worked with, such as startups, the venture capital-funded technology sector, the federally sponsored Manufacturing USA network of innovation institutes, and small businesses. The Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Research programs, as governed by 15 U.S. Code 638, provide a unique mechanism for aligning small businesses with critical Army modernization priorities and capability gaps.

In addition, the Army leverages mechanisms such as cooperative research and development agreements, other transaction authorities (e.g., the Consortium for Command, Control and Communications in Cyberspace), Defense Innovation Unit Experimental in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer to interface with nontraditional innovators.


U.S. Army hegemony on the future battlefield is intrinsically linked with the interoperability and compatibility of joint systems and the ability to accommodate evolving alliances and partnerships. The Army S&T enterprise focuses on research areas synergistic to allies’ S&T portfolios, thereby leveraging allies’ expertise versus investing in duplicative areas.

The Army also uses the Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program to promote international cooperation, in this case through the exchange of defense scientists and engineers among allied and friendly nations, including the United Kingdom, France, Israel, Chile, Germany, South Korea, the Netherlands and Australia. (See “Overseas Opportunities,” Page 42.) The program leverages defense S&T of U.S. allies and partners, while providing opportunities to identify and develop potential international cooperative research and development partnerships for the future.


Dr. Robert Hebner, director of the Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin, stands in the collaborative ARL – University of Texas additive manufacturing laboratory. ARL South, part of the ARL Open Campus initiative, is an effort to co-locate Army research and development personnel in the southern and central U.S. to gain access to subject matter experts, technical centers and universities not well-represented on the East Coast. (Photo by Joyce Conant, ARL)


Many of these strategically targeted initiatives to connect diverse S&T partners have started to bear fruit. For instance, over 700 Open Campus participants have conducted research in ARL laboratories, including 80 international collaborators from 22 countries. Layered security mechanisms, commercial network access and the implementation of new security policies and procedures shield sensitive programs. These measures thus enable U.S. and international partners to pursue fundamental research collaborations on-site with ARL scientists and engineers.

Since establishing Open Campus, ARL has experienced, on average, a 40 percent year-over-year increase in the volume of collaborative research partnerships. Examples include multiple ARL collaborations in areas such as bioscience and additive manufacturing with the University of Texas system, and a NATO-aligned joint project involving ARL and Bulgarian and Ukrainian institutes to combat disinformation attacks in cyberspace.

Furthermore, within the last five years, the Army has entered into 180 different cooperative agreements with partnering countries. In 2017, the Army invested approximately $70 million in international collaborations through its international S&T portfolio. Army S&T is developing an integrated, country–specific road map to prioritize research efforts, efficiently allocate resources and ensure that cooperative agreements are integrated into overarching department-level engagement plans. Restructuring the Army’s domestic and international S&T engagement strategy will allow for the development of leap-ahead technologies that will keep the U.S. Army ready for future conflicts.

For more information, contact the author at

MATT WILLIS is the director for laboratory management in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology. As such, he shapes policies that impact the workforce, infrastructure, technology transfer and educational outreach in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at the Army Science and Technology Reinvention Laboratories. He holds a Ph.D. and an M.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in chemical engineering from Cornell University. He is Level II certified in S&T management and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.

This article is published in the January – March 2018 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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