By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 23, 2023) -- Defense Department leaders today announced the creation of a 15th university-affiliated research center associated with Howard University in Washington, D.C.
The research center is sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and focused on tactical autonomy.
The announcement represents two firsts for the U.S. military: It's the first university-affiliated research center associated with one of America's historically Black colleges and universities and the first sponsored by the Air Force.
"Today as we work to build enduring advantages for our brave men and women in uniform, we must seek the latest innovations in science and engineering," Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III told students and faculty at Howard University. "That means building more bridges to America's outstanding STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] community. You see, we need your ideas; we need your creativity and we need to draw on the skills of all of our people."
Some 30% of African American STEM professionals graduate from one of America's historically Black colleges and universities, Austin said, yet only a small fraction of the Defense Department's research funding is directed towards HBCUs. That's something Austin said he's determined to change.
"To sharpen America's technological edge and to strengthen America's outstanding military, the department is committed to investing even more in HBCUs and minority-serving institutions," he said. "Today, we're taking that commitment to a new level."
The new research center will be led by Howard University and will focus on tactical autonomy, which is an area of research which is central to U.S. security, Austin said.
"Responsibly used autonomous systems make our military faster, smarter and stronger," Austin said. "They can identify threats to our troops in real-time and they can help our technical crews conduct maintenance more safely. And they can equip our commanders with the best available information to make life and death decisions."
The research expected to take place under the leadership of Howard University, Austin said, will focus on those important areas, and will help to protect the men and women who serve the nation's armed forces.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the United States of America has the strongest fighting force in human history," Austin said, "And thanks to new partnerships like this one, we're going to keep it that way. That's the American way, and it's the Howard way."
A UARC is a DOD-supported non-profit research organization affiliated with a university that has a specific area of domain expertise or specialization, and which supports the long-term needs of the Defense Department. With the addition of the newest UARC, to be led by Howard University, the Department will have 15 such research organizations.
Howard University was chosen to lead a consortium of universities that will participate in the newest UARC. Those universities include Jackson State University, Mississippi; Tuskegee University, Alabama; Hampton University, Virginia; Bowie State University, Maryland; Norfolk State University, Virginia; Delaware State University, Delaware; Florida Memorial University, Florida; and Tougaloo College, Mississippi.
Howard University will receive $12 million per year for five years to fund research, faculty and students.
"America is at its best when we knock down barriers, when we search for great ideas wherever they reside and when we draw on the full talents of the American people -- all of the American people," Austin said. "So to Howard and the other schools in the consortium, thank you for lifting up the next generation. Thank you for all that you do for our outstanding men and women in uniform. And thank you for making our democracy more secure."