AFMC Command News

AFRL chief scientists welcome HBCU partners to advance tactical autonomy

  • Published
  • By Catherine Sprague
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFRL) — Chief scientists from technical directorates across the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, hosted the Department of the Air Force’s first-ever Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCU, -led University Affiliated Research Center, or UARC, at Eglin Air Force Base on April 2, 2024. The event initiated collaborative efforts and projects focused on delivering tactical autonomy to the warfighter.

Select faculty and students from the UARC attended the event, representing Delaware State University, Hampton University, Howard University, Jackson State University, Norfolk State University, Tougaloo College and Bowie State University. The UARC also includes representatives from Tuskegee and Florida Memorial Universities, who were unable to attend the event.

During the kickoff, college representatives presented their institutions’ academic focuses and core competencies and explained how they align with the USAF’s tactical autonomy mission.

“The UARC receives tactical autonomy research requirements from the AFRL directorates,” said Tim Williams, UARC manager and staff operations analyst. “Response to the research will provide AFRL recommendations and solutions to Trust in Mission Autonomy, Collaboration Between Platforms and Human-Machine teaming challenges. The UARC anticipates this research will aid AFRL in determining what is known, what is not known and what can be developed further in pursuit of advancing the fielding of tactical autonomy to the warfighter.”

Sonya Smith, executive director of the Research Institute for Tactical Autonomy UARC, said the collaborative efforts of these institutions also benefit students and universities.

“By working closely with AFRL and other government agencies, we actively contribute to enhancing the capabilities of the warfighter, while also providing unparalleled opportunities for our students and faculty to make meaningful contributions to national security,” Smith said.

Following the kickoff at the Doolittle Institute in Niceville, Florida, the UARC group attended AFRL Research and Development poster sessions and presentations hosted by the 96th Test Wing, as well as toured various labs and hangars on Eglin Air Force Base. Additionally, the group made a trip to the University of Florida Research and Engineering Education Facility and toured Eglin AFB’s Air Force Armament Museum.

The visit was a success in terms of collaboration and development, and enjoyable for both UARC members and the chief scientists in attendance, Williams said.

“Dr. Coleman could not have selected a better venue than the Chief Scientist Group and Eglin Air Force Base for the Tactical Autonomy UARC’s first operational visit to a U.S. Air Force Installation,” Williams said. “Dr. [David] Lambert, Chief Scientist at AFRL’s Munitions Directorate at Eglin, was very welcoming and ensured their first visit was memorable. For all of the students and most of the professors, this visit was their first time on a military installation.”

Lambert, for his part, called the opportunity to host the Research Institute for Tactical Autonomy UARC “an honor” and “exhilarating.”

“The research areas, staff and students of the nine universities in this consortium are incredibly well-aligned and provide the Air Force with novel approaches to high priority S&T challenge areas in autonomy, intelligence and collaborative systems,” Lambert said. “The technical interactions with AFRL provided mutually beneficial insights to areas of high value research with several tangible outcomes that will bring longer-term collaborations. This was definitely a win-win engagement, and we look forward to future R&D efforts.”

AFRL Chief Technology Officer Dr. Timothy Bunning said he expects similar successful engagements will occur in the future.
“In the future, we [will] strive to continue to educate participants on both sides, share opportunities for the UARC students to continue their education and to conduct much more focused scientific exchanges on subsets of the ongoing work, continually sharing across the S&T ecosystem,” Bunning said.

Collaborative efforts between AFRL and UARC are ongoing as both groups work toward establishing a more diverse workforce and furthering tactical autonomy research and development.

About AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit