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2007-2008 Assessment of the Army Research Laboratory Executive Summary The charge of the Army Research Laboratory Technical Assessment Board is to provide biennial assessments of the scientific and technical quality of the Army Research Laboratory (ARL). These assessments include the development of findings and recommendations related to the quality of ARL’s research, development, and analysis programs. The Board is charged to review the work only of ARL’s six directorates—which excludes its reviewing two key elements of the ARL organization that manage and support basic research: the Army Research Office and the Collaborative Technology Alliances.1 The advice provided in this report focuses on technical rather than programmatic considerations. The Board is assisted by six National Research Council (NRC) panels, each of which focuses on the portion of the ARL program conducted by one of ARL’s six directorates. When requested to do so by ARL, the Board also examines work that cuts across the directorates. The Board has been performing assessments of ARL since 1996. The current report summarizes its findings for the 2007-2008 period, during which 95 volunteer experts in fields of science and engineering participated in the following activities: visiting ARL annually, receiving formal presentations of technical work, examining facilities, engaging in technical discussions with ARL staff, and reviewing ARL technical materials. The Board continues to be impressed by the overall quality of ARL’s technical staff and their work, as well as the relevance of their work to Army needs. The Board applauds ARL for its clear, passionate concern for the end user of its technology—the soldier in the field. While two directorates (the Human Research and Engineering Directorate and the Survivability and Lethality Analysis Directorate) have large program-support missions, there is considerable customer-support work across the directorates, 1 Collaborative Technology Alliances are government, industry, and academic research partnerships focused on Army technologies in which the expertise resident in the private sector can be leveraged to address Army challenges.
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2007-2008 Assessment of the Army Research Laboratory which universally demonstrate mindfulness of the importance of transitioning technology to support immediate and near-term Army needs. ARL staff also continue to expand their involvement with the wider scientific and engineering community. This involvement includes monitoring relevant developments elsewhere, engaging in significant collaborative work (including the Collaborative Technology Alliances), and sharing work through peer reviews (although the sensitive nature of ARL work increasingly presents challenges to such sharing). In general, ARL is working very well within an appropriate research and development (R&D) niche and has been demonstrating significant accomplishments. Examples among many include the following: The development of technology for electromagnetic armor, machine translation of foreign languages, electrooptic sensors, autonomous sensing, corrugated quantum-well infrared photo-detectors, robotics and unmanned air and ground vehicles, high-energy batteries, microelectro-mechanical systems technology for microrobotics, solid-geometry modeling computer-aided design, aircraft propulsion and structures, flexible displays, and portable biotoxin analysis; Research in atmospheric acoustics and radio-frequency propagation in battlefield environments, surface weather and wind modeling, auditory awareness and speech communication in battlefield environments, neuroergonomics, network science, and active stall control and active wake modeling for rotorcraft; The development and application of sophisticated models of soldier performance and of software to support the assessment of survivability and lethality of systems; and Studies to assess and improve the designs of helmets and body armor for soldiers. ARL is increasingly addressing in proactive and creative ways challenges that require cross-directorate collaboration and is engaging in a variety of initiatives and collaborative alliances that enhance crosscutting research and development. The Board encourages ARL to continue to address several specific areas that require collaboration across ARL directorates. These include advanced computing, system-of-systems analysis, applications of neuroscience to the enhancement of soldier performance, information fusion, information security, ad hoc wireless networks, and system prototyping and model verification and validation. ARL has been responding admirably to severe pressures to transition new technologies quickly to the field and to address simultaneously the challenging requirements of the Future Combat Systems while also maintaining its role with respect to longer-term basic research. The Board recognizes the importance of each of these types of endeavor for ARL, but it notes here the importance of basic research as a foundation for future R&D accomplishments since basic research activities may be at greater risk in the current economic environment. ARL has been successfully addressing these significant challenges by its careful management of technical resources. Through its extensive interactions with the external academic, industrial, and government research and development communities, ARL develops opportunities to hire talented scientists, engineers, technicians, and managers. Contacts are developed through the Collaborative Technology Alliances, the Army Research Office, regular stakeholder meetings, collaborative work at the directorates, planned interaction with academic organizations, and regular recruiting activities. ARL’s ability to secure needed talent would be enhanced by any administrative adjustments that improve speed and flexibility with respect to new appointments. Sufficient funding should be provided to ARL so that funding is not a constraint on managers’ ability to enable the interactions of ARL staff with the scientific community through travel to professional meetings. ARL management should continue to encourage and support its staff to publish in scientific, peer-reviewed journals and proceedings.