The following crosscutting conclusions, recommendations, and exceptional accomplishments are based on the projects and programs presented. A description of the spectrum of projects and programs within each Army Research Laboratory (ARL) campaign and the interrelating mapping across all campaigns’ projects and programs were not provided to the Army Research Laboratory Technical Assessment Board (ARLTAB), which was therefore unable to determine whether the programs and projects reviewed are representative of ARL work more generally.
Consistent Research Environment
Multiyear research projects undergirding the development of future Army capabilities often rely on experimental tools and modeling capabilities that may require years to develop, followed by lengthy periods of data collection and analysis. Such long-term investigations are incompatible with the typical metrics used to assess research productivity and future funding, making this type of research risky for attraction, retention, and professional development of researchers. Further frustrating the attractiveness of long-term investigations are changing organizational structures and reporting lines. A consistent research, evaluation, and funding environment are critical to encouraging long-term creative research.
Key Recommendation 1: ARL should provide a predictable research environment characterized by well-defined and consistent evaluation schemes and funding priorities that are appropriate for the long-term research that is key to ARL’s mission.
Continued success in research needs proper positioning with respect to the broader scientific community, including industry. Such positioning requires recognition of the objectives of relevant research efforts, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses relative to the broader scientific community, and a plan to develop the critical knowledge and expertise needed to best achieve program objectives.
Key Recommendation 2: Upon initiation, ARL research efforts should propose a positioning plan and schedule that includes the following:
- Identifies key, core, and complementary research programs and relevant expertise; and
- Seeks external and internal technical support—for example, via external advisory boards, visiting researchers, workshops, or collaborations—and if needed develops such support for evaluating the context of ARL’s expertise (lead, follow, support) and conducting the work.
Enhancement of Approaches to Inform Theory
To maximize useful and meaningful findings, the research needs to be approached in a systematic manner that includes the consideration of operational and environmental conditions, an understanding of interactive response to expected stimuli, and an understanding of the overall behavior of the system under consideration. ARL research efforts need to consider this broad systems research approach to develop and enhance research efforts. In some areas, ARL’s observational and experimental research endeavors seem generally adequate, but there appears to be a weakness in the theoretical underpinning of the research.
ARL researchers demonstrated general awareness that in the conception, design, implementation, and assessment of scientific solutions of technical problems, the use of models commands a central and critical position in the development of technology. Also, considering the complexity of phenomena of interest to ARL, useful modeling provides a means of advancing the development of technology. In some cases, however, there appeared to be incomplete appreciation of the fact that useful models incorporate complexity, scalability, robustness, uncertainty, and operations in noise and interference. The uncertainty in such modeling may be large. Applying state-of-the-art tools to analyze uncertainty, ARL can develop and use models to advance technology.
Key Recommendation 3: The ARL research efforts within a particular core competency or research campaign should consider four components:
- Real-world observations (for example, surveillance, field research, and naturalistic observations);
- Laboratory testing;
- Theoretical underpinning of the science (for example, modeling and simulation); and
- Assessment, verification and validation, and uncertainty quantification of the models.
All research should endeavor to contribute to one or more of these research components in such a way that each component’s findings serve to inform the other research components. In addition, the contributions to these various components should be directed so that an overall
systems appreciation is achieved. ARL should further enhance the use of appropriate models to better understand the physical phenomena and mechanisms of interest and to develop technology.
Every Army system needs to serve, enable, protect, and interact with the soldier within the system. Therefore, effective research assessment processes require clear articulation of the expected outcomes for each portfolio, including key technical milestones and metrics to be used for measuring progress and success, definition of an appropriate set of outcomes and metrics for each project within a research portfolio, and documenting and describing the actions resulting from the assessment process. Beyond providing researchers the ability to gauge progress and make midcourse adjustments (which may in some cases arise from an unanticipated discovery), including a refocusing of portfolios and projects determined to be too broad in scope, a well-structured assessment process provides greater visibility to collaborators and partners. This is especially needed for research that entails a systems engineering approach.
Key Recommendation 4: ARL should place greater emphasis and focus on a systematic assessment of its research, as follows:
- The assessment should include measurable milestones, outcomes, and metrics for the portfolios and the projects within them.
- In all ARL campaigns, research efforts aimed at developing any system should endeavor to understand, incorporate, and accommodate the soldier within the system through the incorporation of human systems integration (HSI) principles. HSI should include the consideration of usability, sustainability, resilience, and survivability within the system.
Accelerate Research-Related Approvals
Technology forecasting is an integral part of ARL’s mission supporting the Army’s Futures Command. Therefore, it is critical to stay at the leading edge of the state of the art of science, engineering, and technology. This includes engaging with the broader national and international scientific community. Although improvements have been made, ARL staff reported that the time needed to approve attendance at conferences and to purchase equipment is often too long, adversely affecting research and productivity. Attendance and presentations at national and international conferences plays an important role in building and maintaining awareness of the latest research developments in fields under ARL’s purview. Conferences also play a major role in making the outside world aware of the high-quality research at ARL, enhancing ARL’s reputation and demonstrating to young scientists and engineers that a career at ARL would be attractive.
The ARL procedures for conference attendance need to encourage ARL staff to pursue such opportunities. In addition, engagement and collaboration with the broader research community, particularly the academic research community, ensures awareness of leading-edge research, maximizes transfer of new research insights and expertise to ARL personnel, and enhances ARL’s ability to recruit and retain new talent.
While conducting research, it is quite common to need new equipment, computer software, or computer hardware to complete a project. In some cases, delays in acquiring this equipment forces ARL
staff to use contractors and contractor facilities to complete their work. An expedited approval process for equipment purchases would enhance staff productivity and ARL staff morale.
Key Recommendation 5: To facilitate ARL’s science and technology forecasting missions, ARL should
- Enhance professional development by encouraging researchers to engage in leadership and organization roles in professional societies and conferences;
- Accelerate the approval process for external engagement activities, including conference participation, and for procurement of equipment; and
- Develop a clear and broad-based process for engaging and collaborating with the research community.
Leveraging Internal Scientific Talent
As research problems have evolved to include multidisciplinary interactions, there has been a concomitant growth in collaboration among researchers, both within ARL and with those from the larger external community. In this research environment, it is important to acknowledge that common foundational technical skills may exist in ARL in different campaign thrusts, where they are being applied in uniquely different ways. Knowledge of the existence of these technical skills would be highly beneficial, both from the perspective of bringing greater technical talent to bear on existing problems, as well as promoting synergy among campaign thrusts by bringing to light possible new areas of collaboration. In looking at research related to human-machine or human-information interaction, it is clear that individual projects within campaign thrusts would benefit if collaborations with researchers with parallel or complementary skills in other campaigns could be facilitated. A systematic mapping of primary and secondary skill sets of the technical staff at ARL would be highly beneficial in this context.
Key Recommendation 6: ARL should increase its awareness and leveraging of available technical expertise within ARL to build greater synergy across campaign thrusts and produce research results with greater efficiency.
Rapid Access to Research Software
Research software, which is often open source software, is rapidly developing, and qualification of software for use on internal ARL networks takes time. Some staff members reported that this situation forces them to choose between delaying using software that facilitates their research or, if they can, going to contractor (or other) offsite computer facilities to carry out their work. This delays, or in extreme cases, can preclude carrying out promising research projects.
Key Recommendation 7: To enrich the ARL open campus, ARL should consider developing an ARL on-site open network that research staff can use to access research software that has not yet received qualification for use on the internal network.
Stewardship of Army-Relevant Data and Models
The explosive growth of data (observational, experimental, computational, and in particular, big data), and the rapid and concurrent development of new materials models addressing predictive capability and design and machine learning techniques, is opening new opportunities to extract insights, reveal patterns, and create predictive models of natural phenomena, human behavior, and new platforms and systems, while also preserving unique or historical context and experiences. Following theory, experiment, and computational modeling, big data analytics and deep learning have been called the fourth paradigm of scientific discovery. ARL is well positioned to host unique Army-relevant data, metadata, and models and to engage the research and industry communities in collaborative partnerships, thereby attracting new talent and ideas.
Key Recommendation 8: ARL should develop and host a curated data and models repository of select Army-relevant data, targeting domains and contexts relevant to its strategic objectives and preserving data, models, and contexts that may otherwise be lost. In conjunction with development of the data and model repository, ARL should develop a set of Army-specific data analytics questions and sponsor competitions to accelerate progress on ARL problems and attract new talent and expertise. ARL should also expand inputs to data sets to include information that modern sensors can provide—for example, wearable sensors and voice-activated devices.
The following are the exceptional accomplishments for each campaign area.
The work on high-voltage aqueous electrolytes could be revolutionary for battery technology for the Army and elsewhere. Work on radioisotope-based power sources is also noteworthy, having progressed very rapidly from concept to implementation. This has significant upward potential.
In just a few years, the quantum sciences program has attracted outstanding investigators, driven in part by their membership with the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the Joint Quantum Institute. The quantum sciences group has done an outstanding job of bringing in a strong team of a well-established midcareer leader with extensive knowledge, service laboratory experience, and connections of military systems and needs, and a well-established academic who is a recognized quantum sciences leader. In 2017-2018 under their leadership, an excellent research team of six experimentalists and one theoretician has been established. In addition, the group has built impressive research facilities. Among the applications addressed by the quantum sciences program is absolutely secure communications, a major challenge for a highly mobile and ever-changing battle scene where the opponent very likely will be able to receive one’s communications and thus, unbreakable encryption is essential. The ARL team has made a significant effort on different approaches for a quantum repeater to extend the range over which secure communications can be assured.
The quantum sciences program is an outstanding example of vision for a future Army need: defining specific areas that are Army-unique and are not well covered by universities or national laboratories, hiring recognized leadership and creating a well-funded, exciting program that has attracted an outstanding group of early-career scientists and postdoctoral researchers.
The energy coupled to metals program seeks to couple external fields to materials processing and thereby tailor microstructures to improve robustness and formability of metals. Based on novel strong modeling-experimental capabilities and on past pioneering experience in field assisted processing, ARL may become the leader in the processing science to ensure the fast succession from materials discoveries to their production.
The polymer materials effort in agile additive manufacturing includes several approaches, including extrusion, photo curing, and powder-bed fusion. There is good balance and breadth in this very important, fast-moving area. The ARL’s efforts on polymeric materials with good processability for high-rate deformation or high-impact situations are unique and at the forefront of research. The elements of molecular simulation, continuum models, synthesis, characterization, and processing have been woven into a tightly integrated organization that has already produced impressive achievements. Comprehensive efforts of this nature, which range from synthesis to mechanical studies, are rare, and are found at only a few laboratories around the world. The polymer program in agile additive manufacturing is second to none.
The objectives of the powder processing program of Cu-Ta is to retain nanoscale structure in cryogenic powder-processed materials. This effort has produced materials exhibiting unique properties over a wide range of strain rates, from those characteristic of creep conditions to the dynamic (ballistic) behavior. Particularly interesting is their flow strength exhibiting no strain-rate dependence over the range of 10-4 to 105 per second. The microstructures presented with no microstructural evolution and without deformation substructures upon impact at pressures of about 15 GPa. The research in this area is a great example of combined scientific impact, which has resulted in 86 peer-reviewed publications (including two papers in Nature) and licensing of 9 patents.
Sciences for Lethality and Protection
In the battlefield injury mechanisms area, the management has created a comprehensive program, with talented, energetic scientists who provide the skills needed to define this area. This is an excellent start, and ARL is to be commended and encouraged to continue to grow this area.
In the directed energy area, the work on exploiting Raman laser to greatly improve fiber power output is exceptional and is an archetype for research at ARL that compliments other Department of Defense (DoD) laboratories while not duplicating academic or industrial research. Other exceptional work is the nonlinear optical materials and coatings that are frequency-agile in the visible spectrum toward passively protecting Army optical sensors from directed energy laser threats such as that from straight damage, jamming, and dazzling.
In the disruptive energetics and propulsion technologies area, the following stood out as exceptional—developing the full chain of material from theoretical conception, design synthesis, laboratory scale-up and performance (small quantity characterization) evaluation of an energetic molecule that surpasses Comp B; achieving Molecule of the Year; achieving synthesis of extended solids using a scalable method; and developing inexpensive and novel performance characterization methods for evaluation of small-scale materials.
In the area of effects on targets, including ballistics and blast, the experimental work and forensic analysis connecting threat to injury to armor design is outstanding. The comprehensive analysis conducted on armor plates obtained from soldiers is particularly impressive. Also, the quantification of noise, resolution, and uncertainty in digital image correlation (DIC) for dynamic loading (impact) applications is also exceptional.
In the flight navigation, guidance, and control area, ARL is leading in the focused application of highly maneuverable munitions. There is potential for breakthrough operational capability for enhanced moving target acquisition, intercept, and neutralization.
Some of the reviewed projects are deserving of special mention. The research program in electric and magnetic field sensing is a strong program overall. This is a comprehensive and strongly interconnected program with projects in sensor development, validation, calibration, algorithm design, and field deployment. Strong mentorship by senior scientists has effectively grown an impressive cohort of next-generation scientists to sustain this effort. The private sector partnerships and commercialization activities are also notable.
Another project related to the detection and characterization of chemical aerosols has successfully demonstrated a laser-based technique for isolating, detecting, and identifying the chemical compositions of micron-size particles of multiple phases with unprecedented speed and accuracy. The work is exceptional and novel, and it has the ability to revolutionize the aerosol science field as well as all industries and technologies that rely on aerosol science.
Ongoing work related to the meteorological sensor array (MSA) will enable unprecedented continuous examination of atmospheric phenomena crucial to understanding of atmospheric flows over complex terrain at high horizontal resolution. The unique data that will result from the full deployment of MSA and its instruments as well as the opportunity to engage multiple partners are factors that contribute to the high impact of the project.
The planned sensor information test-bed collaborative research environment (SITCORE) facility appears to be a significant enabler for impactful, multidisciplinary research that expands the scope of many information sciences projects. The plan to place this facility next to the Network Science Research Laboratory and to include it as part of the open campus is expected to facilitate collaborative research and promote innovative solutions to challenge problems.
The research on tactical optical communications and hybrid communication networks is exceptional for its synergistic blend of theoretical modeling to understand fundamental ultraviolet (UV) communications properties, and as an experimental test-bed demonstration to show the proof of concept of both UV communications and heterogeneous radio frequency-UV communications. Transition plans are clear, and the researchers show a very good understanding of Army-specific needs and system requirements. Impressive research leadership of this strong program has produced clear and compelling research presentation and poster materials and effective mentorship of early-career scientists.
The low-power, low-frequency mobile networking program has produced innovative designs of very small antennas (1/50th wavelength in size) for low-frequency communications. The system-level understanding of Army needs, and corresponding system designs and theoretical analyses, are very impressive. This is a strong and comprehensive research program that is expected to lead to significant performance improvements to Army-relevant communication systems.
The work presented in the predictive sciences combines machine learning within large simulations to optimize multiscale model computations with the hierarchical multiscale (HMS) work, with positive results and a promising future. The data-intensive sciences work on neuromorphic processing and cooperative reinforcement learning was excellent. The data-intensive sciences team has shown a strong start
in the new research thrust in machine learning. Alongside operating and managing high-performance computing (HPC) systems to serve the processing needs of the broader DoD community, the advanced architecture group has evolved to focus on tactical high-performance computing at the edge, having made significant progress in evaluating the role of neuromorphic computing to enable high-fidelity computation using many low-precision elements and very low energy.
Sciences for Maneuver
In the vehicle intelligence area, several research programs are outstanding. Three research programs stand out: research on low-ranked representation learning of action attributes (flexibility and extensibility) in focusing on human action attributes; research on autonomous mobile information collection using a value of information-enriched belief approach (projected functional stochastic gradient-based approach with teams of robots); and research and simulation work on the Wingman Software Integration Laboratory, which has a clear path to Army-relevant static and dynamic scenarios and multiple-machine and multiple-human interactions.
In the platform mechanics area, the impressive work in the project on flapping wing aerial vehicle system design uses a combination of relatively simple component models to produce a basic understanding of the control and the dynamics aspects of a flexible wing flapping unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that involves complex fluid/structural/energy system interactions. Flight tests have shown considerable promise; a key focus now seems to be determining the weakest links in the understanding of such systems and of the most significant hurdles to improve the system performance. The basic capability, assuming that it is flexible enough to encompass other systems, promises to be very valuable. Another significant work on learning and adjusting weights for linear quadratic regulators control design based on energy and agility metrics focused on a system comprising a hover to flight of a UAS biplane with four rotors. This effort constitutes a valuable exploration of the ability to address major design changes to improve the system performance.
In the energy and propulsion area, the work is near the frontier for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) in this application. The work would be strengthened by identification of details in the cascade break-up process and determination of different domains with regard to the cascade path. Postprocessing to determine vorticity and to relate vortical structures to the liquid structures (e.g., Kelvin-Helmholtz and Rayleigh-Taylor wave crests, lobes, holes in lobes and liquid bridges, ligaments, and droplets) would be informative.
In the logistics and sustainability area, two specific successes were noted: the use of an acoustic emission sensing network to identify damage for a Blackhawk helicopter demonstrator composite section and composite damage inference via electrical impedance spectroscopy for carbon fiber-reinforced polymer composites as used on General Atomic’s Gray Eagle. These successes are commendable, show great promise, and need to be built upon.
The real-world behavior (RWB) program now has state-of-the-art expertise in electroencephalogram (EEG) systems and source localization; it has developed in-house EEG technology and compared it with commercial EEG systems. Of particular note is a head phantom for EEG, a device approximating the human skull conduction used to re-create electrical signals on the scalp that will enable the modeling and exclusion of noise sources, with the goal of identifying measurable neural signals recorded in
complex environments. The group has developed a cutting-edge facility for integrating EEG and other related neural and physiological sensor data.
The Human Cyber Performance group within the Humans in Multiagent Systems program has demonstrated foresight into effective collaboration by its initiation of promising work in human aspects of cybersecurity utilizing the Cyber Human Integrated Modeling and Experimentation Range Army (CHIMERA) laboratory, jointly developed by ARL’s Human Research and Engineering Computational and Information Sciences Directorate (CISD).
Analysis and Assessments
The ballistics survivability, vulnerability, and lethality (BSVL) group has historically led the way in modeling ballistics survivability, lethality, and vulnerability for the Army, DoD, and international allied community. There is no competition for leadership in this area—it is ARL’s mission. The movements to embrace HPC to speed computations and support the Army community needs for analysis and assessment (A&A) are commendable efforts. The emerging methodology for underbody blast and multihit survivability analyses will be exceptional contributions to Army A&A.
The finite element modeling of underbody events on vehicles is top-notch work. The finite element modeling team has a clear understanding of the fidelity required and is advancing state-of-the-art tools and contributing to their validation.
The approach for the physiological experimental work combining high-speed X-ray imaging with state-of-the-art and exploratory sensor technologies is outstanding work that is leading this field. It is the best high-speed X-ray capability that has been observed in this area.
In human systems integration (HSI), the human physical accommodation models and soldier performance and workload modeling and simulation tools developed and employed by ARL are first rate and have provided the Army and industry with an excellent capability to assess soldier integration into complex systems. Current tools, including the Improved Performance Research Integration Tool (IMPRINT) and digital clothing and equipment models, provide analytical capabilities that can be cost-effectively applied early in the acquisition cycle as well as later during system development.
Significant improvements since the previous assessment include moving from S4 to OneSAF, utilizing the ARL Open Campus Initiative, and starting an effort on cybersecurity of embedded systems. Talented and committed key personnel have been recruited, including some from outside the local area. The electronic warfare (EW) survivability, lethality, and vulnerability (SLV) team has made a major advance through developing and staffing the cyber and electromagnetic activities (CEMA) laboratory. The use of digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) and optimized modular EW network (OMEN) has expanded in capabilities because an EW section of OMEN is hosted as an EW payload on a Freefly ALTA 8 drone. The airborne capability enables better counter-UAS assessments, using cyber and EW techniques, because the drone can fly closer to targets. As a result of external workshops, internships, and university outreach programs, new good-quality staff with Ph.D. and M.S. degrees were attracted to ARL’s EW team. It is impressive that the cybersecurity staff is highly sought after by the operational Army. Complexity and emergence theory are being used to identify the game changing impacts of technology on Army engagement outcomes.