This introductory chapter describes the biennial assessment process conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Army Research Laboratory Technical Assessment Board (ARLTAB). It then describes the preparation and organization of the report, the assessment criteria, and the approach taken during the report preparation.
The ARLTAB is guided by the following statement of task:
An ad hoc committee to be named the Army Research Laboratory Technical Assessment Board (ARLTAB), to be overseen by the Laboratory Assessments Board, will be appointed to continue the function of providing biennial assessments of the scientific and technical quality of the Army Research Laboratory (ARL). These assessments will include findings and recommendations related to the quality of ARL’s research, development, and analysis programs. While the primary role of the ARLTAB is to provide peer assessment, it may offer advice on related matters when requested by the ARL Director. The ARLTAB will provide an interim assessment report at the end of Year 1 of each 2-year assessment cycle and a final assessment report biennially. The ARLTAB will be assisted by up to seven separately appointed panels that will focus on particular portions of the ARL program. Each year, up to three additional panels may be appointed to assess special topics, at the request of the ARL Director.
The charge of ARLTAB 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. ARLTAB is charged to review the work in ARL’s science and technology (S&T) campaigns (Materials Research,
Sciences for Lethality and Protection, Information Sciences, Computational Sciences, Sciences for Maneuver, Human Sciences, and Analysis and Assessment).
At the discretion of the ARL director, the ARLTAB reviews selected portions of the work conducted by the Collaborative Technology Alliances (CTAs) and Cooperative Research Alliances (CRAs). Although the ARLTAB’s primary role is to provide peer assessment, it may also offer advice on related matters when requested to do so by the ARL director; such advice focuses on technical rather than programmatic considerations. To conduct its assessments, the ARLTAB is assisted by seven National Academies panels, each of which focuses on one of ARL’s S&T campaigns. The ARLTAB’s assessments are commissioned by ARL itself rather than by one of its parent organizations.
For this assessment, the ARLTAB consisted of nine leading scientists and engineers whose collective experience spans the main topics within ARL’s scope. Seven of the ARLTAB members serve as chairs of the panels that review ARL’s S&T campaigns. The panels range in size from 12 to 25 members, whose expertise is carefully matched to the technical fields covered by the areas that they review. Selected members of each panel attend each annual review. In total, 138 members participated in the reviews that led to this report. All panel and ARLTAB members participate without compensation.
The National Academies appointed the ARLTAB and panel members with an eye to assembling a slate of experts without conflicts of interest and with balanced perspectives. The experts include current and former executives and research staff from industrial R&D laboratories, leading academic researchers, and staff from the Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories and federally funded research and development (R&D) centers. Of these experts, 28 are members of the National Academy of Engineering, 5 are members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 4 are members of the National Academy of Medicine. A number have been leaders in relevant professional societies, and several are past members of organizations such as the Army Science Board and the Defense Science Board. The ARLTAB and its panels are supported by National Academies staff, who interact with ARL on a continuing basis to ensure that the ARLTAB and the panels receive the information they need to carry out their assessments. ARLTAB and panel members serve for finite terms, generally 2 to 6 years, so that viewpoints are regularly refreshed and the expertise of the ARLTAB and panel members continues to match ARL’s activities. Biographical information on ARLTAB members appears in Appendix B.
In 2017 and 2018, seven panels reviewed the following S&T campaigns of ARL, as follows:
- Panel on Materials Science and Engineering: Materials Research;
- Panel on Ballistics Science and Engineering: Sciences for Lethality and Protection;
- Panel on Information Science: Information Sciences;
- Panel on Computational Sciences: Computational Sciences;
- Panel on Mechanical Science and Engineering: Sciences for Maneuver;
- Panel on Human Factors Science: Human Sciences; and
- Panel on Assessment and Analysis: Analysis and Assessment.
This biennial report summarizes the findings of the ARLTAB from the reviews conducted by the panels in 2017 and 2018 and subsumes the 2017-2018 interim report.1
1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018, 2017-2018 Assessment of the Army Research Laboratory: Interim Report, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
The current report is the tenth biennial report of the ARLTAB. Its first biennial report was issued in 2000; annual reviews were issued in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2013, 2015, and 2017. As with the earlier reviews, this report contains the ARLTAB’s judgments about the quality of ARL’s work. (Chapters 2 through 8 focus on the individual S&T campaign areas, and Chapter 9 provides a discussion of crosscutting issues across all of the ARL projects reviewed.) The rest of this chapter explains the rich set of interactions that supports those judgments.
The amount of information that is funneled to the ARLTAB, including the evaluations by the recognized experts who make up ARLTAB’s panels, provides a solid foundation for a thorough peer review. This review is based on a large amount of information received from ARL and on interactions between ARL staff and the ARLTAB and its panels. Most of the information exchange occurs during the annual meetings convened by the respective panels at the appropriate ARL sites. Both at scheduled meetings and in less formal interactions, ARL evinces a very healthy level of information exchange and acceptance of external comments.
Each review meeting lasted about 2.5 days, during which time ARL staff provided a combination of overview briefings and technical briefings. Prior to the meetings, ARL provided extensive materials for review, including selected staff publications.
The overview briefings described the broad scope of ARL’s scientific and technical work. Technical briefings focused on R&D goals, strategies, methodologies, and results of selected projects at the laboratory. Briefings were supplemented by poster sessions that described projects that were not covered in the briefings.2
The ARLTAB and its panels also devoted sufficient time to closed-session deliberations, during which they developed findings and identified important questions or gaps in their understanding. Those questions or gaps were discussed during follow-up sessions with ARL staff so that the ARLTAB was confident of the accuracy and completeness of its assessments.
In addition to the insights that they gained from the panel meetings, ARLTAB members received exposure to ARL and its staff at ARLTAB meetings each winter. The 2017 and 2018 ARLTAB meetings refined elements of the assessment process focused on ARL’s S&T campaigns, including read-ahead materials, review agendas, and expertise required by reviewers.
During the assessment, the ARLTAB considered the following questions posed by the ARL director:
- Is the scientific quality of the research of comparable technical quality to that executed in leading federal, university, and industrial laboratories both nationally and internationally?
- Does the research program reflect a broad understanding of the underlying science and research conducted elsewhere?
- Does the research employ the appropriate laboratory equipment and numerical models?
- Are the qualifications of the research team compatible with the research challenge?
- Are the facilities and laboratory equipment state of the art?
- Are programs crafted to employ the appropriate mix of theory, computation, and experimentation?
To assist ARL in addressing promising technical approaches, the ARLTAB also considered the following questions:
- Are there especially promising projects that, with improved direction or resources, could produce outstanding results that can be transitioned ultimately to the field?
- Are there promising outside-the-box concepts that could be pursued but are not currently in the ARL portfolio?
Within the general framework of these criteria, the ARLTAB also considered the following four categories of related factors often applied to the assessment of S&T work (Appendix C presents the complete set of factors within these categories):
- Project goals and plans. Factors in this category relate to the extent to which projects address ARL strategic technical goals and are planned to effectively achieve the stated objectives.
- Methodology and approach. Factors in this category address the appropriateness of the hypotheses that drive the research, of the tools and methods applied to the collection and analysis of data, and of the judgments about future directions of the research.
- Capabilities and resources. Factors in this category relate to whether current and projected equipment, facilities, and human resources are appropriate to achieve success of the projects.
- Scientific community. Factors in this category relate to cognizance of and contributions to the scientific and technical community whose activities are relevant to the work performed at ARL.
This report represents ARLTAB’s consensus findings, conclusions, and recommendations, developed through deliberations that included consideration of the notes prepared by the panel members summarizing their assessments. ARLTAB’s aim with this report is to provide guidance to the ARL director that will help ARL sustain its process of continuous improvement. To that end, the ARLTAB examined its extensive and detailed notes from the many ARLTAB panel and individual interactions with ARL during the 2017-2018 period. From those notes, it distilled a shorter list of the main trends, opportunities, and challenges that merit attention at the level of the ARL director and the management team. The ARLTAB used that list as the basis for this report. Specific ARL projects are used to illustrate these points in the following chapters when it is helpful to do so, but the ARLTAB did not aim to present the director with a detailed account of interactions with bench scientists. The draft of this report was subsequently honed and reviewed according to the National Academies’ procedures before being released.
The ARLTAB applied a largely qualitative rather than quantitative approach to the assessment. The approach of ARLTAB and its panels relied on the experience, technical knowledge, and expertise of its members, whose backgrounds were carefully matched to the core technical competency areas in which ARL activities are conducted. The ARLTAB and its panels reviewed selected examples of the scientific and technological research performed by ARL; it was not possible to review all ARL programs and projects exhaustively. Given the necessarily nonexhaustive nature of the review process, the omission of mention of any particular program or project should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the omitted program or project.
ARLTAB’s goal was to identify and report salient examples of accomplishments and opportunities for further improvement with respect to the technical merit of ARL work and specific elements of ARL’s resource infrastructure that are intended to support the technical work. Collectively, these highlighted
examples for each ARL S&T campaign are intended to portray an overall impression of the laboratory while preserving useful mention of suggestions specific to the projects and programs that the ARLTAB considered to be of special note within the set of those examined. Because ARL did not provide to the ARLTAB a description of the complete set of projects within any campaign, the findings summarized in this report are limited to the projects presented for review and are therefore not intended to portray a representative assessment of the S&T work across ARL.
This chapter has addressed the biennial assessment process used by the ARLTAB and its seven panels. Chapters 2 through 8 provide detailed assessments of each of the ARL S&T campaigns reviewed during the 2017-2018 period. Chapter 9 presents findings common across multiple S&T campaigns. The appendixes provide ARL’s S&T campaigns and their mapping to the technical areas reviewed in 2017 and 2018, biographical information on the ARLTAB members, the assessment criteria used by ARLTAB and its panels, and a list of acronyms found in the report.