The U.S. Army is partnering with the Texas A&M University System to build a research and technology development hub at the RELLIS Academic Complex.
The A&M system board of regents approved $80 million in funding for a Research Integration Center and associated infrastructure for use by the Army Futures Command during their meeting on Aug. 8. The funding is the second phase of a $130 million plan for the RELLIS campus. The $50 million for the first phase has already been approved for an outdoor testing area called an innovation proving ground through the A&M Engineering Extension Service that AFC will also use.
AFC is headquartered in Austin and employs 24,000 civilians in 25 states and 15 countries as of July. The organization is also partnered with University of Texas at Austin to develop robotics and assured-position, navigation and timing, as well as with Carnegie Mellon University to study artificial intelligence. However, the RELLIS complex will be the central hub for testing and evaluation of new technologies to modernize the Army.
“We consider serving the military of our nation to be the highest of honors and responsibility,” A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said in a statement. “Also, having the Army Futures Command at RELLIS is a game-changer for that campus and the Brazos Valley area; RELLIS was envisioned as a research dynamo and the Army’s arrival will speed that up.”
During the board of regents meeting, Vice Chancellor of Engineering and National Laboratories M. Katherine Banks said the construction of a Ballistic, Aero-optics and Materials facility, a Mach-6 quiet tunnel and a laser-diagnostics laboratory will make A&M the hypersonics research capital of the country.
According to Banks, the A&M System will provide the environment needed to speed up research and technology development across the “Valley of Death” — where technology begins to die or stall.
“Chancellor Sharp’s remarkable vision for the RELLIS campus aligns with [AFC Commanding] General [John] Murray’s plan by transforming our 2,000-acre campus into a living laboratory,” Banks said. “With the support of our A&M System Regents, we will develop a comprehensive complex unlike any other in the nation.”
Sharp invited Murray and his staff to the RELLIS complex for three days in November of 2018 to showcase A&M’s work and projects, including Disaster City, a 52-acre training facility for emergency response professionals.
“We basically demonstrated that [A&M] could be a one-stop-shop for Army Futures Command,” A&M System Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications Laylan Copelin said. “And [AFC] liked what they saw.”
In addition to six to eight Army researchers that will be based out of the new complex, TEES and the A&M College of Engineering plan to hire around 25 engineering researchers to work with the Army. Graduate students, members of the Corps of Cadets and private companies will also have the opportunity to conduct research at the new RELLIS complex.
“Army Futures Command will probably be a magnet that draws companies here,” Copelin said. “It’s an economic driver for the community.”
Copelin said RELLIS is already home to the A&M Transportation Institute headquarters and some Blinn College facilities. Additionally, two academic buildings are in development and the Board of Regents are discussing the possibility of adding a data center.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the complex will be on Oct.12, and the complex is scheduled to be completed by June 2021.