As one of the most diverse engineering and scientific research organizations in the world, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) helps solve myriad challenges in warfighter support, military and civil works engineering, geospatial sciences, water resources, and environmental sciences. With headquarters in Vicksburg, Miss., ERDC directs seven laboratories located in four states, with more than 2,500 employees, $1.2 billion in facilities, and an annual program exceeding $2 billon.
“One of our mottos in the organization is that every day we come to work we know that we have been involved in saving soldiers’ lives, or we have been working on and are involved in ways to save the life of the planet through the work we do in water resources and civil works,” said Jeffery P. Holland, Ph.D., director of ERDC and chief scientist for USACE.
Outlining numerous recent and current activities that serve to validate that impressive vision, Holland began with an overview of ERDC warfighter support activities.
Other areas associated with ERDC military engineering efforts range from geospatial research, to environmental quality issues on military installations to extensive capabilities such as modeling the effectiveness of new sensor systems against certain threats in selected environments.
“The work that we do in support of the warfighter fits into three broad areas: military engineering, geospatial research engineering, and environmental quality and installations,” he explained.
“In the military engineering area, for example, we work directly for the warfighter, including work with combatant commands all over the world with a great deal of current emphasis in the areas of Afghanistan and previously Iraq,” he said. “We work on things like force protection, which includes how we protect the soldier in different static settings, as well as how we could build a deployable capability that would allow them to carry protection against rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and things of that nature. How do we do that in a way that can be directly deployed and carried to the field?
“That force protection work is the most fundamental of all the work we do in military engineering,” he added. “And we have had resulting capabilities fielded and taken directly to theater.”
“It is literally a man-portable capability that has the ballistic protection, roughly, of an Abrams tank,” he stated. “It includes a number of panels – each weighing approximately 80 pounds – that are situated on frames. The design allows four soldiers to assemble 100 feet of [an] 8-foot-high wall in less than four hours. And that capability has gone to the field where it is in active use.”
As the Department of Defense lead in this area, ERDC force protection efforts have also been directed toward headquarters infrastructure, diplomatic facilities overseas, and even what Holland described as “special buildings in the Washington, D.C., area.”
A critical subelement of ERDC’s force protection activities is directed toward the detection, deterrence, and defeat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“In that regard, we have four systems in theater in Afghanistan that are fully accredited to tackle various aspects of the IED problem,” he said. “We have worked very, very hard on this with a number of partners – industry, academia, and other government laboratories – and have had a very significant level of success in tackling the problem, particularly for issues associated with homemade explosives.”
“We have worked very, very hard on this with a number of partners – industry, academia, and other government laboratories – and have had a very significant level of success in tackling the problem, particularly for issues associated with homemade explosives.”
Holland said that one particular aspect of the IED problem in Afghanistan has been the placement of devices inside the ubiquitous road culverts, of which he credited “at least 2,000 as being ‘culverts of importance’ within the country.”
Over the last two years, ERDC has performed baseline risk assessments on this threat and identified and helped develop multiple ways of reducing IED placement opportunities and mitigating their explosive effects on vehicles as they traverse the culverts.
“We put up a number of systems that dealt with that threat,” he said. “For example, we found that there were a number of fiberglass-based liners that we could rapidly install that would mitigate the explosive effects for certain types of culverts. And then, for very, very high-value locations, where we simply couldn’t protect any other way, we literally designed a capability that you might think of as ‘a giant speed bump.’ We put these systems in theater, working all the associated specifications with the folks there.
“That’s been very successful,” he continued. “In the tests that were done at the National Ground Intelligence Center here in the U.S. [in Charlottesville, Va.], we found that vehicles that would have been completely destroyed and warfighters who would have been killed without our protective capabilities would be able to live through that same level of blast with our protective capabilities in place.”