As one of the largest science and technology laboratories within the Department of Defense (DOD), the U.S. Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) helps solve the nation’s most challenging problems in civil and military engineering, geospatial sciences, water resources, and environmental sciences.
ERDC’s research and development (R&D) activities are conducted across four major focus areas – Military Engineering, Geospatial Research and Engineering, Environmental Quality and Installations, and Civil Works and Water Resources – through the capabilities of seven subordinate laboratories: Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory; Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory; Construction Engineering Research Laboratory; Environmental Laboratory; Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory; Information Technology Laboratory; and Geospatial Research Laboratory.
There are dozens of military technologies that we develop in a year. We have continued to work on issues of force protection for the U.S. military, for the Department of State, and for the Department of Homeland Security.”
Jeffery P. Holland, Ph.D., serves as both ERDC director and director of R&D/chief scientist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
Holland prefaced an overview of recent representative warfighter and civil works ERDC R&D activities by emphasizing that all are considered to be high priority.
Holland explained that a cornerstone of ERDC’s military engineering focus involves support to the warfighter. In fact, 80 percent of the funding that ERDC has for research and development is directed toward warfighter support and not civil works.
One critical element of ERDC’s warfighter support is “reachback” – connecting those with problems in the field to expertise located back in the continental United States. According to Holland, ERDC runs a USACE Reachback Operations Center (UROC) on a 24/7/365 basis.
“Last year, we did 6,500 reachback responses for the U.S. military and a variety of other agencies,” he said. “UROC has a dedicated staff that does nothing but provide that assistance. Those people act as facilitators to reach back into the pool of subject-matter experts in our laboratories to do almost anything that you can think of. We’ve done that in peacetime and we have done it in wartime.
“Another area we are working in is called ‘Engineered Resilient Systems.’ This is an effort to combine advanced modeling and simulation with something called ‘trade space analysis,’ which looks at thousands and thousands of alternatives – alternative designs or different ways of operating materiel – for airplanes, rotorcraft, ships, ground vehicles, sensor packages, and things of that nature,” he said.
Holland offered that the combination of highly validated modeling and simulation, trade space analysis, and the use of supercomputers to evaluate systems in real-world settings and real operational environments allows planners “to assess everything from the generation of better requirements for a new acquisition system all the way down to the estimated life cycle costs of operating a given piece of materiel.”
ERDC has the lead on this effort, which includes the other armed services, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, approximately one dozen different defense organizations, a half-dozen universities, and several major defense contractors.
“It’s in its second year now but we have already seen some examples of changing the way that we evaluate requirements and alternatives in such a way that we have found proposed future versions of a particular materiel acquisition solution that meet all the requirements, both technical and financial, that we would not have otherwise found by doing it in a traditional manner,” he said. “This speaks to the idea of more affordable acquisition, which is a major issue for the Department of Defense. And we think that we may have a very transformative capability over the next few years as we continue to mature this particular science and technology area.
“There are dozens of military technologies that we develop in a year,” he summarized. “We have continued to work on issues of force protection for the U.S. military, for the Department of State, and for the Department of Homeland Security. We continue to look at the impacts of blast as a result of that work, principally how to protect our buildings from blast. We have done work like that for many, many years and likely will continue to do so.
“Another area where we work, which we call ‘Engineering With Nature,’ involves work we do for the Corps of Engineers and the nation’s civil works activities,” Holland continued. “The critical element here is to build systems that are capable of meeting basic functions like navigation, flood and storm damage reduction, environmental quality, and things of that nature while doing so in a way that provides the most sustainable system in terms of the environment itself. In doing that, we provide a way of having the systems function in a resilient manner – when nature becomes angry, as during situations like hurricanes and major storm events.”
He added that the research calls on personnel and expertise from roughly half of ERDC’s labs, as well as from other USACE components.