History and Major Milestones of ARL
Browse through a timeline of the laboratory’s history and major milestones that have supported our mission to operationalize science for transformational overmatch.
Ballistic Research Laboratory Established
The U.S. Army designated the Research Division within the Office of the Chief of Ordnance as its own laboratory in 1938. BRL rose in prominence during World War 2 as the lab advanced the study of projectiles, prepared ballistic tables, and invented new technologies for the Army.
A National Bureau of Standards team led by Harry Diamond invented the first practical meteorological radiosonde, which employed electric sensors to measure temperature and humidity at high altitudes. They also developed a ground-based radiosonde and the first ground receiver.
Invention of the Radio Doppler Proximity Fuze
Harry Diamond and his team at the National Bureau of Standards developed a radar-based proximity fuze for non-rotating projectiles, which detonated automatically at a specified distance from the target. The Army heralded this invention as one of the most important in World War 2.
Invention of the VT-158
Harold Zahl at the Signal Corps Laboratories invented the VT-158, a vacuum tube that raised the frequency ceiling of radar from 200 megacycles to 600 megacycles, which reduced the size of radar equipment. The VT-158 enabled the Army to detect low-flying planes during World War 2.
Development of the ASM-N-2 Bat
Researchers at the National Bureau of Standards helped develop the ASM-N-2 Bat, the first fully automated guided missile used in combat. Deployed during the waning months of World War 2, the ASM-N-2 Bat emitted radar pulses that reflected off the target to guide its path.
Completion of ENIAC
BRL sponsored the development of the world’s first general-purpose electronic computer in order to speed up the production of firing tables. Although it never saw use in World War II, ENIAC performed essential calculations that aided BRL with the development of the hydrogen bomb.
Completion of EDVAC
BRL sponsored the development of EDVAC, the first internally programmed electronic digital computer. Unlike its predecessor ENIAC, which performed decimal arithmetic, EDVAC became the first to use a binary number system and even possessed the capability to store programs.
Completion of ORDVAC
BRL commissioned the development of ORDVAC, the first computer to possess a compiler. The compiler enabled ORDVAC to execute instructions written in FORAST, a programming language created by BRL researchers to carry out more complicated ballistic trajectory calculations.
Army Research Office Established
The U.S. Army reassigned the Office of Ordnance Research as its principal agent for planning, organizing, and managing extramural basic research. With its name officially changed to the Army Research Office, ARO funds scientific discoveries across academia and industry.
Human Engineering Laboratory Established
The Army established HEL in response to its need to design equipment that better accommodates human behavior. As a leading laboratory for human factors engineering, and robotics research, HEL made significant improvements to military vehicles, Soldier-machine interfaces and more.
Harry Diamond Laboratories Established
The Army established the Ordnance Development Division of the National Bureau of Standards as a separate installation in 1953. Named after its early leader, the lab made significant contributions in areas such as printed circuits, high-resolution radar, and nuclear science.
Creation of Photolithography
HDL pioneered the process of photolithography in an attempt to reduce the size of electronic circuits inside proximity fuzes. Inspired by the application of photoresist, photolithography would later contribute to the development of the first semiconductor integrated circuits.
Creation of Fluidics
The idea behind a fluidic amplifier came out of HDL when researchers discovered that they could redirect the direction of flue gases with small bellows. In 1959, HDL researchers built working vortex amplifiers based on this premise and launched the field of fluidics.
BRL participated in an atmospheric nuclear weapons test series conducted in the Pacific Ocean area known as Operation Dominic. Considered the largest nuclear test program in U.S. history, Operation Dominic performed a total of 36 atmospheric nuclear weapon detonations.
BRL worked with the Canadian military to construct a large supergun that launched objects into space without a rocket. Used to collect atmosphere data, the 16-inch HARP gun currently holds the world record for the highest altitude that a gun-fired projectile had achieved.
Atmospheric Sciences Laboratory Established
A major Army reorganization effort led to the creation of a laboratory that specialized in artillery meteorology and atmospheric research. ASL developed new meteorological equipment and technologies that enhanced the Army’s artillery fire and chemical detection operations.
Electronics Technology and Devices Laboratory Established
A descendant of the Signal Corps Laboratories, ETDL emerged as the Army’s central laboratory for electronics research. The laboratory developed military technologies related to millimeter wave devices, pulsars, rechargeable batteries, semiconductor materials, and many others.
Completion of the Aurora Simulator
HDL helped develop the Aurora Pulsed Radiation Simulator, which simulated the effects of a nuclear weapon’s gamma radiation pulses on military electronic systems. Used to test the radiation hardening of IBMs and satellites, it was the first gamma radiation simulator of its size.
Creation of BRL-CAD
BRL developed a suite of modeling tools that assisted Army researchers with computer simulations for ballistics and combat vehicle systems. The source code repository for BRL-CAD is considered the oldest open-source codebase in the world that’s still under active development.
Very High Speed Integrated Circuits Program
ETDL engaged in the VHSIC program, which accelerated the development of computer chips and microprocessors for military systems. Designed to revitalize the commercial integrated circuit market, the VHSIC program introduced advancements in IC materials, lithography, and testing.
Creation of ping
BRL created a command-line utility that tests whether a device is connected to a computer network. Implemented in virtually all operating systems, ping sends data packets to the target network host and measures how long it takes for the network host to return a reply message.
Vulnerability Assessment Laboratory Established
The U.S. Army established VAL in 1985 to assess how well Army weapons, communications, and electromagnetic systems can defend against electronic warfare threats. VAL conducted research on electronic counter-countermeasures and led vulnerability assessment functions in the Army.
Materials Technology Laboratory Established
Known as the last in the line of Army laboratories at Watertown, MA, MTL played a key role in the development of materials science and metallurgy in America. Its history dates back to the establishment of Watertown Arsenal in 1816 and features major milestones in armor materials.
Resonance Laser Microplasma Ignition
BRL discovered resonance laser microplasma ignition, which describes how reactive gaseous mixtures can be ignited into combustion efficiently with low laser energies. BRL later established the Laser Ignition in Guns, Howitzers, and Tanks Program to create laser ignition systems.
ETDL participated in the DoD’s Microwave/Millimeter Wave Monolithic Integrated Circuits (MIMIC) Program to accelerate research in semiconductor materials. The program significantly improved the assembly and production of non-silicon electronics in the industry.
Development of AHAAH
HEL created an electro-acoustic model of the human ear to analyze how impulse noise damages hearing. As the first technique to analyze hearing loss on the level of the cochlea, the Auditory Hazard Assessment Algorithm for Humans (AHAAH) served as a metric for the MIL-STD 1474E.
M829A1 Nicknamed “Silver Bullet”
BRL played a major role in the development of the M829 family of tank rounds for the M1 Abrams and pioneered the use of depleted uranium as a penetrator material. American Soldiers in the Gulf War later nicknamed the rounds as the Army’s “Silver Bullet” due to their lethality.
Founding of ARL
In October 1992, the U.S. Army merged the operations of BRL, HEL, HDL, ASL, ETDL, VAL, and MTL to form the Army Research Laboratory as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure process, the Lab 21 study and other evaluations.
ARL Fellows Formed
The first group of nominees was elected to the Fellowship in 1993. ARL Fellows perform a variety of services at the request of the Director, including evaluations of ARL technical awards, reviewing Director’s Research Initiative proposals, and organizing special symposia.
ARL Issues First Broad Agency Announcement
In December 1994, ARL issued its laboratory Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) to the private sector. It tasked industry and academia with assembling “consortia” around several technology areas deemed critical to “digitize the battlefield.”
ARL Develops Center of Excellence in Digital Communications
The move toward the digital battlefield set off a flurry of consolidation within ARL’s directorates. The process began in April 1995, when an ARL center of excellence in digital-communications sciences was developed.
ARL Celebrates 50 Years of Army Computing
A symposium was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the ENIAC. The commemoration also included the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the ARL Major Shared Resource Center.
Dedication of Rodman Materials Research Lab
In July 1997, the Rodman Materials Research Laboratory was dedicated at Aberdeen Proving Ground to accommodate scientists and engineers transferred from Watertown, Mass., and Fort Belvoir, Va.
Army Research Office Joins ARL
With the Army’s need to more tightly focus its basic research on future needs, ARO joined the ARL team with a mission to execute an extramural basic-research program in the physical sciences, engineering sciences and mathematical and information sciences.
Completion of Zahl Physical Sciences Laboratory
The completion of the Zahl in Adelphi, Md. was the last of the construction under BRAC. Movement into the facility began in August by researchers focused on materials and device research.
ARL Develops the Joint Tactical Radio System
Warfighters’ feedback to ARL human-factors researchers helped drive the final design of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), a software-programmable, IP-based digital radio system. Since the JTRS concept began, it has grown into a family of radios.
Nobel Prize Recipients
Eric A. Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle, and Carl E. Wieman were Nobel Prize recipients in 2001 for their achievements in physics leading to the landmark creation of the Bose-Einstein condensate and early studies of its properties, supported by the Army Research Office.
Establishment of RDECOM
So ARL and the Army’s research centers could report to a single command, RDECOM was provisionally stood up at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where it replaced and integrated the headquarters element of the Soldier and Biological Chemical Command.
ARL Innovates Armor Survivability Kit for the HMMWV
ARL produced the prototype Armor Survivability Kit using rolled, homogenous armor steel and ballistic glass to provide an up-armored solution with maximum balanced protection against small-arms projectiles and fragments from IEDs.
ARL Develops Persistent Threat Detection System
ARL developed an acoustic-sensor array that detects, locates, and cues a collocated imager to transient sounds, such as enemy mortar, rocket launches, and IED attacks, and calculates the ground location of the threat source.
ARL Produces Fido XT Explosives Detector
Fido XT’s explosive-vapor sensing can detect explosives at femtogram levels, comparable in field tests to bomb-sniffing dogs—the historical “gold standard” for finding concealed explosives. Fido XT fielded to the Army in 2005.
ARL Develops Constant Hawk
Constant Hawk was the first operational persistent, wide-area surveillance forensic tracking capability. ARL developed the technology to meet an urgent need, and in 2006 fielded the capability with INSCOM.
ARL Leads Testing of Phraselator
ARL led the testing of IBM’s two-way English–Iraqi-Arabic speech translation software called Multilingual Automatic Speech-to-Speech Translator System (MASTOR), which was installed on a handheld Phraselator device.
ARL Completed the Environment for Auditory Research
EAR’s research spaces and capabilities are unmatched worldwide. The facility is critical to determining the effects of Soldier equipment on perception of sounds on the battlefield.
Civilian Scientists and Engineers Deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan
Their mission was providing operational commanders with immediate access to laboratory and engineering capability, expedite the delivery of critical technology solutions to Soldiers, and directly support the Soldier.
Thrown Object Protection System Kit
Soldiers experienced ever-evolving threats such as objects thrown by enemy combatants. The Army developed the TOPS kit, which uses an elastic screen that repels thrown objects and causes them to bounce away from the vehicle and its crew.
Popular Science Magazine Names ARL One of the 25 Coolest College Labs
The September issue of Popular Science Magazine named ARL one of the top 25 awesome labs for college interns to work. They based their decision on groundbreaking research, undergrad access, and sheer awesomeness.
Doppler LiDAR Wind Profiling System for Aviation Operations
ARL developed the Doppler LiDAR Wind Profiling System, significantly enhancing wind-profiling capability for operational forces. The system is used on all missions for aircraft launch and recovery operations.
Rollout of Open Campus
ARL’s Open Campus initiative is a collaborative endeavor, with the goal of building a science and technology ecosystem that will encourage groundbreaking advances in basic and applied research areas of relevance to the Army.
Enhanced Combat Helmet
The ECH helmet is a historic transition from Kevlar to newer classes of thermoplastic materials for U.S. ballistic head protection. In 2013 Popular Science magazine recognized the ECH helmet as one of the “Best 100 Innovations.”
The DEKA Arm System, the first prosthetic arm that can perform multiple, simultaneous powered movements controlled by electrical signals from electromyogram electrodes and developed by ARO/ARL-supported researchers, received FDA approval.
Collaboration with NFL, Under Armour, GE for Head Health Challenge II
An ARL team of researchers was one of three awarded funding in the final phase of the Head Health Challenge II with a chance to receive up to $1 million toward head-protection research.
Army Establishes S&T Presence with ARL West
A ceremony at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies formally opened ARL West, a new West Coast science and technology presence for the Army. The lab would open ARL Central, South, and Northeast in the two following years.
ARL Turns 25
In October 2017, ARL achieved 25 years of world-changing contributions of science, technology, and analysis to the Department of the Army. The lab celebrated this milestone through a year-long initiative known as “ARL25.”
ARL Signs Research Agreement with Uber
ARL announced a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Uber to advance technologies supporting Future Vertical Lift, including research to create the first usable stacked co-rotating rotors or propellers.
ARL Becomes Part of the U.S. Army Futures Command
Army Futures Command was established in 2018 as a peer of FORSCOM, TRADOC, and the Army Materiel Command. Aimed at modernizing the Army, AFC declared its Full Operational Capability in July 2019.
Establishment of Task Force Ignite
ARL took the lead in establishing Task Force Ignite to foster collaboration between the lab and the U.S. Army Futures and Concepts Center for scientific research outcomes for concept development.
ARL Helps in Fight against COVID-19
ARL researchers were part of a team that tested alternative ways to measure COVID-19 antibody levels, resulting in a process that is faster, easier and less expensive to use on a large scale.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Army Research Laboratory was activated in 1992, with a genealogy dating back to the early 19th century. The history book provided tells an amazing story of discovery and innovation, and pays tribute to the thousands of scientists and engineers who have performed foundational research that has led to superior capabilities for the American Soldier.
- Founding of DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory
- Building ARL, 1993-1998
- Envisioning the Army of the Future, 1998-2001
- September 11th and After
- DEVCOM ARL Computing History
In addition, ARL’s historian produced “The Genealogy of ARL.” This report provides a brief organizational history of ARL (through 1996) and its various components prior to ARL’s activation.