Building ARL, 1993-1998

Dr. John Lyons, who had formerly served as Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), became ARL Director on September 14, 1993. A former chemist, Lyons had worked his way up in the National Bureau of Standards, serving as director of its National Engineering Laboratory for 13 years. After NBS transitioned into the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Lyons served as director of the entire organization. Lyons was also well known as a scholar, having published four books and over 60 papers. Lyons had also been a member of the Federal Advisory Commission on Consolidation and Conversion of Defense Research and Development Laboratories that had laid out the original parameters for creating an ARL so he was well familiar with the vision of the organization.

Lyons quickly established a reputation as a leader who wanted to understand how the various components of ARL worked. After reviewing some of the technology ARL and LABCOM had already produced (he even went so far as to test drive the Abrams tank and test its cannon at the Aberdeen site), Lyons requested assistance from AMC in securing program reforms that included a modified and flexible personnel system, a consolidated funding authority, further emphasis on basic research, and opening the laboratories up to facilitate increased numbers of staff exchanges. Among the management innovations that Lyons undertook was to become a National Reinvention Laboratory under the National Partnership for Reinventing Government under which ARL won four Hammer Awards. Lyons also volunteered ARL to be a pilot project under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-62), the only pilot of more than eighty across the government to represent the R&D sector. Under this program ARL developed new and innovative approaches to strategic planning and performance evaluation as applied to basic research. These techniques still provide a benchmark for both public and private technology organizations to this day.

Another challenge ARL faced was the divide that had opened between commercial and military technology.

Concurrently, the downsizing of DoD, coupled with the explosion in information technology, demanded a new approach in laboratory operations. It required ARL to become smaller while still providing state-of-the-art technology for military personnel. The end result, a federated laboratory, was a unique entity within the Department of Defense. It drew upon the best of the public and private sectors to produce the research and technology needed for present and future Army land warfare systems. In 1994, ARL was granted authority by the Department of the Army (DA) to enter into research cooperative agreements and Broad Agency Announcements (BAA) to the private sector. It called upon industry and academia to assemble “consortia” around several technology areas that were deemed critical to the Army’s success.


ARL’s directorates began to consolidate; the process began in April 1995, when an ARL center of excellence in digital communications sciences was developed. The former Sensors, Signal and lnformation Processing Directorate (S3I) was separated into the new Sensors Directorate (SEN) and the Information Science and Technology (IST) Directorate. The SEN Directorate, along with most of the S31 and three branches of the Electronic and Power Sources Directorate (EPSD) located at Fort Belvoir, focused its activities on infrared focal plane arrays, microwave and millimeter-wave radar, optics, and acoustic sensors, as well as advanced sensor concepts. The lnformation Processing Branch of S31, the Military Computer Science Branch of the Advanced Computational and Infrormation Sciences Directorate (ACIS), and some personnel from EPSD and the Battlefield Environment Directorate (BED), formed the IST Directorate with areas of technical expertise in sensor and data fusion, display integration, knowledge-based reasoning, high-performance wireless networks, automated information distribution, data and image compression, adaptive communications I and networks, secure exchange, and architectures research.

Meanwhile, most of EPSD became the Physical Sciences Directorate (PSD), and focused on pervasive 21st century technologies, including solid state physics, nanotechnology, chemical science and technology, biological sciences, and manufacturing science. ACIS transitioned into the Advanced Simulation and High-Performance Computing Directorate (ASHPC). ASHPC concentrated on advanced distributed-simulation technology, software engineering, artificial intelligence and expert systems, real-time language translation, supercomputing, distributed and parallel computing, and wide-bandwidth networks. The BED Atmospheric Analysis and Assessment team was moved to the Survivability/Lethality Analysis Directorate (SLAD), expanding SLAD’s threat-effects analysis mission and consolidating all of the laboratory’s 6.5 (RDT&E Management Support) mission funds in one directorate. The restructured BED concentrated on signature distortions, atmospheric modeling, electromagnetic energy propagation, remote detection and identification of chemical and biological agents, weather analysis aids, weather measuring techniques, and land battlefield modeling. Finally, the Human Research and Engineering Directorate (HRED) reorganized internally to form a Soldier I Information Division to support the laboratory’s emphasis on digitalization and communications science.

While these changes occurred, the ASA(RDA) commissioned a study that examined options with regard to the future of ARL. ARL had already achieved a 41 percent reduction in personnel since 1989 and had undertaken a significant consolidation effort in compliance with BRAC 91, at a cost of approximately $328 million over the 1991-1997 timeframe. Nevertheless, the report recommended ARL should further decrease its number of directorates while focusing programs and achieving maximum overhead savings. This would sharpen technical focus and decrease overhead by focusing ARL on Armor and Armament, Battlefield Information Science, Sensors and Electronic Devices, Human Research and Engineering, and Survivability Analysis, all of which would have the greatest potential in support of Army long-term readiness with the lowest implementation costs and difficulties.

ARL began fiscal year 1997 with five technical directorates and two centers, and a Chief of Staff support function. The Weapons and Materials Research Directorate (WMRD) combined materials and weapons research to position ARL more effectively to support development of future land combat systems. The ISTD addressed a broad spectrum of research aimed at the digitalized battlefield beyond Force XXI. The Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate (SEDD) developed technology for advanced solid-state components and the state-of-the-art sensor systems to provide battlefield awareness and targeting. HRED conducted a broad-based program of scientific research and technology directed toward optimizing Soldier performance and Soldier-machine interactions in order to maximize battlefield effectiveness, while ensuring that Soldier performance requirements were adequately considered in technology development and system designs. SLAD provided technical support in the analyses of the survivability and lethality of Army technologies and systems in the full spectrum of battlefield threats and environments. The Vehicle Technology Center (VTC) addressed propulsion and structure technologies for both air and ground vehicles, while maintaining existing relationships with NASA. Finally, the Corporate Information and Computing center (CICC) focused its efforts on ARL’s business and high-performance computing assets, and served as the management vehicle for the DoD Major Shared/Resource Center (MSRC) and the AHPCRC.

The five directorates and two centers received a major addition in 1998, when the Army Research Office joined the ARL team. The shift went hand-in-hand with Lyons’ emphasis on basic research. Just after assuming the ARL helm, Lyons indicated that “any large laboratory like this needs strong scientific underpinnings. If you don’t have that as a foundation, then you can’t do the applied work.” ARO had existed separate from ARL and its predecessors for almost 50 years, and the vast majority of its previous work had focused on basic research. The organization had many valuable contacts with the university community, the source of much of the invaluable basic research being done in the United States. It also had several strong ties to ARL, having established several of the “centers of excellence” that had been brought into the FedLab structure. With the Army’s need to more tightly focus its basic research on future needs, the ARO Director became the ARL Deputy Director for basic research, with a charter to coordinate all basic research being performed at ARL, including that of the directorates.

ARL’s organizational structure was not the only development in this period. ARL’s success depended heavily on the availability of top facilities that would enable future cutting-edge research. In 1996 and 1997, several of these facilities were either completed or constructed sufficiently for initial use. At APG, the Target Assembly and Storage Facility on Spesutie Island supported work on classified targets. Later installation of the high-efficiency particulate air filter in 1998 provided personnel with the specialized capability of working with heavy-metal armors, such as those using depleted uranium. In July 1997, the Rodman Materials Research Laboratory was dedicated to accommodate scientists and engineers transferred from Watertown, MA and Fort Belvoir, VA. The $76 million facility was perhaps the best equipped of its kind in the world and supported a wide range of basic materials research for defense and government customers. Construction also continued at Adelphi Laboratory Center (ALC). The High-Bay Facility was completed in February 1996 and occupied in May. It accommodated ISTD’s research in atmospheric science. In October 1997, ARL dedicated the Electromagnet Research Facility. Previously known as the Scale Model Laboratory, it was designed as an electromagnetic transparent scale model experimentation facility. Personnel relocated from Woodbridge, VA used this facility for research that included ultra wideband radar and high-power microwave programs. The Adelphi site also received its own administrative building when the Della Whittaker Building officially opened in August of 1997. Finally, during this period, construction began on what would become the Zahl Physical Sciences Facility. The $73.9 million project would eventually house SEDD, which was transferred from Fort Monmouth, NJ and Fort Belvoir, VA. The facility also included a $6.7 million Military Construction Army project for CICC. This research and development computer center consolidated CICC at ALC and provided a central connecting point for ALC to tie the high-performance and simulation computers at APG. As a result of all of this construction, the Woodbridge Research Facility was closed in September 1994 and ARL’s site at Watertown, MA was closed on September 29, 1995.

There were also major innovations in the management of ARL’s workforce. In the Fiscal Year 1995 Defense Authorization Act, Congress empowered the National Performance Review Science and Technology Reinvention of Laboratories to design alternative civilian personnel systems. The purpose was to enhance the effectiveness of DoD laboratories by allowing greater managerial control over personnel functions and, at the same time, expanding the opportunities available to employees through a more responsive and flexible personnel system. In January 1995, Lyons organized an executive steering committee that drafted plans to implement a revised personnel management system that included broad pay bands, pay for performance, more generic job descriptions, and automated job grading. ARL planned the implementation of the new Personnel Demonstration System for all eligible General Schedule employees in 1998. Effective October 8, 1997, as part of the general DoD restructuring, most operations of the ALC Personnel Office were centralized in the Northeast Regional Civilian Personnel Operations Center at APC. Civilian Personnel Advisory Centers at ALC and APC gave on-site advice and assistance to managers and employees. Rationalization provided a new methodology of doing business and resulted in a staffing reduction of more than 50 percent within the ARL civilian personnel community. ARL also stepped up its efforts in minority hiring at this time, as Lyons established a Minorities Committee in early 1996 to address workplace issues and examine the recruitment and hiring processes. It would later transition into a wider-ranging diversity board in late 1998. ARL reformulated its strategic planning process to focus on several major long range problems. This set of “Grand Challenges” represents a subset of those strategic problems to which ARL could bring to bear its world class technology competence. The five Grand Challenges about which ARL restructured its long range program planning are:

  • Survivable systems with lethality overmatch in complex terrains.
  • Lighter, faster, more fuel efficient mobile platforms to reduce the logistics tail and enhance deployability
  • Provide commanders unprecedented real-time situation awareness of the battlefield
  • Significantly improve the battlefield Soldier’s ability to absorb information and make decisions
  • Assure information dominance in diverse operating conditions and threats

These technologies will be principal enablers of the battlefield and it is essential for AMC and the Army to maintain a vigorous investment in basic and applied research to meet the needs of tomorrow’s Soldiers.

ARL was well on its way to fulfilling these needs and the Lyons tenure saw significant accomplishments by ARL scientists in such diverse areas as robotics, battlefield visualization, and live-fire prediction and assessment. All of this was achieved while ARL provided support to Soldiers deployed in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and other areas around the world. Perhaps the biggest technological triumph of this period occurred in December 1994, with the successful proof-of-principle demonstration of the GPS registration fuze for artillery rounds. GPS, or Global Positioning System, had already been in use for a variety of military technologies. The GPS technology, a joint service program led by the Air Force, provided accurate, continuous, all-weather, common-grid, worldwide navigation, positioning, velocity and timing data to land, sea, air, and space-based users. Now this tracking system could be utilized to determine the position of a fired round and whether that round had hit its intended target – eliminating the necessity of human verification of destroyed targets.

There were two other breakthroughs in information technology in this period. The first was the completion of the Integrated Meteorological System (IMETS) software, which uses atmospheric data to give weather forecasts for specific areas of the battlefield. IST developments also assisted Soldiers in Bosnia, through development of the prototype Forward Area Language Converter (FALCon) systems to help evaluate documents written in Serbian or Croatian. FALCon helps the user with no foreign language training to convert a foreign language document into an approximate English translation, enabling frontline Soldiers to assess the military significance of documents obtained in the field and decide whether to pass the items to a linguist for full translation. Such technology will also be helpful to the current war on terrorism as the U.S. military finds or intercepts Al Qaeda documents. This effort influenced the development of optical character recognition software to accommodate the unique characteristics of documents in the field, while increasing the language coverage of available translation software, and incorporating an advanced multilingual retrieval capability.

ARL’s technology advances were facilitated by its status as a Major Shared Resource Center, or MSRC. Recognizing the importance of computer modernization as integral to the future military, DoD initiated a High-Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP) in 1994, designating ARL as one of four MSRCs in the country. Much of the upgrading process occurred throughout the Lyons tenure so that the ARL MSRC could manage several computational areas. Further, it was integrated with the other DoD MSRCs through the Defense Research and Engineering Network. These resources provided researchers with scientific visualization laboratories that enabled data interpretation and representation, and supported ARL’s Army High-Performance Computing Research Center (AHPCRC).

Continuing Partnerships

ARL pursued many types of partnerships involving academic institutions and private industries to focus state-of-the-art research on Army needs. ARL operated a number of cooperative programs and centers of excellence, as well as congressionally-mandated technology transfer programs and an extensive educational outreach program, in addition to a broad spectrum of international cooperative programs. The Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program also made great advances during this time. After its expansion in 1992, Congress increased its emphasis on dual-use opportunities and private sector commercialization. Through the SBIR program, the Army gained access to the technological advances of small, innovative firms with fewer than 500 employees. The Army set aside specific funding for high quality research or R&D proposals of innovative concepts to solve the Army/DoD related scientific or engineering problems, especially those concepts that had high potential for commercial use. ARL was a consistent leader in the Army SBIR program and annually averaged 20 percent of the total Army SBIR funding by FY 97. Included in SBIR, as a separate program, was the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program created by Congress in FY94 to foster collaborations between the small business community and research institutions and to involve both in the federal R&D more effectively. ARO administered the program and ARL provided technical support and evaluated technical proposals submitted by small businesses.