Founding of DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory

The impetus for ARL grew out of efforts to realign the Army’s technology base following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War. In December 1988, the Defense Secretary’s Commission on Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) identified the Army Material Technology Laboratory at Watertown, MA for closure, primarily on grounds that MTL facilities needed major renovation or replacement. Missions and functions would be dispersed and the property sold, with transfers of functions scheduled for 1994 and all realignments completed by September 30, 1995. However, there were still questions as to where Laboratory Command (LABCOM) fit into these realignment efforts.

LABCOM had been established as AMC’s Major Subordinate Command, responsible for research laboratories that produced generic technologies and advanced concepts to carry the Army into the future. It was also recognized as the Corporate Technology Center that provided technical support and services to other MSCs and program executive officers. The LABCOM commander served as AMC’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Technology Planning and Management, coordinating approximately 75 percent of the Army’s technology base effort. Combat systems supported by LABCOM included the Abrams (M1A1) main battle tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, the PATRIOT point-defense antimissile system, the Multiple Launch Rocket System, the High-Mobility, Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, which had been deployed in Panama and the Army Tactical Missile System.

In the same month that President H. W. Bush was inaugurated, the Defense Management Review was launched, resulting in formation of the Army Management Review Task Force as a component of the DMR. The initial concept of a centralized Army “corporate” laboratory arose from this task force, and in the fall of 1989, the “Lab 21” study was chartered to flesh out this idea. The ARL or Combat Materiel Research Laboratory construction continued to evolve during fiscal year 1990, emerging as the centerpiece of the Army’s LAB 21 effort.

Implementation of the LAB 21 scheme was delayed, however, while another laboratory consolidation study was performed. Congress initiated another round of base closure and realignment activity, passing legislation (P.L. 101-510) establishing BRAC 91, with members nominated in January 1991. Then, in April 1991, the Department of Defense published its recommendations to BRAC 91, adopting the consolidation proposal to realign Army laboratories and create the Army Research Laboratory. Under the scheme, the labs would be consolidated, primarily at Adelphi and Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, and the BRAC 88 mandate would be revised, with most of Army Material Technology Laboratory relocated to APG.

In its report to the President, released in July 1991, BRAC 91 endorsed the plan for laboratory restructuring, but directed DoD to delay implementation until January 1992 in order to consider guidance from the Federal Advisory Commission on Consolidation and Conversion of Defense Research and Development Laboratories. Also established under Public Law 101-510, the Federal Advisory Commission was charged with recommending various means to improve the operation of the laboratories, including (1) conversion of some, or all, to government-owned, contractor-operated labs, (2) mission and/or function modification at some or all, and (3) consolidation or closure of some or all. The Advisory Commission’s September 1991 report stated that “fixing the problem organically is preferable” to converting to GOCO organizations and suggested a number of steps to improve the effectiveness of the labs as “dedicated organizations free from commercial pressure.” In the main, the Advisory Commission also accepted the creation of ARL, stating that proposed consolidations and realignments should begin in January 1992.

October 1, 1992, Richard Vitali, the former LABCOM Director of Corporate Laboratories (DCL) became the Acting Director of ARL.

The revised Implementation Plan of July 1992 provided the impetus for the selection of a chief executive no later than 1 October 1992. Therefore, ARL was activated with a civilian Acting Director and a colonel as Deputy. Orders establishing ARL (provisional), dated July 23, 1992, provided operational control of LABCOM, the seven corporate laboratories, the LABCOM Installation Support Activity, and the Special Technology Offices, as well as those elements transferring into the new laboratory. The activation ceremony was held at Adelphi on October 2, and permanent orders organizing ARL were published on November 2, 1992.

Richard Vitali had a two-fold mission: facilitate the organizational transition from LABCOM into ARL, and provide an atmosphere where scientists could continue their research efforts from LABCOM. Essentially, Vitali’s strength was his reputation as a mentor who could provide the organization and guidance to employees being groomed for future leadership positions. These skills served Vitali and ARL well, as his tenure was a success in several areas.

Vitali was also responsible for overseeing the formation of ARL’s Board of Directors. The Board of Directors’ mission was to enable contacts between ARL and its principal customers – the Research, Development, and Engineering Centers (RDECs) and AMC, to ensure that the laboratory was fulfilling the needs requested of it. After its assembly, the Board met twice in its first year to review the research and exploratory developmental programs in light of Army needs.

As part of its relationship with the National Research Council, ARL has in place a Technical Assessment Board. The charge of this Board is to provide biennial assessments of the scientific and technical quality of ARL. These assessments include the development of findings and recommendations related to the quality of ARL’s research, development and aalysis programs. The TAB, consisting of research leaders primarily from the National Academies of Science and Engineering, also met for the first time in 1993 and began providing critical evaluations of research programs. The TAB provided an invaluable service to ARL by giving expert, independent and unbiased reviews of the quality of the ARL technical program, something which is very difficult for a government laboratory to obtain, but which is absolutely essential for a lab if it is to achieve world class status. The TAB also suggested improvements in the operation of the lab, assisted in evolving long-term research goals, and monitored technological advances and how they impacted ARL research.

ARL scientists and engineers were responsible for performing the research that would lead to the development of those revolutionary technologies for which ARL is known today. Indeed, the list of projects tackled by ARL in its first year was a litany of exciting opportunities. Among these was the Warrior’s Edge program. It involved virtual reality simulation to identify the technology needs of individual Soldiers, and “Owning the Weather,” a coordination of previously existing information systems to give friendly forces the ability to see, maneuver, fight, and win in all types of weather by providing commanders and staff with advance knowledge of battlefield environmental conditions and likely effects, enabling them to select the most appropriate mix of sensors, weapons systems, and tactics.

The most significant of ARL’s projects in its first year was to upgrade the effectiveness of U.S. fighting forces. Because of friendly-fire fatalities in the recently-concluded Persian Gulf War, the then-Sensors, Signatures, Signal and Information Processing Directorate continued work on the Battlefield Combat Identification System, which would better identify both enemy targets and allies in the field. Also, the need to detect targets employing camouflage, concealment, and other deceptive techniques spurred research in ultra-wide band foliage penetrating synthetic-aperture radar. Battlefield information was also enhanced by the development of a prototype system, the Commander’s Visualization Research Tool, which promised to give commanders real-time formatted battle information. Finally, the lethality of U.S. armaments was advanced through the development of the High-Capacity Artillery Projectile, which represented a major milestone toward the goal of substituting composites for steel in future shells, thus permitting the weight savings to be allocated to greater payload or longer range.

Another of the more important of ARL’s first-year initiatives was the establishment of cooperative programs with various academic, industrial, and international institutions, most of which are still in place today. ARL fostered relationships in academia, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Delaware, University of Maryland, University of Massachusetts, New Mexico State University, University of Texas El Paso, and the University of Arizona. Further, it expanded partnerships through the Small Business Innovative Research Program and pursued stronger ties with historically black colleges and universities and minority institutions. Educational Partner Agreements were signed with Southern University, Hampton University (July 1993), and University of Texas at El Paso (November 1993). In addition, in April 1993, ARL signed a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Military Academy to establish an ARL-sponsored Mathematical Sciences Center of Excellence at the Academy.

ARL had accomplished much in its first year of operations. The foundation of what would eventually be five directorates had been established; employees had moved into existing facilities and plans for future facilities were being implemented; research projects from LABCOM had been integrated into the organization; and partnerships with extra governmental entities were formed. However, much had to be done that could not possibly be accomplished in the scope of one year. Now that the various pieces were in place, the need to coordinate more effectively between them remained. And while technology continued to be developed by the new organization, long-range plans for basic research had to be formulated. Finally, ARL had to adjust to the ever-changing demands of the modern battlefield. All of these goals and more would be addressed in the years to come.