The Army Research Laboratory - Many minds, many capabilities - Single Focus on the Soldier

August 30, 2011

Story Highlights

  • ARL's scientists are looking forward five, 10 and even 20 years down the road.
  • ARL investigates almost every non-medical scientific field items a Soldier needs or may need.
  • Soldiers in the lab, scientists in the field.

U.S. Soldiers are undoubtedly the most trained and well-equipped fighting force in the world. And behind every weapon, piece of armor, and training that prepares and protects them in battle are teams of scientists and engineers who are solving complex problems and driving future capabilities.

As part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, the Army Research Laboratory is a key component of the Army science, technology and engineering enterprise that supports Soldiers, according to ARL Director John Miller.

"Our diverse assortment of unique facilities and dedicated workforce of government and private sector partners make up the largest source of state-of-the-art research and analysis in the Army," said Miller.

Focusing on the future while supporting the current warfighters, ARL's scientists are a diverse group who hold the key to technologies for Soldiers in five, 10 and even 20 years down the road.

Almost every non-medical scientific field is touched by ARL -- from advanced sensors to neuroscience to flexible electronics to weapons technologies to complex analysis. Basically everything a Soldier needs or may need in the future is investigated by ARL.

Although it has more than 2,000 employees, the majority of whom are highly-educated and skilled leaders in their fields, the lab combines in-house technical expertise with the intellectual powerhouse of academic and industry partners.

The research discoveries ARL produces either within its state-of-the-art laboratories or through its partners are used as the research basis for other Army research, development and engineering centers under RDECOM, said Miller.

"We act as the corporate laboratory, providing the underpinning of science, technology and analysis for the rest of the Army," said Miller.

Soldiers in the lab, scientists in the field

As basic and applied researchers working in lab environments, ARL scientists and engineers sometimes need an up-close understanding of what Soldiers need. About three dozen active-duty Soldiers are assigned to ARL and work with the scientists to serve as subject-matter-experts and help guide technologies to better fit them.

"They act as the interface between the field and the lab," said recently retired combat engineer and former ARL Sgt. Maj. Steve Hornbach, who now works as an operations specialist for the lab.

"They're extremely important and are able to provide the scientists and engineers the critical information on what Soldiers need," he added.

Soldiers, most with recent combat experience, also visit the scientists in the lab from outside units as part of an RDECOM program to bring fresh perspectives and information in from the field.

The scientists' work is mostly behind the scenes for Soldiers, said 1st Sgt. Kevin Spooner, 1/73 Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division during his unit's visit.

"Joe on the line doesn't realize there's a guy on a computer in an office trying to keep him alive and help kill the enemy," he added.

The average Soldier may also not know that ARL Soldiers and scientists volunteer to deploy to military posts in the United States, Iraq and Afghanistan as part of their research and with RDECOM Field Assistance Teams to track down any technology gaps and rapidly help fill them for warfighters.

ARL's Dr. Pam Savage-Knepshield, a human factors/ergonomics research psychologist, spends much of her time in the field talking to Soldiers and getting their feedback about new and old equipment. She recently returned from a six-month deployment on a FAST team in Iraq where she and her team members were responsible for finding solutions to their problems.

She said she saw field-expedient measures military members were employing on different equipment issues from lighting to seatbelt issues and immediately took measures to remedy the situation with state-side scientists and logistic support.

"The Soldiers were happy we were there and looking out for their mission needs and personal safety," said Savage-Knepshield. "It felt really good to be able to get solutions to Soldiers quickly and see them try them out while we were there."

While some at ARL are helping with the fight now, many more are focused on winning in the future. Delving into the high-risk, high-payoff world of basic and applied science is where ARL expects to make the most significant impact to the Army and the world in general, said Miller.

"ARL has and will continue to be a major force in developing game-changing technologies that could revolutionize the way the Army fights," said Miller.


Last Update / Reviewed: August 30, 2011