Howard University lands multi-year research contract with Air Force

Howard University will partner with the Air Force as the first HBCU to host a University Affiliated Research Center.

Howard University will partner with the Air Force to pioneer the first-ever University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Howard will get $12 million a year for five years to fund research, faculty and staff. Department of Defense has 14 existing UARC partners, and the new one will also be the first for the Air Force.

The new center will be focused on tactical autonomy technology for military systems. Tactical autonomy incorporates artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop technologies including unmanned systems, improving cyber defense, and enhancing multi-domain situational awareness.

Howard will lead a consortium of eight other HBCUs in developing engineering and research and development capabilities for the center. In order to be chosen, the schools had to have a Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education rating of R1 or R2, meaning they have “high” or “very high” research activity.

“Right now, Howard has the Carnegie Foundation research classification of two which is for high research activity. We’re in pursuit of an R1 classification, which signifies very high research activity. And we anticipate that this center can move us one step closer to that very lofty goal,” said Howard University President Wayne Frederick at a press conference on Jan. 23.

The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act included a mandate to increase defense-related research and development partnerships with HBCUs.

“I am proud this bipartisan legislation will become law and help our HBCUs continue this important work, reach R1 status, and strengthen our national defense research network,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, (R-NC) in a press release last December.

Howard and the other consortium partners will work toward establishing or maintaining the essential engineering, research or development capability in the field of tactical autonomy in support of Air Force and DoD missions, while also increasing diversity among scientists and engineers working in Air Force programs.

“While the primary goal of the center is conducting valuable research for the Air Force and Department of Defense, this center is also meant to help our consortium schools increase their own research capacity,” said Frederick.

Each of the UARCs partner with a specific DoD department and focus on a different area of research. The centers are responsible for providing dedicated facilities and sharing space with Defense Department officials and industrial participants to conduct basic, applied and technology demonstration research. It’s an area where the Pentagon would like to see more diversity.

“HBCUs graduate 30% of African American science, technology, engineering and math professionals and more than a third of African American STEM PhD holders have earned their undergraduate degrees from an HBCU. Prior to today at least, HBCUs received less than 0.5% of DoD research funding. Clearly DoD had historically not done enough to connect with such an incredible depth of talent, expertise and potential,” said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.


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