Mission Relevance Enhances Army Research Impact
In his July 2008
Back Page article, Leo Kadanoff makes a compelling case regarding the decline in the nation’s basic research capacity, and he recommends a corrective response that emphasizes education as well as enhanced research support. He argues this decline has cut across both the private and public sectors, and cites as an example of the decline of government support the 50th Anniversary Symposium of the Army Research Office (ARO), held in June 2001, from which Kadanoff understood that ARO would no longer support basic research. As the Director of ARO, I can state categorically that is not the case.
Throughout its 57-year history ARO has consistently championed basic research, producing many scientific advances that profoundly impacted technical innovations for the Army in particular, and the nation in general. If anything, ARO is now even more vigilant than ever in maintaining its focus on highly innovative basic research, to a large extent for the reasons stated by Kadanoff–there has been a significant erosion of the overall national support of long-term, high-risk basic research–so ARO’s contribution to this national imperative is even more critical.
ARO’s mission has always been to identify, create, fund, and manage fundamental basic research programs that lead to key technological advances needed to make our soldiers safer and more effective. ARO receives very strong support in this mission from all levels within the Army and DoD, ranging from its parent organization, the Army Research Laboratory, to the highest levels within the Pentagon. In fact, thanks to recent efforts by DoD Secretary Gates and his Office of Defense Research and Engineering, and with the support of the Army and other services, the President has submitted a budget to Congress that includes a very significant increase in the DoD basic research funding for FY09. It is also worth noting that the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology is supporting a large number of STEM education initiatives to help educate the future high-tech workforce for the Army and the nation at large.
ARO’s purview includes essentially all of the physical, engineering, life, and computer science disciplines. It should be understood that ARO doesn’t support all sub-disciplines within a given discipline because of our Army mission. For example, ARO doesn’t currently fund any projects in elementary particle physics because the probable Army impact is low compared to other possible investments. This focus on mission relevant research does not mean the ARO programs are not truly basic in nature. For example, ARO Physics programs currently include research on quantum information science, meta-materials and transformation optics, ultra-cold quantum degenerate gases, the physics of strongly correlated matter, novel quantum phases and quantum phase transitions, and behavior at interfaces. Another indication of ARO’s ongoing commitment to basic research is that, so far this decade, nine individuals have won Nobel Prizes involving research ARO supported prior to their getting the awards.
Scientific advances produced by ARO-funded research, often supported in concert with other agencies, will result in revolutionary advances in Army capabilities ranging from fundamentally new types of sensors, to ultra-secure communications, to very light-weight, strong and multifunctional materials. The impact on civilian technology is also very significant. Although ARO’s investments in basic research programs are constrained by Army mission relevance, it is precisely this relevance that accounts for these programs’ extraordinary impact on the nation's economy and our quality of life. David Skatrud Research Triangle Park, NC