U.S. Army four-star Gen. John M. "Mike" Murray and three other members of the Austin-based Army Futures Command began their two-day tour of Texas A&M University System sites in College Station and Bryan on Thursday.
The Army announced on July 13 its selection of Austin as the location for the Army Futures Command center, a move Army Secretary Mark Esper called the "most significant reorganization effort since 1973." Officials from the Army and Texas A&M said the visit to the Brazos Valley is one part of an ongoing process to discover how the university system's resources, faculty and research can assist the Army in its mission to modernize and make innovative technological advancements.
"Army Futures Command is focused on one simple thing," Murray said midday Thursday at a news conference inside the Doug Pitcock '49 Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center. "And that's making sure our soldiers, and our future soldiers, have the equipment they need, the tactics they need and the operational schemes they need to win on future battlefields.
"We're in search of ideas and different ways of thinking about problems that we face. We fundamentally understand that we're all a product of our environment, and left to our own devices, we'll continue to think about problems in the way we've always thought about problems."
Col. Patrick Seiber, communications director for Army Futures Command, said about 80 people currently work out of the center's headquarters in a University of Texas System building in Austin, and that 300 people or more would work there by next summer. Army Futures Command will employ about 17,000 people, many of them civilians, across the country, according to Seiber.
Texas A&M officials, including Stephen Cambone, director of the Texas A&M System Institute for National and Cyber Security Research, were in the room for a June 8 presentation to the Army during the bid process. Cambone said A&M's College of Engineering, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and the College of Architecture would be among several A&M system entities that will work alongside the Army as Futures Command develops. He also said faculty at Prairie View A&M and other A&M System campuses throughout the state would work with the Army as well.
"We will spend some time today talking about hypersonics. We'll spend a little time on Future Vertical Lift. We'll talk some about unmanned vehicle systems and about environmental testing," Cambone said in response to a question about agenda items for the Army officials' visit.
M. Katherine Banks, dean of the A&M College of Engineering, said "we have a packed two days for the general" that would also include testing of facilities and a visit to the RELLIS Campus.
Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said in his remarks Thursday that Murray would find in Texas A&M an extraordinarily military-friendly campus -- and community.
"This is a place where we honor those who serve," Sharp said. He also praised A&M's student body, as well as the university system's research capacities and achievements.
Murray said that the creation of Futures Command came as a response to what he called outdated technological and strategic capacity.
"We found ourselves at a point in time where potential adversaries were outpacing us in terms of modernization and capabilities," Murray said. "Not only from an equipment standpoint but from a doctrinal standpoint and a 'how you fight' standpoint."
Murray added that keeping pace with "near-peer" nations was also a consideration in the formation of Futures Command. He said Army Chief of Staff Mark A. Milley began the Futures Command process three years ago.
Murray said that Army officials began with a list of 150 cities, then narrowed down the candidates to five cities before choosing Austin over Boston, Minneapolis, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Philadelphia.
"Austin was picked because of the talent that's in Texas and that's represented here today by Texas A&M," he said.
"I've said many times that although we're based in Austin, we're on a countrywide search for the best talent we can find," Murray added. "We're out looking for innovative thought, innovative ideas, innovative talent and technologies, whether that's at UT, whether that's at Stanford, or whether that's at Texas A&M."
In July, Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said the Army used six factors to choose a site: proximity to science, technology, engineering and math workers and industries; proximity to private sector innovation; academic STEM and research and development investment; quality of life; price tag; and civic support of the military and the project.
"I laid out the six variables. Austin scored the highest," McCarthy said this summer.