The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents unanimously approved a plan Thursday afternoon to construct a $130 million testing hub and combat development complex for the U.S. Army’s Futures Command at the RELLIS Campus in Bryan.
The multipronged complex will include a $50 million facility equipped with laboratories and accelerator space and offices for the command, which is headquartered in Austin. It will also include an outdoor testing ground as A&M strives to assist the Futures Command in its charge to help the Army modernize through research, weapons and technological innovations and other creative methods.
Elaine Mendoza, chair of the board of regents, praised the move during the Thursday meeting.
“The fact that the Army Futures Command chose RELLIS Campus for its national testing site underscores how a great research university contributes to our state and nation,” Mendoza said. “Today will truly be a landmark in the history of A&M and, certainly, of the RELLIS Campus.”
Kathy Banks, Texas A&M’s dean of engineering and the vice chancellor of engineering and national laboratories, described the forthcoming complex, which is scheduled to be completed by June 2021, as “a full complement of facilities, equipment and instrumentation unmatched anywhere.”
A groundbreaking ceremony will take place at RELLIS this fall.
Banks said that the A&M System has allocated about $80 million to construct the Research Innovation Center, “where researchers, students, industry, government and the military can collaborate to create emerging technologies that will modernize the Army.”
Banks said Thursday after the meeting that A&M has begun the process of hiring about 25 research engineers and then will hire another 30 support personnel in the coming months to work alongside the Army. Banks added that the Army would be sending about five people to the Brazos Valley to work at the facility.
She added that A&M undergraduate and graduate students within engineering and beyond will have opportunities to work alongside the Army in innovative capacities.
“We anticipate hiring undergraduate student researchers as well as graduate students,” Banks said. “In addition, we anticipate bringing in engineering students, and other students — particularly those in the Corps [of Cadets] — to do some testing as well.”
In May, the Futures Command hosted a series of demonstrations of existing technology and equipment, including autonomous combat vehicles and other devices, at RELLIS.
In a presentation before the regents, Banks said A&M will focus on hypersonics research and plans to construct a Ballistic, Aero-optics and Materials facility, which will include an above-ground tunnel that will be 1 kilometer long, 2 meters in diameter and equipped with integrated sensors.
“We will have a unique test bed for next-generation vehicles at the RELLIS Campus, which will allow for the ideas generated through our research, and will also bring researchers from around the country here to test their ideas as well,” Banks said.
Banks said that some of the research done at A&M will focus on helping the military develop technology that will remain effective in a variety of terrains, climates and combat situations.
According to reporting from the Austin American-Statesman, Gen. John “Mike” Murray, commanding general for the Army Futures Command, announced in July that the command is fully operational, with 24,000 civilians and soldiers in 25 U.S. states and 15 countries.
System Chancellor John Sharp said that the A&M System considers assisting the military to be “the highest of honors and responsibility.”
“The Army Futures Command continues to bring us good news,” Sharp said during the meeting.
The RELLIS campus, created in 2016 is home to the A&M System’s engineering and transportation agencies and to an education complex served by Blinn College and Texas A&M System universities. Army Futures Command is also partnering with the University of Texas System and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.