U.S. Air Force Looking to Partner With HBCU on ‘University Affiliated Research Center’

U.S. Air Force Looking to Partner With HBCU on ‘University Affiliated Research Center’

The United States Air Force is looking to partner with an HBCU school to lead its first “University Affiliated Research Center” (UARC) focused on tactical autonomy.

The research center will focus on tactical autonomy and artificial intelligence tools. The Department of Defense (DoD) currently has partnerships with HBCUs Morgan State University, Howard University, and the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C. However, none of the schools have a UARC.

Air Force leaders are now working to boost the research capacity of HBCU schools and programs and help them transition to an R1 school, which means it has “very high research activity,” the Air Force told Stars and Stripes.

“The [Department of the Air Force] has never historically had a UARC,” Marcus J. Smith, Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility officer, told Stars and Stripes.

“Additionally, there’s never been a UARC with an HBCU. We owe it to ourselves to continue to expand our aperture and look at opportunities to diversify the workforce, partnerships and the collaborative opportunities that we are going out and establishing.”

Juan Vasquez, the product development director at AFRL, added that the effort is about more than just setting aside money to give to HBCUs.

“This is about creating an opportunity, for expertise that we know exists, but they just haven’t had the same level of opportunity.”

Federal agencies have partnered with HBCU schools since the Biden administration entered the White House. That includes the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Department of Education (DoE).

“[They] are supporting research projects addressing the modernization priorities established by the DOD, to include 5G, artificial intelligence and machine learning, cyber assessments, and the chatbot testbed, which will explore the deployment of a multilingual solution that is usable for understanding problems in influence information operations and insider threats,” David A. Honey, the deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering said in a DoD release earlier this year.

“I’m very confident that additional partnerships like this will continue to be explored and established in the future.”

Stars and Stripes reported the agency is seeking proposals from HBCU schools through 8 a.m. EST on Nov. 7. Interested HBCU schools can apply online. Proposal questions must be submitted by Sept. 21.