WASHINGTON -- As the Army's youngest command, Army Futures Command has already developed strategic partnerships with hundreds of colleges and universities over the past year.

"We're leveraging the strength of academics and intellectual freedom to position Army modernization in a way to win the fight before an actual fight," said Gen. Mike Murray, its commander.

COMBAT DEVELOPMENT COMPLEX

In one of its partnerships with Texas A&M University, a new $130 million complex broke ground this week to serve as a research hub for the command, as it looks to accelerate modernization programs through research and technology development.

The complex is named the Bush Combat Development Complex in honor of former President George H.W. Bush.

"[Academia] partnerships should be a two-way road," Murray said during a panel discussion Wednesday at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition. "If we invest our resources into a university, we should get something back in return.

"By testing emerging technology in an operationally relevant environment," he added, "and with Soldiers providing feedback, we can evaluate it early to ensure we're getting exactly what our troops need in the field."

The center will focus on research programs such as robotics, assured positioning and navigation and timing, and hypersonic, and direct energy systems. In addition, it will coordinate research on those topics with other universities.

By fiscal year 2023, the Army plans to field a long-range hypersonic weapon, said Robert Strider, deputy director of Army hypersonic programs.

Hypersonic weapons are designed for accuracy, speed and survivability and can reach speeds of Mach 5, or roughly 3,800 mph, and be anywhere in the world within minutes.

Exactly when these capabilities will be researched at the new facility, which is set to open in June 2021, was not discussed.

"The Combat Development Complex will bring together diverse partners from businesses, academia, and most importantly, our Soldiers," Murray said.

The Army is not the only one investing, but also the universities it is partnered with, Murray said, adding a lot more universities have skills that could be used by the command.

When the Texas-based command officially stood up last year, it originally had only a dozen people at its headquarters. Today, more than a year later, they are fully operational with more than 24,000 Soldiers and civilians in 25 states, 15 countries, and currently manned at 75% strength.

In Austin, the location of its headquarters, the command also partners with the University of Texas-Austin. The university is helping research robotics and assured positioning, navigation and timing technology to develop modernized location tools for Soldiers on the battlefield.

Facilities, such as UT Austin, can aid in developing automated technology that will save Soldiers' lives in some of the most dangerous situation they could be in future battlefields.

It's not just developing technology, it's also hiring some of the best and brightest scientists and engineers, he said. By working shoulder-to-shoulder with systems developers on academic campuses across the country, the Army hopes to retain their skills in the years to come.

According to Murray, forging relationships with universities like these are part of a "strategic partnership."