Community engagement enriches partnerships, idea generation at AFC

By Maureena Thompson, Army Futures CommandApril 20, 2022

Representatives from the Army, academia and private industry participated in South by Southwest.
Representatives from the Army, academia and private industry participated in a panel discussion during the 2022 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Back row, left to right: University of Texas (UT) PhD students Travette Webster and Dana Tottenham. Front row, left to right: Margaret Garry, UT PhD student; Dr. Molly Beth Malcolm, Executive Vice Chancellor of Operations and Public Affairs, Austin Community College District; Kristin Moore, UT PhD student; Hannah Hunt, Chief Product Officer, Army Software Factory; Josh Marcuse, Head of Federal Strategy, Google; Abdul Subhani, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army; Dr. Richard Rhodes, Chancellor, Austin Community College District; Araceli Lopez, UT PhD student; and Ismael Amaya, UT PhD student. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Austin Thomas, Army Futures Command) VIEW ORIGINAL

AUSTIN, Texas – Strategic collaborations with external partners are integral to Army modernization efforts, and the U.S. Army Futures Command conducts community engagement activities around the country to ensure diverse and promising ideas are continually informing and strengthening force innovation.

With centers, teams and subordinate commands located across the country, AFC has the unique opportunity to interact with multiple thriving technology and business hubs, drawing on a number of regional perspectives to shape future plans and concepts.

Engagement initiatives range from meeting regularly with local technology councils to holding targeted information exchanges with non-traditional businesses — all with an eye toward gleaning new and creative ways to conceptualize and approach modernization.

“Our many partnerships feed and fine-tune the engine that is modernization,” said Lt. Gen. James M. Richardson, Acting Commanding General of Army Futures Command.

“Community outreach efforts help us build and grow these partnerships, as well as tap into the great innovation of entrepreneurs, small businesses and community groups,” Richardson continued.

While the command’s engagement efforts are numerous, select examples help illustrate the reach and range of AFC’s community-focused activities.

At the Army Artificial Intelligence Integration Center, or AI2C, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for instance, Army AI innovators engage and collaborate with local organizations such as the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Pittsburgh Robotics Network to better understand emerging AI trends and capabilities, as well as to encourage companies to submit ideas for AI and robotics solutions to Army problems.

“The reason the Army chose to come here is because of depth of the ecosystem,” explained Michael Ertmer, Strategic Planning and Engagements Lead at AI2C, of the center’s Pittsburgh location. AI2C is housed strategically at Carnegie Mellon University, which is home to the Robotics Institute, the world’s largest robotics research and development organization.

In New Jersey, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center, shortened as DEVCOM AC, participates often in events hosted by the Research and Development Council of New Jersey, which encourages local industry, academia and government actors to enhance STEM education and investment in the local economy, including in research, development and manufacturing initiatives.

In North Carolina, the Army Research Office, which falls under DEVCOM’s Army Research Laboratory, interacts with state and regional defense groups, including the North Carolina Defense Technology Transition Office and the North Carolina Small Business Technology Development Center, to facilitate awareness of avenues for participating in Army science, technology and modernization activities. The office recently supported a North Carolina Defense Innovation Task Force, convened by the Board of Science, Technology and Innovation at the North Carolina Department of Commerce, to identify ways of increasing Department of Defense funding for small businesses in the state.

AFC also coordinates with other Army stakeholders to host engagements in cities that may not be located near a command facility. For example, AFC’s Network Cross-Functional Team has partnered with the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical to host a series of Army technical exchange meetings around the country. The meetings provide a specialized venue for Army personnel and small businesses to discuss Army network priorities and industry advancements, and for the Army to identify industry prototypes that align with capability gaps. A December 2021 network exchange took place in Nashville, Tennessee, and an exchange on data-centric operations is set to occur in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 9–10. The network exchange series, which launched in 2018, has prompted roughly 200 small businesses to register on the Joint Communications Marketplace, which provides white paper information and serves as a portal for businesses to submit capabilities for demonstration and experimentation.

Beyond targeted community engagement events, AFC participates in a number of interactive conferences and summits throughout the year that serve to foster and enrich modernization partnerships. Recent events include South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the WCX World Congress Experience in Detroit, Michigan. The command also engages with academia regularly, supporting events such as the Advanced Technology Summit to encourage the work of trailblazing researchers and engineers.

Additional events organized by AFC, such as the VERTEX | Energy symposium on April 19–21, provide platforms for meaningful problem-solving around core Army modernization challenges, while centers such as the Army Software Factory and Army Applications Laboratory and offices such as the Office of Small Business Programs serve as focal points for tech and industry engagement.

“External partners provide valuable insights, suggestions and solutions that fortify our Army and in turn protect the future of the nation,” Richardson said.

“They are an important part of the broader Army team, and we look forward to the new partnerships this year and the coming years will bring.”