The Pentagon has chosen Howard University to lead a university-affiliated research center, its first partnership with a historically Black college or university, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced this week.
"To sharpen America's technological edge and to strengthen America's outstanding military, the department is committed to investing even more in HBCUs and minority-serving institutions," Austin, the first Black secretary of defense, said Monday.
Howard will receive $12 million per year for five years in funding, according to a news release. This is the first university partnership primarily sponsored by the Air Force, and this is the first time the department accepted submissions from universities to become an affiliated research center, according to Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick.
The new consortium will focus on tactical autonomy, an Air Force program that aims to develop technologies that require minimal human supervision, according to the branch's website. The center looks to take advantage of Howard's science, technology, engineering and math programs.
Austin described the technology as "central to US security in our changing world" and said the military needs the creativity and ideas of students in these programs to continue advancing the advantages American soldiers have on the battlefield.
"Responsibly used autonomous systems make our military faster, smarter, and stronger," he added. "Howard's new research center will protect our most precious asset—and that most precious asset is our men and women in uniform."
The university will also focus on diversifying the pool of scientists and engineers that work with the Defense Department, according to the news release, and it will lead eight other HBCUs, including Hampton and Tuskegee universities, in the research effort.
Frederick told CNN that this is "an enormous opportunity" for faculty and students to "work on cutting edge research in a technology space that is ever evolving."
"It's going to put us in a unique space to develop techniques and capabilities and skillsets that we otherwise wouldn't," Frederick said, adding that this partnership will allow the university to expand to other areas of research in the future.
The program "really emphasizes that for the country to be successful and for the country to compete, to continue to be competitive in terms of research, etc., that you have to diversify what that work force looks like in the arena of research," Frederick said.
The Pentagon currently has partnerships with 14 other universities across the country, including Georgia Institute of Technology, University of South California and the University of Maryland.
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