The U.S. Air Force (USAF) and the Department of Defense (DoD) are planning to create a university affiliated research center (UARC) – which will be DoD’s 15th UARC effort but its first associated with an historically Black college or university (HBCU), and also the first UARC for the U.S. Air Force.

DoD has not yet selected the HBCU for the newest UARC, but said the Air Force is preparing to “reach out to HBCUs with qualifying research programs and asking those schools to consider competing to be lead school for the new UARC. “

According to, DoD now has 14 UARCs around the country, each affiliated with a university that has “a set of core research competencies tailored to meet the long-term needs of the Defense Department.”

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UARCs are strategic research programs for DoD that are associated with a university, established to ensure essential engineering and technology capabilities of particular importance to DoD, and designed to provide critical mass in research areas meeting DoD future needs and anticipated combat requirements.

According to DoD, the planned UARC will focus its research on “tactical autonomy,” which is defined by the Air Force Research Laboratory as involving “autonomous systems acting with delegated and bounded authority of humans in support of tactical, short-term actions associated with a longer-term strategic vision.”

“This is an opportunity to tap into universities that have an enormous amount of capability in science and technology,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall III said during a June 27 briefing at the Pentagon.

The Air Force has committed $12 million a year over the course of five years to fund the new UARC. Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said that her office and the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment will pitch in $2 million per year, as well.

“This nation must have a strong national STEM workforce, since the future of our national security is dependent on our ability to grow our STEM talent,” Shyu said.

“We’ll only accomplish this through the cultivation of a highly diverse workforce,” she said. “Diversity of background and a diversity of ideas has always been the strength of this country … We must tap into the HBCUs to grow a well-educated and well-trained workforce for the Department of Defense and this nation.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.