The George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex:
a $200 million, highly instrumented testing complex where the Army’s partners and others can directly pilot technologies to soldiers.
The Texas A&M University System is building a testing and innovation complex like no other in America, a place that will serve the U.S. military in its race to gain technological edge over adversaries.
The complex will be a prime high-tech prototyping center for the U.S. Army, a hub for collaborative research, testing, evaluation and development of new hardware, components and systems.
It will evaluate the best innovation efforts from U.S. universities, including Texas A&M University, as well as those coming from tech entrepreneurs, private defense contractors and the military’s own research labs.
The complex is being built to support the military’s desire to quicken its procurement process dramatically, accelerating it to something closer to tech advances in the private sector.
Gen. John “Mike” Murray, commanding general, U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC), enlisted Texas A&M to help with the Army’s goals. AFC was formed in 2017 to accelerate modernization.
“This effort will prove vital,” Murray said, “as we work together to discover, develop and test ideas and concepts that will help our soldiers, and our future soldiers, protect America.”
Some universities talk about, ‘Here’s what we are going to do for you.’ At Texas A&M, we ask ‘What do you want us to do for you?’”
– Chancellor John Sharp, The Texas A&M University System
The complex will feature a one-of-a kind, kilometer-long hypersonic facility to help determine the best design and materials for the world’s fastest vehicles. Additionally, it will have laboratories, runways, underground and open-air ranges, and a resilient network of sensors and systems for experimentation, data collection, analysis and storage.
In short, the complex will have a remarkable array of tools to evaluate the next generation of technology for weapons, unmanned air and ground vehicles, cybersecurity systems and other equipment vital to the 21st century battlefield.
This one-of-kind physical ecosystem will be called the George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex (BCDC), named for the 41st president whose lifetime of public service began with enlisting as a Navy pilot during WWII.
President Bush, who died in 2018, is buried on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station, on the grounds of his presidential library and the Bush School of Government and Public Service.
The BCDC will be 10 miles away at the Texas A&M System’s RELLIS Campus in Bryan. The complex is being built with an initial $135 million investment from the state of Texas, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and the Texas A&M University System.
The complex is being designed in consultation with experts from AFC, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory, other military branches, NASA and other federal agencies. Together, they will ensure that the BCDC meets the nation’s most pressing needs in the area of prototype testing and evaluation.
“Some universities talk about, ‘Here’s what we are going to do for you,’” said John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System. “At Texas A&M, we ask, ‘What do you want us to do for you?’”
In 2018, AFC placed its headquarters in Austin, Texas, a location selected for the city’s high-tech, entrepreneurial culture and proximity to Fort Hood, The University of Texas System and the Texas A&M System.
AFC will have a dozen or more people working in offices at the BCDC.
Combat veterans from Fort Hood will visit the complex regularly and help with testing and evaluation to ensure that prototypes pass the soldiers’ real-world “smell test.” Students from Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets also will help with testing.
Private companies interested in working with AFC are expected to locate around the complex.
To work in tandem with the unique physical facilities and computer systems, the Army is enlisting Texas A&M to develop a new process for managing research that could quicken the pace of high-tech advances. It’s called “Agile Technology Development,” and it applies some software development principles to military procurement.
The aim is to speed up the period from basic discovery to viable product or capability through a so-called “iterative” process. That’s a process of testing, feedback and refinement – followed by more testing, more feedback and more refinement. The idea is to sprint toward success or failure, not toil for years in costly research uncertainty.
Engineers and scientists at Texas A&M and affiliated state agencies will use the Agile process to accelerate research in several fields, areas in which the university is already among the nation’s cutting-edge leaders.
The research areas include hypersonic vehicles, lasers, materials for withstanding extreme-velocity impacts; maneuvering of air and ground vehicles; and resilient computer networks for warriors to share up-to-the moment battlefield information.
Texas A&M will analyze the success of the Agile process and make recommendations to the Army on its potential value to industry, academia and other federal agencies.
AFC will invest up to $65 million over five years with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) in support of the testing complex and Texas A&M ’s research.
Dr. James Wall is the executive director of the Texas A&M Center for Applied Technology on the RELLIS Campus. He is drawing on his background, which includes 22 years in the Army, to help develop the cutting-edge infrastructure of the BCDC.
Wall emphasized the importance of keeping the complex’s system for evaluating innovations separate from Texas A&M’s own research.