UT's Laboratories obtains historic research contract from Navy

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UT’s Applied Research Laboratories acquired the largest research contract in the University’s history, with potential funding of about $1 billion over 10 years, from the U.S. Navy on Thursday.

The contract will fund numerous product developments for the Navy, including improved GPS technology, high-resolution and hand-held sonar devices, sonar devices for submarines and other ship vessels, and seafloor and environment detection instruments. These projects will build upon current technology to help the navy navigate the sea intelligently and with awareness of potential threats.

“Under this new agreement, UT scientists and engineers will expand their vital role developing research that advances science and promotes national security,” UT President Gregory Fenves said in the press release. “This contract demonstrates the massive impact UT research has on the world through the breadth and depth of our programs in engineering, technology, high-performance computing and applied science.”

The Naval Sea Systems Command awarded the Applied Research Laboratories about $450 million to complete navy and national security research by September 2022, according to a Department of Defense press release Wednesday. The contract for underwater acoustics, navigation, command and control and warfare systems development also includes options for UT to expand the award to about $1 billion, according to the Department of Defense.

Other projects include using technology to recognize cybersecurity threats, studying advanced laser technology for airplanes and better securing sensitive documents. The research projects will take place at UT’s secure J.J Pickle Campus in North Austin, according to the Department of Defense.

Clark Penrod, Applied Research Laboratories executive director for the past 18 years, said the new contract will support more Navy-related projects, but UT’s Applied Research Laboratories has worked closely with the Department of Defense in the past.

“Many operational systems and capabilities developed and prototyped at our laboratories have made a difference in protecting the nation and improving lives,” Clark said in the press release. “I am also proud of our role helping the Department of Defense make well-founded decisions about adopting new technologies.”

The Applied Research Laboratories, established in 1945, helped develop some of the first sonar equipment and GPS technologies that aided the U.S. Navy and other divisions of the Department of Defense. Applied Research Laboratories’ funding for the past 10 years consisted of about $887 million, primarily from federally funded research, according to the University press release.

Currently, Applied Research Laboratories employs about 400 scientists and engineers, nearly 750 staffers and 100 students year-round. More than 4,000 students have worked at Applied Research Laboratories. With its work in science and engineering, Applied Research Laboratories takes pride in having been one of the “first high-tech employers in Austin,” according to the press release.

Gov. Greg Abbott lauded UT’s research work and thanked the Department of Defense for its investment in the University’s press release.

“The research performed and advancements made at The University of Texas at Austin are unparalleled,” Abbott said in the press release. “I am proud of the work that is already underway at Applied Research Laboratories at UT, and I am looking forward to their continued contributions to our national security.”