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Howard University Awarded $90 Million Contract by Air Force, DOD to Establish First-Ever University Affiliated Research Center Led by an HBCU

Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III and Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall

WASHINGTON – Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA, hosted U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, and U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall to announce that Howard will serve as the 15th University Affiliated Research Center (UARC). With this announcement, Howard makes history as the first HBCU to lead a UARC and the first center to be funded by the Air Force. 

“Being awarded this contract is a historic and tremendous accomplishment for Howard University. No other UARCs are providing this type of research to the Department of Defense at present, and Howard researchers are uniquely positioned to serve as a leader in the nation’s innovation and application of automated systems,” said Frederick. “This center puts Howard University at the forefront of progressive science and technology efforts. While the primary goal of the center is conducting valuable research for the Air Force and Department of Defense, this center is also meant to help Howard and the consortium schools increase their research capacity. I have no doubt that this work will move us one step closer to our goal of reaching an R1 classification.” 

The center at Howard University will focus its research on tactical autonomy. The UARC will be established through a five-year, $90 million contract agreement with the Department of Defense. Through the center, Howard University will be awarded $18 million annually to conduct research that will contribute to the development of efficient, affordable, trustworthy human-machine teaming and systems-of-systems with autonomy and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities that fall within the U.S. Air Force, Space Force, and DOD’s modernization priorities. 

“Today as we work to build enduring advantages for our brave men and women in uniform, we must seek the latest innovations in science and in engineering. That means building more bridges to America’s outstanding STEM community,” said Austin. “Only a tiny fraction of our department’s research funding goes to HBCUs. As Secretary of Defense, I am determined to change that. To sharpen America’s technological edge and to strengthen America’s outstanding military, the department is committed to investing in even more HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. Today, we are taking that commitment to a new level.” 

This prestigious contract marks the University’s first foray into government contracting. The contract is foundational to Howard’s strategic plan moving forward. The tasks and investment associated with a UARC typically grow over time and will provide the school with financial stability not possible through grants or donations. The programmatic foundation for the UARC, however, has been in development at Howard for years. Currently, there are 15 doctoral students and two master’s level students researching autonomous systems and machine learning. With this contract, Howard becomes the national expert on tactical autonomy technology. 

“This is the one of the most prestigious research contracts that can be received by a research-focused institution of higher education.. The success we have had thus far was made possible by the relentless efforts of the team at Howard’s Office of Research. Success in the next five years of our work with the Department of Defense can lead to this UARC remaining at Howard in perpetuity and cementing the university’s status as one of the country’s premier research institutions,” said Bruce Jones, PhD, vice president for research at Howard University. 

Danda Rawat, Ph.D, Howard University engineering associate dean for research, professor and director of Howard’s Data Science and Cybersecurity Center, will serve as the executive director of the UARC and principal investigator on the contract. Along with the essential research being completed, the Howard University UARC will implement programming intended to spark curiosity in STEM education amongst K-12 students through in-school demonstrations and ease their path to a career in the fields of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, tactical autonomy, and machine learning. Undergraduate and graduate students will be encouraged to participate in UARC research. 

“This UARC will be critical in our efforts to continue to recruit, mentor and graduate students who are prepared for high-paying jobs in the future. For decades Howard has produced highly skilled, highly credentialed STEM professionals and the support of the Department of Defense and the Air Force will allow us to do at a higher level than ever before,” said Rawat. 

The establishment of the Howard UARC enables the university to create a pipeline for students from elementary to post-graduate education. A consortium of HBCUs, which Howard will lead, will be established as part of the UARC’s infrastructure. Students participating in UARC research will have the opportunity to have their education fully funded up to the PhD level at any one of the consortium schools. 

Howard University UARC Consortium Schools include: 

  • Jackson State University; 
  • Hampton University; 
  • Tuskegee University; 
  • Bowie State University; 
  • Delaware State University; 
  • Florida Memorial University; 
  • Norfolk State University; and 
  • Tougaloo College.



U.S. Department of Defense Awards $7.5M to Launch Howard University Center of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

About Howard University

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced two Schwarzman Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.