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USACE leaders look to address national challenges at Operational R&D Workshop

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Joe Savage
Joe Savage, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, discusses how the division’s Implementation Plan (IPLAN) informs Operational R&D at the inaugural USACE Operational R&D Workshop held April 5-7, 2022, at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) hosted the inaugural U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Operational Research and Development (R&D) workshop at its Vicksburg, Mississippi, headquarters April 5-7.

The event brought together researchers, engineers and scientists from the ERDC, USACE Headquarters and USACE major subordinate commands (MSC) and centers. The goal of the workshop was to begin the development of an R&D strategy to address unknowns that affect USACE’s readiness to build and operate projects that will overcome problems, both today and into the future.

Dr. David Pittman

Dr. David Pittman, director of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) and chief scientist and director of research and development for USACE, provides remarks April 5, 2022, to open the inaugural U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Operational R&D Workshop at ERDC in Vicksburg, Miss. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)

“At the end of the Operational R&D Workshop, I wanted us to have made enough headway so, with continued and subsequent MSC-ERDC coordination, a set of recommendations for USACE-wide Operational R&D can be presented along with specific plans that answer the three questions workshop participants worked with,” said Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, USACE Commanding General and 55th Chief of Engineers for USACE.

According to Dr. David Pittman, director of the ERDC and chief scientist and director of research and development for USACE, operational R&D is “project-funded efforts that operationalize R&D to buy down project risk and create better project or regional solutions.”

“For three days, senior leaders from across USACE converged on the ERDC-Vicksburg campus for the inaugural workshop,” Pittman continued. “It was an intense time of innovative thinking and collaboration as the group worked through ways operational R&D can be fully embedded into eight national challenges facing USACE.”

This approach puts R&D into practice, to achieve better outcomes than could otherwise be possible, leveraging new technologies, materials, methods, models and expertise.

“Ultimately, our mission is to help solve our Nation’s most challenging problems, and the dialogue and engagement during the workshop helped us do exactly that,” said Dr. Andrew Nelson, director of ERDC’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory. “The ability to bring together USACE leadership, field operators, ERDC experts and our legal teams gave us a great diversity of perspectives. It challenged our thinking and helped us consider all sides of these issues at once.”

The workshop used a “learn by doing” approach where participants worked together on key challenges facing USACE. Using several case studies, workshop facilitators wanted the researchers, engineers and scientists to answer three questions: What operational R&D do we want to do? How can we get it done, and what help do we need to make it happen?

Participants of the inaugural U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Operational R&D Workshop

Participants of the inaugural U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Operational R&D Workshop, held April 5-7, 2022, at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., discuss key challenges facing USACE today. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)

“USACE is challenged to address some of our nation’s most complex problems. These are outlined in our USACE R&D strategy. The workshop was a great opportunity for me, along with other senior leaders from across USACE, to collaborate and create a plan for USACE Operational R&D,” said ERDC’s Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory Director Bartley Durst.

“At its conclusion, Lt. Gen. Spellmon told me that he thought the Operational R&D Workshop was a home run, and exactly what he wanted to achieve,” Pittman said. “I am extremely proud of all the ERDC personnel who helped makes this workshop a success.”

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