Air Force Research Laboratory [AFRL]


AFRL – Air Force Research Lab

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is a renowned scientific research center. Run by the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), it manages the U.S. Air Force (USAF) science and technology research budget. In this capacity, the AFRL implements the USAF science and technology program.

Following its establishment in 1997, the AFRL has carried out numerous projects. Many of them involved joint research with agencies like NASA and DARPA, as well as other research centers. For instance, the AFRL has worked on the Tactical Satellite Program with the Naval Research Laboratory.

Despite being a fairly young research center, the AFRL certainly makes an impression of a distinguished research organization. Let us discover more about how it came to be a success. And find out more about what helps the AFRL fulfill the objectives that the center considers to be its mission.

The AFRL History: How the AFRL Appeared

By the end of the Cold War, the budget and the personnel of the U.S. Armed Forces had become excessive. This brought about the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act which obliged the Department of Defense to streamline its resources.

As a result, the USAF merged more than 13 research centers that it managed into 4 research laboratories:

  • Phillips Laboratory.
  • Wright Laboratory.
  • Rome Laboratory.
  • Armstrong Laboratory.

Soon, the Air Force Materiel Command was established, taking over the operation of the 4 new research centers.

The consolidation measures, however, proved to be insufficient. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 called for further budget and personnel reductions. And in 1997, the USAF merged its recently established laboratories with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Thus, the USAF established the Air Force Research Laboratory, tasking its young research center with a brand new consolidated mission. Today, the AFRL leads the discovery, development, and integration of the U.S. warfighting capabilities in the air, space, and cyberspace.

In the attainment of its mission, the AFRL relies on its structure. Namely, it employs Technology Directorates, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the 711th Human Performance Wing. With the AFRL Headquarters managing them all.

Technology Directorates: The Core of the AFRL

Through its technology directorates, the AFRL reaches most of its key science and technology research objectives. Each of the AFRL technology directorates focuses on its own specific area of research. As a result of their mutual effort, the AFRL can accomplish key parts of its mission.

The AFRL includes the following technology directorates:

  • Aerospace Systems Directorate Based at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, this directorate aims to provide the USAF with dominant military aerospace vehicles. As such, it develops and transitions superior aerospace technology solutions, from hypersonic vehicles to advanced fuels.
  • Directed Energy Directorate This directorate focuses on laser systems, directed energy and electro-optics, weapons modeling and simulation, and high power electromagnetics. Devising these solutions at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico, it ensures the USAF superiority in space.
  • Information Directorate Headquartered at Rome, N.Y., this directorate develops information technologies for aerospace command and control. It also works on their transition to air, space, and ground systems. As such, it helps the USAF to meet the demands of the information age.
  • Materials and Manufacturing Directorate The directorate develops new materials, processes, and manufacturing technologies for aerospace applications. Out of Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, it devises components for aircraft, missiles, and other systems the USAF uses.
  • Munitions Directorate At Eglin AFB in Florida, this AFRL directorate works on development and transition of science and technology for air-launched munitions. Devising them for ground, air, and space targets, both fixed and mobile, it furthers the USAF air and space superiority.
  • Sensors Directorate This directorate at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio discovers, develops, and integrates various sensor and countermeasure solutions. Its work gives the USAF air and space reconnaissance, precision engagement, surveillance, and electronic warfare capabilities.
  • Space Vehicles Directorate Working out of Kirtland AFB in New Mexico, the directorate develops and transitions space technology for warfighter missions. As such, it focuses on devising solutions for space-based surveillance and space capability protection.

AFSOR: Air Force Office of Scientific Research

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFSOR) performs a number of functions for the AFRL:

  • Funds strategic research into aerospace-related engineering and science.
  • Maintains global exchange program for engineers and scientists.
  • Forges meaningful alliances with the U.S. industries, academia, and government agencies.

In its essence, the AFSOR serves as a research manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The 711th: The 711th Human Performance Wing

Headquartered at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, the 711th Human Performance Wing includes:

  • The Human Effectiveness Directorate.
  • The U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.
  • The Human Performance Integration Directorate.

Thanks to its structure, the 711th Human Performance Wing consolidates research, education, and consulting in the areas of:

  • Aerospace medicine.
  • Science and technology.
  • Human systems integration.

As such, the 711th is the first human-centric warfare wing to merge these areas.

AFRL Headquarters: The Management of the AFRL

Besides housing the central staff, the AFRL Headquarters performs various other functions essential to the AFRL:

  • Setting objectives for technical directorates, the AFSOR, and the 711th Wing.
  • Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution.
  • Strategic Communication and Public Relations.
  • Business Outreach.
  • Contracting.
  • Technology Transition.
  • Handling high-priority requests from various USAF commands.
  • Operating the Major Shared Resource Center at Wright-Patterson AFB.

Essentially, the AFRL Headquarters performs command and control functions for the AFRL.

Interesting Facts about the Air Force Research Laboratory

The budget of the AFRL in 2014 amounted to as much as $4.4 billion. This accounts for almost twice more than what the AFRL had at its disposal in 2006.

The AFRL has contributed to the design of the C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft and the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The AFRL’s work is also noticeable in the cutting-edge F-22 Raptor tactical fighter aircraft and F-35 Lightning multirole combat aircraft.

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