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The U.S. Army Futures Command will use the RELLIS Campus as its central hub where the newest and most innovative ideas for modernizing the Army are tested and evaluated. | Image: Texas A&M System

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents on Thursday authorized the construction of a $130 million Combat Development Complex at the Texas A&M System’s RELLIS Campus in Bryan.

The complex will include a one-of-a-kind, kilometer-long tunnel that will make Texas A&M Engineering “the hypersonics research capital of the country,” said M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of engineering.

At the RELLIS Campus, Gen. John “Mike” Murray, commanding general for the U.S. Army Futures Command, said the Army Futures Command would develop, test and evaluate next-generation technologies from the private sector and universities around the country.

The Texas A&M System will build a $50 million facility with laboratories, accelerator space and offices for the Army Futures Command on the RELLIS Campus, plus invest another $30 million in infrastructure improvements to support the new facility.

The Texas Legislature also appropriated $50 million to establish an innovative proving ground, which the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station will implement as an outdoor testing area at RELLIS for designing, analyzing and validating new technologies in challenging environments. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen championed the $50 million to be included in the state appropriations bill for the proving ground.

“This innovative new complex strengthens Texas’ partnership with the United States military and further establishes our state as a hub for emerging technology,” said Gov. Abbott. “I am proud to have worked with the lieutenant governor, the speaker and the legislature to secure funding to move this project forward. The state of Texas will continue to work with the Texas A&M System and the Army Futures Command to modernize our defense and keep our armed forces at the forefront of technological advancement.”

The Army Futures Command, headquartered in Austin, is drawing on research from universities around the country and the private sector to modernize the U.S. Army, but the new facility at RELLIS will be the central hub where the newest and most innovative ideas are tested and evaluated – often by soldiers from nearby Fort Hood or members of the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets.

This innovative new complex strengthens Texas’ partnership with the United States military and further establishes our state as a hub for emerging technology.

Gov. Greg Abbott

The aim is to shorten the time it takes to get emerging technologies from the lab to the field and maximize technology capabilities through soldier feedback. A team of Army and Texas A&M System researchers will quickly evaluate prototypes that can be tested by soldiers in a real-world environment using a vast array of sensors and instruments at RELLIS.

“We are humbled and grateful to the people of Texas, Texas elected leaders and the Texas A&M University System for the opportunity to further develop our strategic partnership through the establishment of the combat development complex on the RELLIS Campus,” said Gen. Murray. “This effort will certainly prove vital as we work together to discover, develop and test ideas and concepts that will help our soldiers, and our future soldiers, to protect America’s tomorrows — beginning today.”

Not only is the RELLIS Campus close enough to the Army Futures Command headquarters and Fort Hood for ideal oversight, it is also near Texas A&M’s world-class College of Engineering and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s Disaster City, the world’s largest search and rescue training facility that can double as a training site for urban warfare.

Although the combat development complex isn’t expected to be completed until June 2021, Banks said the hiring of additional engineers will begin immediately.

Three years ago, RELLIS didn’t even exist.

In May 2016, Chancellor John Sharp announced the creation of RELLIS – named for Texas A&M’s core values of Respect, Excellence, Leadership, Loyalty, Integrity and Selfless Service. He began the building boom to redevelop the 2,000-acre property with an initial investment of $300 million. Today the campus is home to the Texas A&M System’s transportation and engineering agencies as well as an education complex served by Blinn College and Texas A&M System universities from around the state.

More growth is coming, and more construction is planned, including a state-of-the-art data center.

The arrival of the Army Futures Command will bring the RELLIS Campus full circle, back to the location’s June 6, 1943, opening as the Bryan Army Air Field. It also takes RELLIS to another level as companies interested in working with the Army Futures Command are expected to locate on or near the campus.

“We consider serving the military of our nation to be the highest of honors and responsibility,” said Sharp. “Also, having the Army Futures Command at RELLIS is a game changer for that campus and the Brazos Valley area; RELLIS was envisioned as a research dynamo and the Army’s arrival will speed that up.”