UCF relationship with U.S. Military dates back to 1980s

In close proximity to UCF, Research Park contributes to simulation technology

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UCF is "America's Partnership University," and one of its major partners just so happens to be the U.S. Military.

UCF President John C. Hitt recently signed a collaborative agreement with the Navy, which included lab and facilities sharing as well as student internship opportunities, among other benefits, and Research Park — adjacent to campus — has a strong military presence. UCF and the military, it seems, have quite a history, but just how far back does it go?

Starting with the military's proximity to UCF's campus, that was not always the case.

A collaborative partnership between the Army and the Navy was struck in the 1950s. That partnership eventually led to a move of the two branches in 1965 from Long Island, New York, to what is now Baldwin Park, said retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Baptiste, president and executive director of the National Center for Simulation on Research Park.

In 1984, when simulation and training were gaining traction and becoming of greater importance to the military, Bill Nelson, then a young congressman, convinced the two parties to move to what would become Research Park. To give the parties incentive to make the move, they were given 40 acres of land as well, free of charge.

"The idea was that if we could get them to build a center of excellence on that 40-acre plot, it would be the anchor or the attraction for other people to be located on this Research Park," Baptiste said.

That idea became a reality after, following the Army and Navy's move to Research Park, the Marines, Air Force, a Coast Guard liaison and nine other federal agencies eventually collocated themselves on Research Park as well.

Wanting to get in on the simulation and training industry, UCF also sought to start its own modeling and simulation center; and thus, the Institute for Simulation and Training was founded in 1982. The university also became the first university in the nation to offer graduate degrees in modeling and simulation.

One could argue that the modeling and simulation for training industry is what began the various partnerships with the university and the military. Those partnerships and collaborations are still enjoyed and expanded upon to this day through IST.

IST has done a vast amount of research, not necessarily funded by, but supported by the Department of Defense, said Randall Shumaker, the director of IST. The majority of its research, however, takes the form of studies or academic papers.

These studies can be purely psychology based, such as how multicultural teams or female-engagement teams can best operate; or they can be based on equipment or procedures.

For example, IST researchers built a training simulator, in the form of a 1/35-scale city created to train individuals how to navigate unmanned vehicles. They also have training equipment to avoid preventable death, namely from hemorrhages or other traumatic injuries, on the battlefield or in other high-consequence environments.

Another important simulator they develop is flight-simulation technology that can then be implemented by the military.

"You can do a lot of things with a simulator that are important for a pilot to know, but that you wouldn't want to practice for real because it would be dangerous," Shumaker said.

The military can, and often does, commission studies from IST, normally providing subjects or commissioning prototype training systems.

"We might send people to Fort Benning to show people a real training system, experiment with it and tell us what they think," Shumaker said.

Oftentimes, however, they collaborate on an informal level as IST and various military personnel occupy partnership buildings on Research Park.

Many of the researchers have prior military experience, and many military personnel are in the modeling and simulation master's and Ph.D. programs, which IST runs.

While most of its military collaboration and information exchange is informal, one military entity it works with extensively is the Army Research Laboratory's Simulation and Training Technology Center.

The center serves the same purpose as IST, but for the Army instead of the university.

IST's hand in military research goes beyond studies and research commissions as well. IST, representing UCF and NCS — as well as the simulation and training industry as a whole — is partners in Team Orlando, a collaborative entity made up of major military, industry and governmental partners that focuses on advancing simulation and training products and research for the military.

While IST has numerous projects for the military, both past and present, it is not the only campus entity or department to do research for the military, Shumaker said. He also noted the psychology, computer science and engineering programs, as well as the Central Florida College of Optics and Photonics, all have their hands in military research.

UCF brings in roughly $120 million in contract research each year, Shumaker said, and about half of that research is defense oriented, one way or another — typically in the form of information rather than a product.

Besides these research partnerships, UCF also boasts both Army and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps on campus.

Many of these military partnerships have lasted for decades, if only informally, and Shumaker provided insight to why they are so lasting.

"They last because they are mutually beneficial. It's great to get answers in a certain amount of time," he said. "And it's great to be surrounded by people interested in the things you're interested in and who understand the things important to you. People are already up to speed. All the things you need to do this kind of business are here and within a short distance."

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Adam Rhodes is the Entertainment Editor at the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @byadamrhodes or email him at AdamR@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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