By LYNN LOFTON
Vicksburg is home to the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center and serves as national headquarters for four such facilities.
It’s a large operation with 1,400 of the system’s 2,205 employees located in Vicksburg. Most of the employees are civilians, and the number of employees swells by a couple of hundred in the summer with student interns from all over the country.
The Mississippi Economic Council’s analysis two years ago found an economic impact of $445 million yearly for the state.
“All the locations conduct research and development in support of our nation’s military and water resources infrastructure,” said Director Jeffrey Holland, Ph.D.
“We have responsibility for everything from how to protect our troops to make them safer in battle and while they eat and sleep, to how to get off a ship and across a beach and into the fight, understanding the terrain and how to take best advantage of it, and how to clean up battle fields. Also, we have responsibility from the environmental and energy perspective and protecting endangered species who live on our lands.”
Holland says a good example of the center’s research is the blast protectors that were developed for the Pentagon. In the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, there were no deaths in the portion of the Pentagon that had made use of this technology. Subsequently, that technology has been used in many other buildings around the world.
Only about 25 percent of the Vicksburg center’s budget pertains to water research and development for the Mississippi River.
“The operational responsibility for the river is with the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corp of Engineers, a separate unity, that includes Vicksburg, Memphis, St. Louis and New Orleans,” Holland said. “We’re the national research and development arm and support them.”
The ACE R& D Center began in the early 1930s working strictly on the water in response to the 1927 Mississippi River flood.
“Through the years, especially during World War II, the nation needed more and more work to understand how we could defeat the Germans’ concrete bunkers. The center was doing a lot of research of concrete as it pertained to locks and dams,” Holland said.
“That research started our military responsibilities.
“However, the history of the Corps goes back to the early days of the country, and it’s a strong history between the U.S. military and engineers. The R&D Center’s mission has changed dramatically to support the military. We go back and forth between military and civil issues, and there’s lots of synergy.”
The center works closely with a variety of groups in the state, including universities and industries, working with sensor technologies and computer science. The Institute for Systems Engineering Research — a consortium of Mississippi State University and the state of Mississippi — is located on the center’s Vicksburg campus.
“We have wonderful relationships with those groups and are always interested in growth opportunities for economic development around any of our national locations,” Holland said. “We’ve talked with the Mississippi Development Authority about what we do because we realize we’re somewhat unknown. We have strong partnerships and are exploring others; there’s the potential for great opportunity.”
That opportunity has already resulted in three defense contractors expressing interest in what’s being done in Mississippi, the director added.
Another facet of the Vicksburg operation is the Department of Defense’s Supercomputer Resource Center.
“The Department of Defense realized that growth of a very large computer can be used to solve problems by putting the best computer capability at the fingers of researchers,” Holland said.
“Five sites were established and two are in Mississippi; one here and one at Stennis Space Center that’s operated by the Navy. There are three major parts: really big machines to solve the biggest problems, modeling and mining data, and sharing information with other entities.”