The University of South Florida (USF) Institute of Applied Engineering and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) have agreed to a new, multi-year contract that paves the way for researchers and students to collaborate with SOCOM to help solve significant challenges facing the nation.

The five-year contract is worth a maximum value of $85 million and calls for the USF Institute of Applied Engineering’s expertise in applied research and advanced technology development to be utilized to support SOCOM’s needs in a range of scientific and engineering disciplines.

From left to right: Mark Sharpe (Tampa Innovation), Sharon Pinson (IAE), Rachel Musaerenge (IAE ), Siladeth Rattanakongkham (IAE), John Harrington (IAE), Tim Baxter (SOFWERX), Eric Forsyth (IAE), witness Dean Robert H. Bishop signing the contract. Image credit: USF

“I firmly believe it’s the role of a public research university to catalyze regional economic development, and that can only be achieved through high-impact partnerships with government and private industry,” said USF President Steven C. Currall.  “By forming this type of partnership, USF is helping to elevate the Tampa Bay region as we seek to shape a more knowledge-based economy.”

Over the course of the contract, the USF institute will complete individual task orders for projects within its core competency areas. SOCOM may look to the institute to address issues in fields such as autonomous systems, human performance, transportation, cybersecurity, data analytics and sensor technologies. Students and faculty may also have opportunities to gain real-world experience through internships at MacDill Air Force Base.

The USF Institute of Applied Engineering is a direct support organization of USF that was formed in 2018.  Professor Robert H. Bishop, founder, president and CEO of the institute, and professor and dean of the USF College of Engineering, says competing for contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense is one of the primary reasons for creating the institute.

“Our goal is to leverage the intellectual and creative firepower of the USF Institute of Applied Engineering and academia to address the many significant challenges facing our country. This contract supports groundbreaking research, hardware and software development, test and evaluation, demonstrations and prototyping, while providing SOCOM access to world-class education and training resources in support of their global mission,” said Bishop.

Later this spring, the USF Institute of Applied Engineering will move into a renovated 4,000 square foot space inside University Mall as part of the Uptown District transformation. In June 2019, Hillsborough County Commissioners awarded a $5.2 million grant to support the institute as it increases capacity in the new location and aims to attract additional industry and government partners.

“The institute is expected to engage USF scientists, scholars and students across the university in creating interdisciplinary teams capable of delivering rapid, novel solutions to complex problems,” said Ralph Wilcox, USF provost and executive vice president. “Many of these discoveries and technologies will have important applications that reach beyond the defense sector.”

The contract with SOCOM takes effect immediately.