VICKSBURG, Miss. – Until engaging in conversation with colleagues while on temporary duty in the United Kingdom, Dr. Ahmad Tavakoly was not aware of the U.S. Army Foreign Technology (and Science) Assessment Support (FTAS) program. This summer, Tavakoly, a research civil engineer with the U.S. Army Engineer Research a Development Center’s (ERDC) Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory (CHL), and co-principal investigator Dr. Mark Wahl, also from CHL, completed the first ERDC project funded by the program.
FTAS creates opportunities for U.S. scientists and engineers to acquire and assess international technology. Researchers submit proposals, and the FTAS program provides the initial funds for subject-matter experts to perform technology assessments, basic research studies, as well as test and evaluation efforts of foreign research and technology that is deemed as unique, state-of-the-art, and has the potential to meet critical Army needs that are aligned with the Army’s modernization priorities for both the future and current forces.
“It was really an accident how I got involved,” said Tavakoly. “I went to a dinner meeting with Dr. Andrew Nelson who — at that time — was the Director of the ERDC International Research Office (IRO). He introduced us to this program that supports collaboration between U.S.-based research labs, like ERDC, and international research centers.”
“The IRO supports ERDC researchers in identifying potential international partners and matching up ERDC research interests with funding opportunities or agreements for cooperation,” said Nelson. “We do this to accelerate the pace of ERDC research and development through partnership with the best research and development organizations in the world."
“We knew we wanted to work with the U.K. office, as we have collaborated with them in the past,” said Tavakoly. “So my colleague Mark and I worked together hand-in-hand with Dr. Nelson and developed the proposal that became the first ERDC project to get funded through the FTAS program.”
The main goal of their project was to gain baseline data to align the ERDC Streamflow Prediction Tool (SPT) — which currently utilizes non-authoritative weather feeds — with the authoritative weather forecasts from the U.S. Air Force, which relies almost entirely on U.K. Meteorological Office products.
The project supplied the data needed to begin aligning the Army hydrologic predictions with authoritative data to ensure Army weather impact considerations on land are represented in the future modeling systems from authoritative Air Force sources. It enables the ERDC to influence the operational configurations of the Army’s authoritative Global Air-Land Weather Exploitation Model (GALWEM), operated by the Air Force, which contains key modeling components from the U.K., including the Unified Model and the Joint U.K. Land Environment Simulator (JULES) land surface model.
“Ultimately, this work will advance the Army’s primary large-scale hydrologic simulation tool, the ERDC-SPT, by blending multiple forecasting models to improve the accuracy, reliability and utility using multi-model ensembles,” said Tavakoly. “This will also inform regional configurations of the models for better results.”
Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, collaboration between international partners became quite challenging. As a result of limited travel, direct collaboration with counterparts in the U.K. was limited to one interaction at the American Metrological Society Annual Meeting in Boston, which was prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Onsite meetings at the U.K. office and participation in the HydroJULES working group would have laid better groundwork for addressing and understanding deficiencies, particularly in the development of next generation models,” said Tavakoly. “I had planned a visit to work with our international partners on this project to share the results and to discuss the results. However, we had several virtual meetings, and the baseline analysis was accomplished through these calls. They were very supportive and shared the data with us.”
The FTAS program is administered through the Combat Capabilities Development Command under the U.S. Army Futures Command.
“I would encourage all researchers in the area to consider this program,” said Tavakoly. “FTAS is a really good program that supports international collaboration. I want to encourage everyone from different labs to submit proposals and get some support for the great work we do at ERDC.”