Justin Gray works during the 2015 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Photo by Scott Ball.
UTSA will set up and run the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute under a five-year cooperative agreement. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has been selected to establish and lead a new $111 million federal research institute focusing on cybersecurity, energy efficiency, and creating manufacturing jobs, the university announced in a statement Wednesday.  

UTSA will receive $70 million throughout a five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to create the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CyManII). 

As U.S. manufacturers increasingly include automation tools in their setups, new technologies must be embedded with powerful cybersecurity protections, said Howard Grimes, CyManII chief executive officer and UTSA associate vice president and associate vice provost for institutional initiatives. 

“UTSA has assembled a team of best-in-class national laboratories, industry, nonprofit and academic organizations to cybersecure the U.S. manufacturing enterprise,” Grimes said in the UTSA statement. “Together, we will share the mission to protect the nation’s supply chains, preserve its critical infrastructure and boost its economy.”

In addition to the federal funding, the institute will be supported by $41 million from its partners, including the UT System’s commitment of $10 million.

“We are working closely with the Department of Energy as we enter into negotiations around our agreement and, with their guidance, expect to provide an update soon,” UTSA’s Chief Communications Officer Joe Izbrand told the Rivard Report Wednesday. According to the university statement, further details on the institute, its partnerships, and the scope of its work are expected after the cooperative agreement is finalized.

The institute will focus on three areas of research and development: securing automation, securing the supply chain network, and building a national program for education and workforce development, according to the statement. Research objectives will “focus on understanding cybersecurity threats to energy efficiency in manufacturing industries; developing new cybersecurity technologies and methods; and sharing information with the broader community of U.S. manufacturers.” 

The National Security Collaboration Center (NSCC) at UTSA, with more than 25,000 square feet of space, will be the home base for CyManII. According to the CyManII website, the NSCC is where the institute will “conduct administrative, contracting, and fiduciary functions, with key leadership and staffing already operating on behalf of CyManII.”

Funding for the NSCC was secured in fall 2018, with UTSA formally launching the center in March 2019. Plans call for the NSCC to relocate to a new 80,000-square-foot facility east of the university’s Downtown Campus in the coming years. The NSCC will share the facility with UTSA’s new School of Data Science.

UT System Chancellor J.B. Milliken said the UT System and UTSA are grateful to the U.S. Department of Energy for selecting UTSA to lead this “very important national effort in cybersecurity and manufacturing.” 

UTSA is well-known for its cybersecurity education, Milliken said, adding the university also has strengths in national connectivity. 

U.S. manufacturers are a top target for cybercriminals, who can impact the manufacturing and distribution of energy technologies such as electric vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbines, Grimes said.

The DOE is working with public and private partners to lower cyber risks across the energy sector – including in advanced manufacturing, Energy Undersecretary Mark Menezes said in a DOE statement. 

“This institute will help ensure America’s manufacturing base remains secure, resilient, and globally competitive,” Menezes said.

According to its website, the CyManII partnership consists of more than 50 organizations, representing 19 states across the U.S., including the Idaho, Oak Ridge, and Sandia national laboratories.

The institute will “rebuild the United States’ position as a global leader in clean manufacturing at a time when foreign adversaries continue to threaten the security of our country,” said Alexander Gates, DOE’s senior cybersecurity advisor. 

It also will address the need for education, training, and workforce development in advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity, he added.

In a statement from his office, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes) said he has long advocated for UTSA to receive such a designation because the university already has the infrastructure in place to lead on cybersecurity issues.

“Increasing our cybersecurity resources, training and capability at the University of Texas-San Antonio is not only a win for the institution itself, but also the entire San Antonio community,” Hurd said. Hurd formerly served as an undercover CIA officer and cybersecurity professional.

“San Antonio continues to show we are Cyber City, USA,” Hurd said.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...