DARPA

This article is about the US military research agency. For the skipper butterfly genus, see Darpa (butterfly)
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Agency overview
Formed 1958
Headquarters Arlington, Virginia
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Employees 240
Annual budget $3.2 billion
Agency executive Regina E. Dugan[1], Director
Website
DARPA.mil

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major effect on the world, including computer networking, as well as NLS, which was both the first hypertext system, and an important precursor to the contemporary ubiquitous graphical user interface.

Its original name was simply Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), but it was renamed to "DARPA" (for Defense) in March 1972, then renamed "ARPA" again in February 1993, and then renamed "DARPA" again in March 1996.

DARPA was established during 1958 (as ARPA) in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik during 1957, with the mission of keeping U.S. military technology more sophisticated than that of the nation's potential enemies. From DARPA's own introduction,[2]

DARPA’s original mission, established in 1958, was to prevent technological surprise like the launch of Sputnik, which signaled that the Soviets had beaten the U.S. into space. The mission statement has evolved over time. Today, DARPA’s mission is still to prevent technological surprise to the US, but also to create technological surprise for its enemies.

DARPA is independent from other more conventional military R&D and reports directly to senior Department of Defense management. DARPA has around 240 personnel (about 140 technical) directly managing a $3.2 billion budget. These figures are "on average" since DARPA focuses on short-term (two to four-year) projects run by small, purpose-built teams.

DARPA's mission

DARPA's own introduction:[2]

DARPA is a Defense Agency with a unique role within DoD. DARPA is not tied to a specific operational mission: DARPA supplies technological options for the entire Department, and is designed to be the “technological engine” for transforming DoD.

Near-term needs and requirements generally drive the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force to focus on those needs at the expense of major change. Consequently, a large organization like DoD needs a place like DARPA whose only charter is radical innovation.

DARPA looks beyond today’s known needs and requirements. As military historian John Chambers noted, “None of the most important weapons transforming warfare in the 20th century – the airplane, tank, radar, jet engine, helicopter, electronic computer, not even the atomic bomb – owed its initial development to a doctrinal requirement or request of the military.”[3] And to this list, DARPA would add unmanned systems, Global Positioning System (GPS) and Internet technologies.

DARPA’s approach is to imagine what capabilities a military commander might want in the future and accelerate those capabilities into being through technology demonstrations. These not only provide options to the commander, but also change minds about what is technologically possible today.

DARPA as a model

According to former DARPA Director Tony Tether and W. B. Bonvillian (“Power Play,” W. B. Bonvillian, The American Interest, Volume II, p 39, November-December 2006), DARPA's key characteristics to be replicated to reproduce DARPA's success are:[4]

  • Small and flexible: DARPA has only about 140 technical professionals; DARPA presents itself as “100 geniuses connected by a travel agent.”[5]
  • Flat organization: DARPA avoids hierarchy, essentially operating at only two management levels to ensure the free and rapid flow of information and ideas, and rapid decision-making.
  • Autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic impediments: DARPA has an exemption from Title V civilian personnel specifications, which provides for a direct authority to hire talents with the expediency not allowed by the standard civil service process.
  • Eclectic, world-class technical staff and performers: DARPA seeks great talents and ideas from industry, universities, government laboratories, and individuals, mixing disciplines and theoretical and experimental strength. DARPA neither owns nor operates any laboratories or facilities, and the overwhelming majority of the research it sponsors is done in industry and universities. Very little of DARPA’s research is performed at government labs.
  • Teams and networks: At its very best, DARPA creates and sustains great teams of researchers from different disciplines that collaborate and share in the teams’ advances.
  • Hiring continuity and change: DARPA’s technical staff is hired or assigned for four to six years. Like any strong organization, DARPA mixes experience and change. It retains a base of experienced experts – its Office Directors and support staff – who are knowledgeable about DoD. The staff is rotated to ensure fresh thinking and perspectives, and to have room to bring technical staff from new areas into DARPA. It also allows the program managers to be bold and not fear failure.
  • Project-based assignments organized around a challenge model: DARPA organizes a significant part of its portfolio around specific technology challenges. It foresees new innovation-based capabilities and then works back to the fundamental breakthroughs required to make them possible. Although individual projects typically last three to five years, major technological challenges may be addressed over longer time periods, ensuring patient investment on a series of focused steps and keeping teams together for ongoing collaboration. Continued funding for DARPA projects is based on passing specific milestones, sometimes called “go/no-go’s.”
  • Outsourced support personnel: DARPA extensively leverages technical, contracting, and administrative services from other DoD agencies and branches of the military. This provides DARPA the flexibility to get into and out of an area without the burden of sustaining staff, while building cooperative alliances with its “agents.” These outside agents help create a constituency in their respective organizations for adopting the technology.
  • Outstanding program managers: The best DARPA program managers have always been freewheeling zealots in pursuit of their goals. The Director’s most important task is to recruit and hire very creative people with big ideas, and empower them.
  • Acceptance of failure: DARPA pursues breakthrough opportunities and is very tolerant of technical failure if the payoff from success will be great enough.
  • Orientation to revolutionary breakthroughs in a connected approach: DARPA historically has focused not on incremental but radical innovation. It emphasizes high-risk investment, moves from fundamental technological advances to prototyping, and then hands off the system development and production to the military services or the commercial sector.
  • Mix of connected collaborators: DARPA typically builds strong teams and networks of collaborators, bringing in a range of technical expertise and applicable disciplines, and involving university researchers and technology firms that are often not significant defense contractors or beltway consultants.

History

DARPA was created as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), by Public Law 85-325 and Department of Defense Directive 5105.15, in February 1958. Its creation was directly attributed to the launching of Sputnik and to U.S. realization that the Soviet Union had developed the capacity to rapidly exploit military technology. Additionally, the political and defense communities recognized the need for a high-level Department of Defense organization to formulate and execute R&D projects that would expand the frontiers of technology beyond the immediate and specific requirements of the Military Services and their laboratories. In pursuit of this mission, DARPA has developed and transferred technology programs encompassing a wide range of scientific disciplines which address the full spectrum of national security needs.

From 1958-1965, ARPA's emphasis centered on major national issues, including space, ballistic missile defense, and nuclear test detection. During 1960, all of its civilian space programs were transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the military space programs to the individual Services. This allowed DARPA to concentrate its efforts on the DEFENDER (defense against ballistic missiles), Project Vela (nuclear test detection), and AGILE (counterinsurgency R&D) Programs, and to begin work on computer processing, behavioral sciences, and materials sciences. The DEFENDER and AGILE Programs formed the foundation of DARPA sensor, surveillance, and directed energy R&D, particularly in the study of radar, infrared sensing, and x-ray/gamma ray detection.

During the late 1960s, with the transfer of these mature programs to the Services, ARPA redefined its role and concentrated on a diverse set of relatively small, essentially exploratory research programs. The Agency was renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1972, and during the early 1970s, it emphasized direct energy programs, information processing, and tactical technologies.

Concerning information processing, DARPA made great progress, initially through its support of the development of time-sharing (all modern operating systems rely on concepts invented for the Multics system, developed by a cooperation between Bell Labs, General Electric and MIT, which DARPA supported by funding Project MAC at MIT with an initial two-million-dollar grant), and later through the evolution of the ARPANET (the first wide-area packet switching network), Packet Radio Network, Packet Satellite Network and ultimately, the Internet and research in the artificial intelligence (AI) fields of speech recognition and signal processing. DARPA also funded the development of the Douglas Engelbart's NLS computer system and the Aspen Movie Map, which was probably the first hypermedia system and an important precursor of virtual reality.

The Mansfield Amendment of 1973 expressly limited appropriations for defense research (through ARPA/DARPA) to projects with direct military application. Some[who?] contend that the amendment devastated American science, since ARPA/DARPA was a major funding source for basic science projects of the time; the National Science Foundation never made up the difference as expected. But the resulting "brain drain" is also credited with boosting the development of the fledgling personal computer industry. Many young computer scientists fled from the universities to startups and private research labs like Xerox PARC.

From 1976-1981, DARPA's major thrusts were dominated by air, land, sea, and space technology, tactical armor and anti-armor programs, infrared sensing for space-based surveillance, high-energy laser technology for space-based missile defense, antisubmarine warfare, advanced cruise missiles, advanced aircraft, and defense applications of advanced computing. These large-scale technological program demonstrations were joined by integrated circuit research, which resulted in submicrometre electronic technology and electron devices that evolved into the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Program and the Congressionally mandated charged particle beam program. Many of the successful programs were transitioned to the Services, such as the foundation technologies in automatic target recognition, space based sensing, propulsion, and materials that were transferred to the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO), later known as the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), now titled the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

During the 1980s, the attention of the Agency was centered on information processing and aircraft-related programs, including the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) or Hypersonic Research Program. The Strategic Computing Program enabled DARPA to exploit advanced processing and networking technologies and to rebuild and strengthen relationships with universities after the Vietnam War. In addition, DARPA began to pursue new concepts for small, lightweight satellites (LIGHTSAT) and directed new programs regarding defense manufacturing, submarine technology, and armor/anti-armor.

On October 28, 2009 the agency broke ground on a new facility in Arlington, Virginia a few miles from the Pentagon.[6]

>Mollet, C. (2009-02-20). (PDF). DARPA. http://www.darpa.mil/Docs/DARPA_Directors_200807171322095.pdf. Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
Directors[7]
Name Tenure
Roy W. Johnson 1958–1959
Austin W. Betts 1960–1961
Jack P. Ruina 1961–1963
Robert L. Sproull 1963–1965
Charles M. Herzfeld[8] 1965–1967
Eberhardt Rechtin 1967–1970
Steve J. Lukasik[9] 1970–1975
George H. Heilmeier 1975–1977
Robert R. Fossum 1977–1981
Robert S. Cooper 1981–1985
Robert C. Duncan 1985–1988
Ray S. Colladay 1988–1989
Craig I. Fields 1989–1990
Victor H. Reis 1990–1992
Gary L. Denman 1992–1995
Verne L. "Larry" Lynn 1995–1998
Fernando L. "Frank" Fernandez 1998–2001
Anthony J. Tether 2001–2009
Regina E. Dugan 2009 – present