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BOX 6-2

DARPA

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was established with a budget of $500 million in 1958 following the launch of Sputnik to turn innovative technology into military capabilities. The agency is highly regarded for its work on the Internet, high-speed microelectronics, stealth and satellite technologies, unmanned vehicles, and new materials.a

DARPA’s FY 2005 budget is $3.1 billion. In terms of personnel, it is a small, relatively nonhierarchical organization that uses highly flexible contracting and hiring practices that are atypical of the federal government as a whole. Its workforce of 220 includes 120 technical staffers, and it can hire quickly from the academic world and industry at wages that are substantially higher than those elsewhere in the government. Researchers, as intended, typically stay with DARPA only for a few years. Lawrence Dubois says that DARPA puts the following questions to its principal investigators, individual project leaders, and program managers:b

  • What are you trying to accomplish?

  • How is it done today and what are the limitations? What is truly new in your approach that will remove current limitations and improve performance? By how much? A factor of 10? 100? More? If successful, what difference will it make and to whom?

  • What are the midterm exams, final exams, or full-scale applications required to prove your hypothesis? When will they be done?

  • What is DARPA’s exit strategy? Who will take the technologies you develop and turn them into new capabilities or real products?

  • How much will it cost?

Dubois quotes a former DARPA program manager who describes the agency this way:c


Program management at DARPA is a very proactive activity. It can be likened to playing a game of multidimensional chess. As a chess player, one always knows what the goal is, but there are many ways to reach checkmate. Like a program manager, a chess player starts out with many different pieces (independent research groups) in different geographic locations (squares on the board) and with different useful capabilities (fundamental and applied research or experiment and theory, for example). One uses this team to mount a coordinated attack (in one case to solve key technical problems and for another to defeat one’s opponent). One of the challenges in both cases is that the target is continually moving. The DARPA program manager has to deal



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