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Overview  

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a unique research organization established to maintain the U.S. military’s technological preeminence. Essentially, it’s the intellectual sandbox of the Defense Department, freed from many of the constraints imposed on other agencies so it can pursue riskier, more innovative research. Over the years, DARPA has helped develop technologies that have also worked their way into the civilian world, including the forerunner of the Internet. Some of its efforts have also been controversial.

 
History  

The Advanced Research Projects Agency, as DARPA was originally called, was created in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to be placed into Earth orbit. This event shocked the American public, leading not only to the agency’s birth, but also a renewed focus on science education in schools. At first, the agency dealt solely with space-related projects, and was nearly eliminated when those projects were taken over by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Reconnaissance Office. However, the threat of global nuclear war pushed the agency in a new direction; soon, it started conducting research into stealth technology, branching out into other areas from there.
 
In the past, the agency reported to the secretary and deputy secretary of defense. That role was then assumed by the under secretary of defense for research and engineering. Now, both the director for defense research and engineering and the under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics review DARPA’s overall strategy and budget, which is passed along by the DARPA director.
 
The agency was originally named ARPA, and then was changed to DARPA in 1972. It was changed back to ARPA in 1993, before finally becoming DARPA again three years later.
 

ARPA-DARPA: The History of the Name

 

What it Does  

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is unusual in that it eschews the typical hierarchy found in other government agencies, in an attempt to stay flexible, to cut down on bureaucratic red tape and to foster the kind of innovation that’s the focus of its mission.
 
DARPA is broken into small project teams, each with a manager. The agency’s top brass and these managers identify specific, clearly defined problems, and then the managers look to sources both inside and outside of the agency for ideas on how to overcome them. The teams are given a lot of leeway, allowing them to pursue solutions that might seem risky or even far-fetched to some - just so long as they don’t capriciously waste taxpayer funds, according to the DARPA Web site. If, during the course of exploring these ideas, an auxiliary problem comes up and needs to be addressed, then it often gets a fresh project team to look into it. Each project builds on others incrementally, with the desired effect being major technological innovation accumulated over time.
 
The groups typically receive between $10 million and $40 million over four years to complete their work, as well as help from support staff, organizations and universities. However, some projects receive funding of as little as $1 million, while others can get as much as $100 million. According to the DARPA Web site, the best program managers are described as “freewheeling zealots in pursuit of goals.” Technical staff members are rotated every three to six years, to bring in new people with fresh ideas. Support staff - including contractors and secretaries - is employed on a strictly as-needed basis, so that DARPA doesn’t have to worry about providing them with new work when projects end.
 
There is a minimal management layer between the DARPA director and project managers, made up of six so-called office directors. Projects are grouped into these offices, which are the Defense Sciences Office, the Information Processing Technology Office, the Information Exploitation Office, the Microsystems Technology Office, the Strategic Technology Office and the Tactical Technology Office. According to the DARPA Web site, the Contracts Management Office “plans, negotiates and awards contracts, grants and agreements for select new-start technology projects … and for other cooperative projects” where contracting some work out might be useful. The CMO also handles the Small Business Innovation Research program. The Human Resources Directorate, as its name suggests, handles DARPA’s human-resource functions.
 
DARPA has helped to develop a number of inventions over the years, including the M-16 rifle, the Saturn rocket, global positioning systems and unmanned aerial vehicles. But it’s also helped fund projects that have gone nowhere, that some found ridiculous or that raised the ire of civil libertarians or other groups (see Controversies below).
 
The DARPA Grand Challenge is a competition for driverless cars, in which winning developers are awarded a congressionally authorized cash prize. In the third and most recent challenge, held on Nov. 3, 2007, competitors’ vehicles conducted simulated supply missions in a mock urban area. In recent years, DARPA has concentrated heavily on innovations in the field of robotics.
 
Some current projects include:
·        Armor Challenge, which seeks “to identify revolutionary and promising new armor systems for military vehicles.”
·        Polymer Ice, a program that aims “to replicate the properties of ‘black ice’ for use in a broad range of hot, arid environments as found in the Middle East.”
·        Micro Cryogenic Coolers, an attempt to develop small-scale cryogenic coolers for use in things like missiles.
·        Learning Locomotion, the goal of which is “to develop a new generation of learning algorithms that enable traversal of large, irregular obstacles by unmanned vehicles.”
·        Jigsaw, a program that aims to provide the military with the “unprecedented ability to identify targets through dense foliage and other obscurants.”
·        Counter Sniper, a program that seeks “to detect and neutralize enemy snipers before they can engage U.S. forces.”
·        Air Laser, which is investigating “the potential for a high energy laser (HEL) concept based on direct diode pumping of liquid oxygen.”
Autonomous car comes in first place (by Mandy Kovach, Stanford Daily)
Volkswagen wins robotic race across the desert (by David L. Chandler, New Scientist)
DARPA Chisels Little Guy Out of $1 Million Race (by Ashlee Vance, The Register)

The Pentagon: Some Things Never Change Department

(by Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com)

 

Where Does the Money Go  
Controversies  

Total Information Awareness
The Information Awareness Office was created in 2002, with the goal of applying advances in communications technology against transnational threats to the country, such as the terrorist network that organized the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States. The Total Information Awareness Program (later renamed the Terrorism Information Awareness Program) was one of the most controversial being handled by the IAO. Critics became concerned that the program was attempting to develop a surveillance system that could be used against anyone, including everyday citizens of the United States. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that the man chosen to direct the IAO was John Poindexter, a retired admiral, a former national security advisor and a figure in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration. Congress cut the IAO’s funding in 2003.
Artifact: No Go Logo (by Jesse Walker, Reason Online)
Total Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) (Electronic Privacy Information Center)
Information Awareness Office (IAO): How’s This for Paranoid? (by Terry Melanson, Illuminati Conspiracy Archive)
Total Information Awareness Official Responds to Criticism (by Shane Harris, Government Executive)
Controversial DARPA Figure May Resign (National Journal's Technology)
Overview of the Information Awareness Office (John Poindexter, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)
 
Terrorism Futures Market
The Futures Market Applied to Prediction program was also controversial. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the program “very sick” on Capitol Hill:

Amid Furor, Pentagon Kills Terrorism Futures Market: Boxer calls program 'very sick'

(by Paul Courson and Steve Turnham, CNN)

 

Debate  

Much of the recent debate has centered on the controversial Information Awareness Office (see Controversies). Individual programs and areas of research sometimes come under fire for being too far-fetched.

 

Virtual Soldiers? Dream on, Darpa (by Noah Shachtman, Wired)

 

Suggested Reforms  
Congressional Oversight  

House Armed Services Committee           

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

 

Former Directors  

Chronology of ARPA/DARPA Directors

 

Comments  
Joseph Brown - 5/11/2011 2:29:26 PM              
nice to see darpa is keeping us at the cutting edge of technology in the world. nice job keep up the good work!!

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Table of Contents

Founded: 1958
Annual Budget: $3.09 billion (2008)
Employees: 160 (excluding support staff)

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
Dugan, Regina
Director

Sworn in on July 20, 2009, Regina Elvira Dugan is the first female director to lead the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the military’s secretive, high-tech operation responsible for inventing the forerunner to the Internet (ARPAnet) and the technology behind the stealth fighter, unmanned drone aircraft, global positioning satellites and the M16 rifle.

 
On January 27, 2010, DARPA awarded a $400,000 research contract to RedXDefense, a company created by Dugan. In August 2010, RedXDefense received another contract from DARPA, an extension of the January one, this time in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security.
 
Born March 19, 1963, Dugan obtained her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in mechanical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1984 and 1985 respectively, and her doctorate degree in mechanical engineering in 1993 from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She was co-chairwoman of the Organization for Women at Caltech, an institution where 80% of graduate students were men.
 
She worked as a researcher at the Institute for Defense Analyses for three years, before joining DARPA for the first time in 1996 as a program manager during the Bill Clinton administration. She oversaw a $100 million portfolio of programs including the “Dog’s Nose” project, which focused on developing an advanced detection system for land mines that was based on chemically detecting buried explosives rather than detecting their forms. As the leader of the Unexploded Ordnance Detection program, she developed a technical approach to help U.S. Marines storm a mine-infested beach. During her first stint with DARPA, she also led a counterterrorism task force for the Deputy Secretary of Defense in 1999.
 
After leaving the agency in 2000, Dugan served as a special advisor to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, completing a “Quick Reaction Study on Countermine for Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan (2001-2003).
 
She co-founded Dugan Ventures, an investment firm, with her father Vince Dugan, and his twin brother John Dugan, and she served as the company’s president and CEO. According to her official biography, Regina Dugan “served in senior executive positions in three companies with responsibilities ranging from the development of strategic business relationships, legal and financial matters, as well as the building of a direct sales, marketing, and distribution capability throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. During her tenure in these companies, Dr. Dugan was responsible for approximately $35M in fundraising and business development activities.”
 
Building on her DARPA experience involving land mines, in 2005 Dugan, her father and her uncle used their firm to found RedXDefense, a company specializing in technology for screening humans, vehicles and packages for explosive threats. Again, Regina Dugan served as president and CEO.
 
In a March 2010 appearance before the House Armed Service Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities, Dugan outlined her vision for DARPA’s research goals, which includes everything from plant-based vaccines to biomimetics (using biological systems as the models for technological solutions). She used her time before lawmakers to make the point that the U.S. needs to invest more in higher education and industry to develop an “elite army of futuristic technogeeks.”
 
Dr. Dugan has conducted studies for the Defense Science Board, the Army Science Board and the National Research Council.
 
Dugan has applied for and received numerous patents, either alone or with others.
For example, her first patent, issued in 1989, was for a system for venting gas from a liquid storage tank.  In 2009, Dugan was granted a patent for a mobile device to be carried by dogs to detect explosives, That same year, she and others at RedXDefense were granted patents for a security system that tracks visitors at amusement parks and other multiple-entry public venues and for threat screening systems that include sample collectors and analyzers. In 2006, Dugan and others at RedXDefense applied for a patent for an interactive security screening system. They were granted the patent on January 4, 2011.
 
She co-authored the book Engineering Thermodynamics (1995).
 
Official Biography (DARPA) (pdf)
Statement by Dr. Regina E. Dugan (Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, House Armed Services Committee) (pdf)
New Force Behind Agency of Wonder (by John Markoff, New York Times)
 
Tether, Tony
Previous Director
A native of Middletown, New York, Dr. Tony J. Tether has had a long career working with defense technology, both in the private and public sectors.
 
Orange County Community College awarded him an associate’s degree. He then received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1964, after transferring from Stanford University when he ran out of money. Upon graduating, Tether went back to Stanford to get both a master’s degree and a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1965 and 1969, respectively. In the same year he got his doctorate, he landed a job at Systems Control Inc., where he worked as executive vice president for nine years.
 
Tether entered government service in 1978, serving as director of the National Intelligence Office until 1982. He also had a previous stint at DARPA - from 1982 to 1986 - as director of the agency’s Strategic Technology Office, where he supervised projects that aimed to develop new surveillance capabilities, satellite technology, radio transmitters and stealth aircraft - among other innovations.
 
In 1986, Tether became vice president of technology and advanced development for Ford Aerospace Corp. and a vice president for Ford Motor Corp. At Ford, Tether led a committee that sought to integrate Department of Defense innovations into consumer cars. Tether remained at Ford until 1992, when he began a two-year period as vice president for Science Applications International Corporation’s Advanced Technology Sector, and then as vice president and general manager for range systems at the same company. From 1994 to 1996, he served as chief executive officer for defense contractor Dynamics Technology Inc. Tether followed that by founding The Sequoia Group, a company with many roles in the defense industry, in 1996, serving as chief executive officer and president until 2001.
 
President George W. Bush appointed Tether to the DARPA directorship on June 18, 2001. “It’s a neat job to have because you see many, many things, and you have the brightest of the brightest constantly briefing you,” Tether told the Rensselaer Alumni Magazine in 2002. “We have projects in almost anything you can imagine.”
 
Tether has served on the Army and Defense Science Boards and the Office of National Drug Control Policy Research and Development Committee, and is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
 
The Best Defense (by Alan Moorse, Renseelaer Polytechnic Institute)
Darpa Chief Speaks (by Noah Shachtman, Wired)
DARPA Chief Says: Failure Key to Its Far-Side Strategy (by Tom Abate, San FranciscoChronicle)
 
 


 
 
 
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