Annual budget -
Agency executive -
Regina E. Dugan , Director
Virginia Square neighborhood of Arlington.
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 DARPA (for Defense) during March 1972, then renamed ARPA
again during February 1993, and then renamed DARPA again during 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,
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 our 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 own introduction:
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.”
None of them.
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
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:
Small and flexible: DARPA has only about
140 technical professionals; some have referred to DARPA as “100
geniuses connected by a travel agent.”
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
Autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic
impediments: DARPA has an exemption from Title V civilian personnel
specifications, which provides for a direct hiring authority to hire
talent with the expediency not allowed by the standard civil service
Eclectic, world-class technical staff
and performers: DARPA seeks great talent and ideas from industry,
universities, government laboratories, and individuals, mixing
disciplines and theoretical and experimental strengths. 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
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
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
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
DARPA was created as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), by Public
Law 85-325 and Department of Defense Directive 5105.41, 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
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 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
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, such as follow-on forces attack with standoff weapons and
associated Command, Control, and Communications; 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
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.
Roy W. Johnson
1958 – 1959
Austin W. Betts
1960 – 1961
Jack P. Ruina
1961 – 1963
Robert L. Sproull
1963 – 1965
Charles M. Herzfeld
1965 – 1967
1967 – 1970
Steve J. Lukasik
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
Current program offices
DARPA has seven program offices, all of which report to the DARPA director.
The Adaptive Execution Office (AEO)
mission is to conceive and execute novel technology and system
developments that are adaptive both in end function and in the
process by which they are developed and to improve the transition
worthiness of DAPRA programs across the enterprise.
The Defense Sciences Office (DSO)
vigorously pursues the most promising technologies within a broad
spectrum of the science and engineering research communities and
develops those technologies into important, radically new military
The Information Processing Techniques
Office (IPTO) focuses on inventing the networking, computing, and
software technologies vital to ensuring DOD military superiority.
The Microsystems Technology Office (MTO)
mission focuses on the heterogeneous microchip-scale integration of
electronics, photonics, and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).
Their high risk/high payoff technology is aimed at solving the
national level problems of protection from biological, chemical and
information attack and to provide operational dominance for mobile
distributed command and control, combined manned/unmanned warfare,
and dynamic, adaptive military planning and execution.
The Strategic Technology Office (STO)
mission is to focus on technologies that have a global theater-wide
impact and that involve multiple Services.
The Tactical Technology Office (TTO)
engages in high-risk, high-payoff advanced military research,
emphasizing the "system" and "subsystem" approach to the development
of aeronautic, space, and land systems as well as embedded
processors and control systems. This research includes an effort
within the TTO to develop a small satellite launch vehicle.
This vehicle is under development by AirLaunch LLC.
This is part of the Force Application and Launch from Continental
United States (FALCON) effort.
The Transformational Convergence
Technology Office (TCTO) mission is to advance new crosscutting
capabilities derived from a broad range of emerging technological
and social trends, particularly in areas related to computing and
computing-reliant subareas of the life sciences, social sciences,
manufacturing, and commerce.
Information Awareness Office - 2002-2003
The Advanced Technology Office (ATO)
researched, demonstrated, and developed high payoff projects in
maritime, communications, special operations, command and control,
and information assurance and survivability mission areas.
The Special Projects Office (SPO)
researched, developed, demonstrated, and transitioned technologies
focused on addressing present and emerging national challenges. SPO
investments ranged from the development of enabling technologies to
the demonstration of large prototype systems.
technologies to counter the emerging threat of underground
facilities used for purposes ranging from command-and-control, to
weapons storage and staging, to the manufacture of weapons of mass
SPO developed significantly more cost-effective ways to
counter proliferated, inexpensive cruise missiles, UAVs, and other
platforms used for weapon delivery, jamming, and surveillance.
invested in novel space technologies across the spectrum of space
control applications including rapid access, space situational
awareness, counterspace, and persistent tactical grade sensing
approaches including extremely large space apertures and structures.
ARPA/DARPA is well known as a high-tech government agency, and as such has
many appearances in popular fiction.
Appearances can be classed into three
forms. The first are more or less realistic references. Second are
references that incorrectly attribute to ARPA an operational or political
role, in addition to its high-tech responsibilities. Finally are those that
want a realistic government reference, but are not DARPA specific - any
other agency would do as well. These are numerous and not particularly
Some realistic references to ARPA in fiction are in
Tom Swift and the
Visitor from Planet X (DARPA consults on a technical threat), in
episodes of television program The West Wing (the ARPA-DARPA distinction),
and in the motion picture
Executive Decision (use of a one-of-a-kind
experimental prototype in an emergency).
Non-realistic references often attribute to DARPA an operational or
political role, in addition to its real high-tech responsibilities.
Examples are the Matthew Reilly books
Hell Island, the James Rollins' books
Black Order, and the
video game series Metal Gear Solid.
2. "50 years of Bridging the Gap"
3. John Chambers, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Military History (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1999) p. 791.
4. Statement by Dr. Tony Tether (Director of Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency) to Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and
Capabilities (House Armed Services Committee - United States House of
Representatives) on March 13, 2008 section DARPA as a model in which he says
this is content he agrees with that he is repeating from “Power Play,” W. B.
Bonvillian, The American Interest, Volume II, p 39 (November-December 2006).
5. Washington Times, "Pentagon Agency Breaks Ground", October 29, 2009.
6. Mollet, C. (2009-02-20). "DARPA Directors, 1958 – 2008". DARPA.
7. Oral history interview with Charles Herzfeld Charles Babbage Institute,
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Herzfeld discusses programs in and
administration of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
8. Oral history interview with Stephen Lukasik. Charles Babbage Institute,
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Lukasik discusses his tenure at the
Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), the development of computer
networks and the ARPANET.
9. http://www.darpa.mil/offices.html DARPA Offices.
10. DSO Official homepage
11. http://www.darpa.mil/offices.html DARPA
12. "Falcon". DARPA. 2008. http://www.darpa.mil/tto/programs/Falcon.htm.
13. "Airlaunchllc News". Airlaunch. http://www.airlaunchllc.com/News.htm.
14. http://www.darpa.mil/offices.html DARPA Offices.
17. Carnegie-Mellon University
18. Victor Appleton II, 1961. Tom Swift and the Visitor from Planet X,
originally published by Grosset & Dunlap of New York, now re-published by
Project Gutenberg. ARPA is referred to on page 68 published 1961