SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) released a new framework, reinterpreting its mission in light of three new realities. Terrorist groups and individuals emphasize new threats, consumers have access to sophisticated technologies and U.S. defense funding is expected to decline for the foreseeable future.
“These three factors create a very challenging environment and calls for a DARPA approach to thinking outside the box more than ever before,” said Arati Prabhakar, DARPA’s director, speaking in a Webcast from the Pentagon.
“We continue to invest in game changers, radical new systems concepts and technologies,” Prabhakar said. “Today we are also adding some new approaches to the mix, [specifically around technologies focused on] adaptability and cost,” she said.
The new focus calls for developing systems that are “more adaptable so they can be configured” for a variety of uses, she said. Other efforts will focus on relatively low cost capabilities “that inflict cost on our adversaries to respond,” she added.
The focus on lower cost also calls for a kind of design reuse at DARPA—capabilities build up from combinations of new and existing technologies layered on one another.
Specifically, DARPA is working on “a new generation of electronic warfare that will leapfrog what others can do,” she said. It is also developing “a new suite of technologies for timing and position so our people won’t be as dangerously reliant on GPS as they are today,” she said.
The GPS replacement “won’t be monolithic, but a series of technologies to track and fix time and position that layered together will enable a new generation of capabilities,” she added.
Prabhakar said the focus on costs anticipates a long term trend for lowered defense spending and was not a specific response to the recent sequestration. She described the recently mandated eight percent across-the-board cuts as “not a death blow, but quite corrosive.”
Specifically DARPA’s so-called Plan X was delayed five months due to sequestration. The program aims to deliver a wide range of highly controllable offensive cyber techniques. “There’s a lot of hard technology needed to get from here to there, but I think it’s a game changer,” she said.
A separate study on air dominance is only a few months old but could generate initiatives for DARPA’s next budget cycle. The Air Force, Navy and eight DARPA program managers are participating in the study of next generation technologies in networking, electro-magnetic sensing and control and space warfare.
In addition, DARPA has ideas for new grand challenges in the works, “so stay tuned,” she said.
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