DARPA’s investment strategy begins with a portfolio approach. Reaching for outsized impact means taking on risk, and high risk in pursuit of high payoff is a hallmark of DARPA’s programs. We pursue our objectives through hundreds of programs. By design, programs are finite while creating lasting revolutionary change. They address a wide range of technology opportunities and national security challenges. This assures that while individual efforts might fail—a natural consequence of taking on risk—the total portfolio delivers.
How do we create this portfolio of programs? One major part of the answer is bottom up: DARPA program managers define and propose new programs they believe promise revo-lutionary change. This is important for several reasons. An effective DARPA program manager is the person closest to the critical challenges and possible technology opportunities in his or her arena, and the personal inspiration and drive behind a novel idea is the spark needed to start a big fire. More fundamentally, surprise rarely comes from groupthink.
Yet we recognize that our work lives in a context of today’s realities and tomorrow’s outlook. So a framework for DARPA—an understanding of our enduring mission in the context of the geopolitical and technological environment and its direction—is vital in shaping our portfolio.
We focus on three essential, interdependent strategic objectives to carry out our mission:
We pursue each of these objectives in the context of our current framework. More
The short tenure of DARPA technical staff (Program Managers, Deputy Program Managers, Office Directors, Deputy Office Directors, Directors and Deputy Directors), means that even though the technical staff numbers at around 120 any given year, the number of Scientists and Engineers who have done a 3-5 year turn at DARPA, is a generous and well-placed group. The majority of the DARPA alumni consider their tenure at DARPA a life-changing experience. More
DARPA is the principal agency within the Department of Defense for high-risk, high-payoff research, development and demonstration of new technologies and systems that serve the warfighter and the Nation’s defense. DARPA’s core mission is to prevent and create technological strategic surprise for the United States. The Agency has a rich 50-year history of successes ranging from the Internet to GPS, stealth, and UAVs, but these advances, now ubiquitous, were once the source of discomfort and unease. Such is the nature of work performed at the Agency. Many of the now ubiquitous technologies pioneered at DARPA were once considered impossibilities. And this progression—first impossible, then improbable, eventually inevitable—characterizes many of the Agency’s most important advances. We take on new, seemingly impossible challenges each year. In so doing, there is often a tension between novel concepts and an underdeveloped ethical, legal, and societal framework for addressing the full implications of such research. This is a problem not unique to DARPA. Other agencies have faced it, such as NIH, during the Human Genome Project. If we do our research well, we will necessarily bump up against these concerns. Our responsibility to the defense of the Nation is such that we must thoughtfully address these issues, while simultaneously pursuing our work. We expect it of ourselves. And sound leadership demands it. More