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Agency Harnesses Technology to Aid Defense Interests

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2011 – The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has revamped financial processes, cut contract-award time, transformed the way it chooses investments and supported Afghanistan operations with leading-edge technology over the past year, DARPA’s director said here yesterday.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities, Regina E. Dugan called the period “one of vision paired with execution.”

Speed is part of the vibrancy of innovation, Dugan said, and the absence of bureaucracy is “a brand attribute of DARPA.”

“In the last year,” she told the subcommittee, “our contracting time has been reduced by 20 percent, and by September, improved execution had put $600 million more to work for defense and in the economy than in any of the five years prior.”

DARPA’s singular mission is creating and preventing strategic surprise, Dugan said, noting that this can take a decade, or it can happen in 90 days.

“This spectrum is revealed most vividly in our support to operations in Afghanistan,” she said.

Within 90 days, Dugan said, a sustained DARPA effort yielded advances in computation techniques. Three weeks later, a group of analysts traveled to International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Afghanistan, setting up a forward operating cell.

Three months later, a light-detection and ranging system five years in the making was providing three-dimensional maps to users on the battlefield. “LIDAR” systems use light to image objects in the same way that radar systems use radio waves.

The high-altitude LIDAR operational experiment system, called HALOE, can collect data more than 10 times faster than state-of-the-art systems or 100 times faster than conventional systems, Dugan told the panel.

“At full operational capacity, the HALOE system can map 50 percent of Afghanistan in 90 days,” the director said, “whereas previous systems would have required three years.”

The real challenge at DARPA is not generating ideas but choosing from among them, Dugan said, using manufacturing as an example.

“To address this challenge, we have developed several deeply quantitative analytic frameworks,” she said. “Through them, we ask, where are the opportunities to effect changes not in the margins, but in big, bold strokes. The time required to design, test and build complex defense systems has grown from two years to more than 10. We simply must improve our ability to make things.”

DARPA officials are trying to bring technological and efficiency leaps in manufacturing –- such as those realized in semiconductors, software and protein production -- to defense systems, Dugan said, with the goal of compressing the time it takes to field military ground vehicles by a factor of five.

“There is no issue more fundamental to the nation’s defense and competitiveness than this,” Dugan said, “because to innovate we must make, and to protect we must produce.”

Noting another key area that has DARPA’s attention, Dugan said current approaches to cybersecurity are divergent with an evolving threat. “This calls for aggressive [research and development],” she added, “and we are stepping up to the challenge.”

Over the past 20 years, security software has increased from thousands of lines of code to more than 10 million lines of code, Dugan told the subcommittee.

“It’s like being in the ocean and treading water,” Dugan said. ”You must, but if that’s all you do, eventually you will drown.”

Needing new options, the director said, DARPA recruited an expert team, increased its investment and launched several new initiatives. The agency is investing more than $250 million in cyber initiatives in 2012, a 100 percent increase over the fiscal 2011 cyber budget request, she added.

Beginning in 2012, she said, the president’s budget request includes another $500 million for cyber research over the course of the Future Year Defense Program.


Contact Author

Regina E. Dugan

Related Sites:
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

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