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DARPA Director outlines Agency relevance, focus

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 DARPA Director Dr. Arati Prabhakar took to the Pentagon podium this afternoon to brief the media on DARPA's new "framework" and to defend the Agency's budget.

This framework document makes the case, in very broad strokes, for DARPA's relevance in an austere budgetary environment where "80%" or "good enough" solutions will supposedly be embraced and "silver bullet seeking" will be frowned up.  Dr. Prabhakar's argument is that, 55 years on, DARPA's Sputnik-launch-induced charge of "avoiding and providing technology surprise" is more important than ever in a world where rapidly advancing technology can quickly negate military edge and in a world where threats are increasingly diffuse.

The advertised focus of the briefing -- DoD critical technologies for the future -- was not delivered today.  Instead, the Director identified some broad areas of focus -- i.e., "Layered, multi technology warfighting concepts," "Adaptable systems and solutions," and "Innovation to invert the cost equation" (which are equally vague in the framework document ) and left it at that. 

While the media was left wanting a Letterman's list of say, the "top ten" areas of DoD tech focus moving forward (some will remember DoD's Annual Critical Technologies Plan), it was not provided. Specifically (if off-handedly) mentioned areas of continued DARPA focus, distilled mostly via the subsequent Q&A, included: big data analytics (Nexus 7); cyber-offense (program delayed 5 months); space utilization/enabled effects; position, navigation and timing (PNT) efforts to reduce GPS vulnerability; and study work with the USAF and USN on "air dominance" -- i.e., a sixth-generation fighter.  

As DSJ noted yesterday when the briefing announcement was released, DARPA does its work, avoids the media, and seldom touts its accomplishments and plans in public.  It was clear that Dr. Prabhakar, who seemed uncomfortable in the cheerleader role, developed this new framework and rolled it out today to make certain that DARPA's mission is recognized (remember, we brought you stealth and GPS and the internet!) as relevant/important in the 21st Century and that as the RDT&E funding pie shrinks, DARPA might hold its ground against the Military Service RDT&E communities, many of whom think they could make better use of DARPA's annual budget of nearly $3 billion.  

As to sequestration's impact on DARPA, Dr. Prabhakar noted that each the Agency's program elements is now absorbing an 8% cut for FY13 (doubly painful, as it it being implemented on a half-year basis), with some flexibility to manage/allocate within each Program Element.  She noted that DARPA awards and grants have been delayed and that DARPA employees will take part in whatever DoD furlough is adopted.  She stated that while DARPA could handle the "one time hit," continued funding cuts of this magnitude would be "corrosive" to the Agency's objectives/effectiveness.


 

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