The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was created with a national sense of urgency in February 1958 amidst one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the Cold War and the already-accelerating pace of technology. In the months preceding the official authorization for the agency’s creation, Department of Defense Directive Number 5105.15, the Soviet Union had launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, and the world’s second satellite, Sputnik II.
History Time Line:
1957 – The Sputnik Surprise – On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union (USSR) launched the first satellite ever, triggering events that led to creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) on February 7, 1958. Although it was well known that both the USSR and the United States were working on satellites for the international scientific collaboration known as the International Geophysical Year (an 18-month “year” from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958 and designed to coincide with a peak phase of the solar cycle), many in the United States never fathomed that the USSR would be the first into space. “Now, somehow, in some way, the sky seemed almost alien,” then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson recalled feeling on that night, adding that he remembered “the profound shock of realizing that it might be possible for another nation to achieve technological superiority over this great country of ours.” Ever since its establishment on February 7, 1958, ARPA—which later added the D for defense at the front of its name—has been striving to keep that technological superiority in the hands of the United States.
1958 – ARPA is Born – On February 7, 1958, Neil McElroy, the Department of Defense Secretary, issued DoD Directive 5105.15 establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), later renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Agency’s first three primary research thrusts focused on space technology, ballistic missile defense, and solid propellants.
1958 – Saturn V and Centaur Rockets – In its first months, ARPA managed and funded rocket development programs that would prove to be long-lived and far-reaching. Among these was a launch-vehicle program under the auspices of Wernher von Braun’s engineering team that would transfer to America’s new civilian space program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). There, von Braun’s initial booster technology, Juno V, would lead to the cluster-engine Saturn V Space Launch Vehicle, famous for its role in manned spaceflight to the Moon.
Another DARPA-authorized program in 1958, development of a liquid oxygen/hydrogen (LOX/LH2) upper-stage rocket known as Centaur, also transferred to the fledgling NASA. After several failures, the Centaur booster achieved its first successful orbital flight in 1963 and its first successful mission in 1966. Centaur rockets improved the ability of U.S. launch vehicles to place sizeable payloads into geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and helped pave the way toward future lunar and deep space missions. During its evolution, the Centaur LOX/LH2 upper stage technology has been used extensively on Atlas and Titan boosters for diverse missions. Centaur engine technology was also used in the upper stages of the Saturn rockets for the Apollo manned missions to the Moon and in the Space Shuttle’s liquid hydrogen-oxygen engines.
1959 – First Weather Satellite: (TIROS) – Initiated by ARPA in 1958 and transferred to NASA in 1959, the Television and Infrared Observations Satellites (TIROS) program became the prototype for the current global systems used for weather reporting, forecasting and research by the Defense Department, NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Moreover, TIROS helped define ARPA’s model of successfully bringing together scientists and engineers from different services, federal agencies, and contracting firms to solve vexing problems and quickly achieve a complex technical feat.
The program greatly advanced the science of meteorology by placing the first dedicated weather satellite in orbit, TIROS 1, on April 1, 1960. The mission swiftly proved the viability of observing weather from space. It took 23,000 cloud-cover pictures, of which more than 19,000 were used in weather analysis. For the first time, meteorologists were able to track storms over the course of several days.
1959 – Phased Array Radar – Before DARPA was established, a President’s Science Advisory Committee panel and other experts had concluded that reliable ballistic missile defense (BMD) and space surveillance technologies would require the ability to detect, track, and identify a large number of objects moving at very high speeds. Responding to these needs, DARPA in 1959 initiated a competition for the design and construction of a large, experimental two-dimensional phased array with beam steering under computer control rather than requiring mechanical motion of the antenna.
Known as the Electronically Steered Array Radar (ESAR) Program, the focus of the effort was to develop low-cost, high-power tubes and phase shifters, extend component frequency ranges, increase bandwidth, apply digital techniques, and study antenna coupling. DARPA pioneered the construction of ground-based phased array radars such as the FPS-85. This radar system had a range of several thousand miles and could detect, track, identify, and catalog Earth-orbiting objects and ballistic missiles. The FPS-85 quickly became part of the Air Force SPACETRACK system and was in operation from 1962 until the SPACETRACK unit was deactivated in early 1967.
1960 – Corona Reconnaissance Satellite – One of the world’s earliest and most well-known spy satellite programs, the now declassified Corona photo-reconnaissance program was jointly funded by DARPA and the Central Intelligence Agency. Withstanding a series of initial failures, the program scored its first success in August 1960 when a canister of film dropped back through the atmosphere was successfully recovered, delivering a trove of intelligence photos taken over Soviet territory. The Corona program continued to acquire crucial Cold War intelligence until the mission ended in 1972.
1960 – Materials Science – In 1960, ARPA helped establish what now is the burgeoning field of materials science and engineering by announcing the first three contracts of the Agency’s Interdisciplinary Laboratory (IDL) program. Following these initial four-year renewable contracts to Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Northwestern University, the Agency awarded nine more IDL contracts around the country. The program lasted just over a decade when, in 1972, the National Science Foundation (NSF) took over the program and changed its name to the Materials Research Laboratories (MRL) program.
1969 – Transit Satellite: Space-based Navigation – ARPA launched the first satellite in what would become the world’s first global satellite navigation system. Known as Transit, the system provided accurate, all-weather navigation to both military and commercial vessels, including most importantly the U.S. Navy’s ballistic missile submarine force.
Transit, whose concept and technology were developed by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, established the basis for wide acceptance of satellite navigation systems. The system’s surveying capabilities—generally accurate to tens of meters—contributed to improving the accuracy of maps of the Earth’s land areas by nearly two orders of magnitude.
ARPA funded the Transit program in 1958, launched its first satellite in 1960, and transitioned the technology to the Navy in the mid-1960s. By 1968, a fully operational constellation of 36 satellites was in place. Transit operated for 28 years until 1996, when the Defense Department replaced it with the current Global Positioning System (GPS).
1961 – ARPA Midcourse Optical Station – The Agency initiated the ARPA Midcourse Optical Station (AMOS) program in 1961 with the goal of developing an astronomical-quality observatory to obtain precise measurements and images of satellites, payloads, and other space objects re-entering the atmosphere from space. ARPA located the facility atop Mount Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.
By 1969, the quality and potential of AMOS had been demonstrated, and a second phase began to measure properties of re-entry bodies at the facility under the Advanced Ballistic Reentry System Project. In the late 1970s, successful space object measurements continued in the infrared and visible ranges, and laser illumination and ranging were initiated.
Other developments such as the compensated imaging program were tested successfully at AMOS. By 1984, the AMOS twin infrared telescopes had become a highly automated system and DARPA transferred it to the U.S. Air Force as one of the primary sensors of the Air Force Space Tracking System. In 1993, the Air Force renamed AMOS as the Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing Site.
1961 – Project Agile – In what ended up being for the Agency an extremely rare practice of direct or near-direct support of active military operations, ARPA initiated Project Agile in 1961, which grew into a large and diverse portfolio of counterinsurgency research programs in Southeast Asia. The project ran through 1974. Along the way, subprojects included weapons (among them flamethrowers and what became known as the M-16 assault rifle), rations, mobility and logistics in remote areas, communications, surveillance and target acquisition, defoliation, and psychological warfare.
1962 – Information Processing Techniques Office – DARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) was born in 1962 and for nearly 50 years was responsible for DARPA’s information technology programs. IPTO invested in breakthrough technologies and seminal research projects that led to pathbreaking developments in computer hardware and software. Some of the most fundamental advances came in the areas of time-sharing, computer graphics, networking, advanced microprocessor design, parallel processing and artificial intelligence.
IPTO pursued an investment strategy in line with the vision of the office’s first director, J. C. R. Licklider. Licklider believed that humans would one day interact seamlessly with computers, which, in his words, “were not just superfast calculating machines, but joyful machines: tools that will serve as new media of expression, inspirations to creativity, and gateways to a vast world of online information.” IPTO was combined with DARPA’s Transformational Convergence Technology Office (TCTO) in 2010 to form the Information Innovation Office (I2O).
1962 – oN-Line System – A groundbreaking computer framework known as oN-Line System (NLS) got off the ground thanks to funding from DARPA and the U.S. Air Force. Conceived by Douglas Engelbart and developed by him and colleagues at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), the NLS system was the first to feature hypertext links, a mouse, raster-scan video monitors, information organized by relevance, screen windowing, presentation programs and other modern computing concepts. In what became known as “The Mother of All Demos,” because it demonstrated the revolutionary features of NLS as well as never-before-seen video presentation technologies, Engelbart unveiled NLS in San Francisco on December 9, 1968, to a large audience at the Fall Joint Computer Conference. Engelbart’s terminal was linked to a large-format video projection system loaned by the NASA Ames Research Center and via telephone lines to a SDS 940 computer (designed specifically for time-sharing among multiple users) 30 miles away in Menlo Park, California, at the Augmentation Research Center, which Engelbart founded at SRI. On a 22-foot-high screen with video insets, the audience could see Engelbart manipulate the mouse and watch as members of his team in Menlo Park joined in the presentation. With the arrival of the ARPA Network at SRI in 1969, the time-sharing technology that seemed practical with a small number of users became impractical over a distributed network, but NLS opened pathways toward today’s astounding range of information technologies.
1963 – Arecibo Observatory – On November 6, 1959, Cornell University signed a contract with ARPA to conduct development studies for a large-scale ionospheric radar probe and how such an instrument might also serve in radioastronomy and other scientific fields. Four years later, on November 1, 1963, an inauguration ceremony was held in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, for the Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory, later to be known more generally as the Arecibo Observatory.
Its telescope “dish”—the largest in the world until 2016 with the completion in China of the FAST dish telescope—is 1,000 feet (305 meters) in diameter, 167 feet (51 meters) deep, and covers an area of approximately 20 acres (0.08 square kilometers). Development of the Arecibo facility was initially supported as part of the DEFENDER program, a broad-based missile defense program. The observatory was designed to study the structure of the upper ionosphere and its interactions with electromagnetic communications signals.
The observatory became part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC), a national research center operated by SRI International, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), and Universidad Metropolitana (UMET) through a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF). Researchers tapped the observatory for their studies of ionospheric physics, radar and radio astronomy, aeronomy, and dynamics of the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The facility also helped NASA select lunar landing sites as well as landing sites for the Viking missions to Mars. In 2020, a series of cable failures culminated in a collapse of the structure on December 1, dramatically highlighting the end of one of the country’s great scientific facilities.
1963 – VELA: Nuclear Explosion Detection – The ARPA Vela program developed sensors to detect nuclear explosions in space, the upper atmosphere, and underwater to support the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, under which the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union banned atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons. The first VELA sensors, deployed on a pair of satellites launched three days after the treaty was signed, were designed to monitor for optical and electromagnetic signatures of nuclear explosions in the atmosphere.
Later in the 1960s and 1970s, DARPA oversaw the development of the World Wide Standardized Seismograph Network (WWSSN) for detecting underground nuclear tests. The Agency also helped expand detection technologies globally and internationally by running workshops, funding research projects in other countries, and championing community-building initiatives.
1964 – First Computer Mouse – As part of an ARPA-funded experiment to find better ways for computer users to interact with computers, Douglas Engelbart of SRI—who would later work on the DARPA-sponsored ARPANET project, the Internet’s precursor—invented the computer mouse. The first mouse was carved out of wood and had just one button. Later incarnations such as this early Logitech® mouse led to the diversity of mice now on desktops around the world.
The mouse was an early example of many innovations that DARPA would help nurture into various components of the information technology landscape over the next five decades. In What Will Be (HarperCollins, 1997), author Michael Dertouzos credits DARPA with “… between a third and a half of all the major innovations in computer science and technology.”
1964 – Project MAC – One of the first major efforts supported by ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) was the Project on Mathematics and Computation (Project MAC), the world’s first large-scale experiment in personal computing, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Orchestrated within the general context of broad-based command and control research suggested by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and based on the vision of the founding IPTO Director, J.C.R. Licklider, Project MAC was oriented toward achieving a new level of human-computer interaction.
1966 – M16 Rifle – The M16 Assault Rifle is the standard-issue shoulder weapon in the U.S. military. Designed to fire small, high-velocity rounds (5.56 mm caliber vs. 7.62 mm), the weapon is relatively small and light, thereby significantly decreasing the overall load warfighters needed to carry.
The M16 is based on a design (the Colt AR-15) that had already been rejected by the Chief of Staff of the Army in favor of the heavier 7.62 mm M14. Colt brought the weapon to DARPA in 1962.
Through Project AGILE, DARPA purchased 1,000 AR-15s and issued them to combat troops in Southeast Asia for field trials, to prove that the high-velocity 5.56 mm round had satisfactory performance. The subsequent DARPA report documenting the lethality of the AR-15 was instrumental in motivating the Secretary of Defense to reconsider the Army’s decision and this led to a the first large-scale procurement in 1966 of a modified AR-15—the M16—for deployment in the Vietnam conflict.
1966 – Shakey the Robot – Charles Rosen, head of the Machine Learning Group at the Stanford Research Institute (now known as SRI International) developed a proposal in 1964 to build a robot that at the time would have featured the intelligence and capabilities that had only been depicted in science fiction books and movies. Even then, Rosen knew that ARPA might appreciate the potential and provide support, which the Agency did in 1966. Six years later, Rosen’s team literally rolled out Shakey, so-named because it shook as it moved. More importantly, Shakey was the first mobile robot with enough artificial intelligence to navigate on its own through a set of rooms. Among its component technologies were a TV camera, a range finder, radio communications, and a set of drive wheels controlled with stepping motors.
1967- QT-2 quiet aircraft – The efficacy of nighttime aerial reconnaissance operations in Southeast Asia was diminished due to engine noise that provided the enemy with advanced warning of approaching aircraft. With an eye on making quiet aircraft that could better serve this reconnaissance mission, ARPA funded the Lockheed Missile and Space Company to develop a quiet, propeller-driven aircraft. This fast-paced program quickly yielded a successful prototype, the QT-2, which in 1968 was deployed and proven in combat. The program transitioned to the U.S. Army, which sponsored a limited production of an advanced version of the quiet aircraft, the YO-3A.
1968 – Explosive Forming – Between 1968 and 1972, ARPA supported an effort proposed by the University of Denver to use explosives for forming metal parts for aerospace applications. The underwater process relied on a mold for the part over which was placed a plate of the metal alloy to be used. This preparation, when immersed in water, would feel the shock of an explosive charge to such a degree that the metal plate would be forced against the die. The process could reproducibly deliver serviceable parts out of steel, aluminum, titanium, and Inconel, a superalloy. The effort opened a new way to produce a variety made of aerospace components, including engine parts such as engine diffusers and afterburner rings for Pratt &Whitney engines that powered the storied SR71. The variation of the process also was deployed for many years to weld superstructures to the decks of U.S. Navy warships.
1968 – Mother of all Demos – Conceived by Douglas Engelbart and developed by him and colleagues at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), the groundbreaking computer framework known as oN-Line System (NLS), jointly funded by ARPA and the Air Force, evolved throughout the decade. In what became known as “The Mother of All Demos”—because it demonstrated the revolutionary features of NLS as well as never-before-seen video presentation technologies—Engelbart unveiled NLS in San Francisco on December 9, 1968, to a large audience at the Fall Joint Computer Conference. Engelbart’s terminal was linked to a large-format video projection system loaned by the NASA Ames Research Center and via telephone lines to a SDS 940 computer (designed specifically for time-sharing among multiple users) 30 miles away in Menlo Park, California, at the Augmentation Research Center, which Engelbart founded at SRI. On a 22-foot-high screen with video insets, the audience could see Engelbart manipulate the mouse and watch as members of his team in Menlo Park joined in the presentation.
With the arrival of the ARPA Network at SRI in 1969, the time-sharing technology that seemed practical with a small number of users became impractical over a distributed network. NLS, however, opened pathways toward today’s astounding range of information technologies.
1969 – ARPANET – ARPA research played a central role in launching the “Information Revolution,” including developing or furthering much of the conceptual basis for ARPANET, a pioneering network for sharing digital resources among geographically separated computers. Its initial demonstration in 1969 led to the Internet, whose world-changing consequences unfold on a daily basis today. A seminal step in this sequence took place in 1968 when ARPA contracted BBN Technologies to build the first routers, which one year later enabled ARPANET to become operational.
1969 – Compact Turbofan Engines – Building on the momentum of jet engine research prior to ARPA’s creation, the Agency joined with the U.S. Army in 1965 on the Individual Mobility System (IMS) project (1965-1969) with the goal of extending the range and endurance of the Bell Rocket Belt developed for the Army in the 1950s. With DARPA funding, Bell replaced the vertical lift rocket system with a compact, highly efficient turbofan engine that Williams Research Corporation was developing.
The DARPA project helped bring the WR-19 turbofan engine into full development. It also brought it to the attention of the U.S. Air Force, for which the engine demonstrated excellent horizontal flight characteristics. The engine was adapted for use in the new Air Force cruise missile program. The U.S. Navy also became interested in the Williams Research engines as it adapted cruise missiles for maritime applications.
By the 1990s, improved versions of the Williams engine would power all the air, surface, and subsurface launched cruise missiles in the Navy and Air Force inventories. Later incarnation of these propulsion technology developments would power the AGM-86B air-launched cruise missiles and Navy Tomahawk cruise missiles in Desert Storm in 1991 and in subsequent conflicts.
1969 – Torpedo Propulsion – In 1969, the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State began work, under U.S. Navy sponsorship, on a lithium-based thermal energy system for torpedo application. The system, known as the Stored Chemical Energy Propulsion System (SCEPS), was applicable to the high-power, short-duration mission of a torpedo. In a subsequent effort to further torpedo capabilities, DARPA subsequently selected the SCEPS heat source for use with an engine design that could be suitable for deployment in a long-endurance undersea vehicle.
One of the engineering obstacles that the DARPA adaptation of the heat source overcame was the development of long-life injectors of SF6 (one of the SCEPS chemical ingredients) that could survive in the system’s molten lithium bath. The Navy SCEPS program, which had also been experiencing some difficulty with injectors, adapted the DARPA technology. SCEPS became the power plant for the MK 50 Torpedo, which the Navy first authorized for use in late 1992.
1970 – Beryllium Mirror Research – From 1968 to 1972, ARPA funded a program with the Perkin Elmer Corporation to develop the technology for fabricating large, stable, low-weight mirrors from beryllium, a featherweight metal, for use in space applications. The early focus of the program was in developing and evaluating improved forms of beryllium. Perkin Elmer was successful in improving the thermal stability of beryllium surfaces tenfold, and developing materials-processing techniques (powder metallurgy, hot isostatic processing, pressureless sintering) for making it possible to fabricate large beryllium structures.
Further ARPA- funded efforts led to surface-polishing techniques to dramatically reduce scattering of infrared wavelengths, the successful development of thin-film coatings techniques, and a demonstration of the long-term stability of beryllium surfaces. DoD applications included 1) the all-beryllium, 15-inch aperture, long-wave infrared (IR) telescope system for the Midcourse Airborne Target Signature program run by what was then known as the Advanced Ballistic Missile Defense Agency; 2) the fabrication of a lightweight, 40-inch, aspheric mirror for the U.S. Air Force; and 3) experimental near-net-shape production of a key component of the Trident 11 MK6 guidance system. NASA also applied the technology in the form of a 85-cm beryllium mirror assembly for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)’s IR Telescope Technology Testbed for eventual use in NASA’s Space Infrared Telescope Facility (later renamed the Spitzer Space Telescope), which was launched in 2003 and as of 2018 was still in operation.
1970 – Comp Sentinel Radar – The Camp Sentinel Radar penetrated foliage to detect infiltrators near U.S. deployments and was a fast turnaround,Vietnam-era development of advanced technology. Camp Sentinel responded to a military need for intruder detection with enough accuracy to direct fire. DARPA recommended a foliage penetration radar, which was completed within two years at a direct cost of $2 million. Camp Sentinel radar prototypes were field-tested in Vietnam in 1968 and retained by the troops for use for the rest of the war.
The Camp Sentinel technology pioneered the development of radar in hostile jungle conditions, which feature absorption and refraction by foliage in high-clutter environments, among other challenges. The Camp Sentinel radar project developed clutter rejection processing techniques, which were also later used by commercial acoustic-based intruder detectors.
1971 – Anti-Submarine Warfare – With the blue water threat of free-ranging, nuclear-armed Soviet submarines coming to a head in 1971, the Department of Defense (DoD) assigned DARPA a singular mission: Revamp the U.S. military’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities to track enemy subs under the open ocean where the U.S. Navy’s existing Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) was falling short. At the time, the U.S. Navy was already working on what would become its Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System, or SURTASS, through which surface ships towed long, mobile arrays of sensors to listen for submarine activity. Telemetry and data-handling issues greatly limited the system’s capabilities.
That’s when DARPA committed funds for the LAMBDA program to modify oil-industry-designed seismic towed arrays so they could detect submarine movement. DARPA-funded scientists began experiments at submarine depths, and soon generated spectacular results. In 1981, the DoD gave quick approval for production of a LAMBDA-enhanced SURTASS array, without requiring further study, a highly unusual decision for a program that had experienced a major technology shift late in the game. The system—which with DARPA participation would become enhanced by way of leading-edge computational tools, satellite-based data linkages, and computer networking—would become the Navy’s go-to method for tracking mobile Soviet subs for the remainder of the Cold War. By 1985, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman was so confident in his force’s ability to keep tabs on elusive Soviet boomers (a nickname for ballistic missile submarines), he declared that in the event the Cold War turned hot, he would attack Soviet subs “in the first five minutes of the war.”
1971 – Glassy Carbon – From 1971 to 1974, ARPA supported research on “glassy” carbon, a unique foam material composed of pure carbon and that combined low weight, high strength, and chemical inertness. The program led to techniques for producing the material with an exceptionally porous, high surface area combined with high rigidity, low resistance to fluid flow, and resistance to very high temperatures in a non-oxidizing environment.
Eyed originally for roles in electro-chemistry because of its high surface area, the material proved suitable for surgical implants, especially heart valves. Development of the valves began about three years after the end of the ARPA program, with production commencing in 1985. In 1990, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its approval for using glassy carbon in implants in a valve market that grew within the decade to 100,000 units and a market value of $200 million. A related form, pyrolytic carbon, remains common in the inner orifice and leaflets of artificial valves.
1972 – Advanced Aircraft Materials – New materials that perform better than previous ones or with unprecedented properties open pathways to new and improved technologies. F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft, still in use by the U.S. Air Force today, owe much of their performance advancements to materials technologies that emerged from DARPA materials development programs conducted in the 1970s and early 1980s. One of many notable successes from these efforts was the development of rare-earth permanent magnets with magnetic strengths far stronger than conventional magnetic materials and, in some cases, over larger operational conditions. The samarium- and cobalt-based rare-earth magnetic material Sm2Co17, for example, remains reliable over the entire militarily relevant temperature range of -55°C to 125°C. These magnets ultimately assumed a role in a key component of the AN/ALQ-135 electronic warfare system, permitting operation of the F-15 to 70,000 feet in altitude.
1972 ARPA Becomes DARPA – The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) gained a “D” when it was renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1972. The Agency’s name briefly reverted to ARPA in 1993, only to have the “D” restored in 1996.
1972 – Gallium Arsenide – Beginning in the mid-1970s, DARPA orchestrated extensive research into the semiconductor material gallium arsenide, which could host faster transistors operating at higher power than could silicon. The work would contribute to subsequent DARPA-spurred achievement in the 1980s to miniaturize receivers for GPS. That technology, in conjunction with DARPA-developed advances in inertial navigation, expanded the Nation’s arsenal of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) through such innovations as “bolt-on” Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) GPS kits, which gave otherwise unguided or laser-guided munitions new, high-precision capabilities. Key to these developments were gallium arsenide chips developed through DARPA’s Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit program, which also enabled the radio frequency (RF) and millimeter-wave circuits needed in precision weapons.
1973 – TCP/IP – In a seminal moment in the development of the Internet, DARPA’s Robert Kahn (who joined the Information Processing Techniques Office as a program manager in 1972) asked Vinton Cerf of Stanford University to collaborate on a project to develop new communications protocols for sending packets of data across the ARPANET. That query resulted in the creation of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), most often seen together as TCP/IP. These protocols remain a mainstay of the Internet’s underlying technical foundation.
1975 – Ceramic Turbine – ARPA began a program to demonstrate and encourage the use of brittle high-temperature materials in engineering design, with an eye on ceramic components for gas turbine applications. The approach included major efforts in ceramic design, materials development, fabrication process development, and test and evaluation methodology. By the end of the program in 1979, one of the performers, a team with Ford, demonstrated that design with brittle materials in highly stressed applications is possible and, in particular, that ceramics are feasible as major structural components in gas turbine engines. This program started the “Ceramic Fever” that spread throughout the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The successful demonstration of ceramics in a gas turbine environment led to the establishment of ceramic programs in virtually every automotive or engine company in the world, in other U.S. government agencies, and in several foreign countries.
1977 – HAVE BLUE and Stealth Technology – In the early 1970s, a DARPA study brought to light the extent of vulnerabilities of U.S. aircraft and their on-board equipment to detection and attack by adversaries, who were deploying new advanced air-defense missile systems. These systems integrated radar-guided surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and air-launched radar-guided missiles, all networked with early-warning, acquisition, and targeting radars, and coordinated within sophisticated command and control frameworks.
To mitigate these growing threats, DARPA embarked on a program to develop strategies and technologies for reducing radar detectability, including the reduction of radar cross section through a combination of shaping (to minimize the number of radar return spikes) and radar absorbent materials; infrared shielding, exhaust cooling and shaping, and enhanced heat dissipation; reduced visual signatures; active signature cancellation; inlet shielding; and windshield coatings.
In the mid-1970s, DARPA oversaw the development of HAVE Blue, the first practical combat stealth aircraft, which made its first test flight by the end of 1977. This led to the procurement by the Air Force of the F-117A stealth fighter, which became operational in October 1983. A follow-on development, the TACIT Blue aircraft, could operate radar sensors while maintaining its own low radar cross-section. This laid foundations for development of the B-2 stealth bomber.
Stealth aircraft destroyed key targets in conflicts in Iraq, both in the 1991 Desert Storm operation and in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom; in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001; and in Libya in 2011. Complementing the key contributions of stealth capabilities in these missions was Department of Defense’s use of other technologies, including DARPA-enabled precision-guided munitions, which were deployed by stealth and non-stealth aircraft. Since their initial development and deployment, stealth technologies have been applied to a wide range of weapon systems and military platforms, among them missiles, helicopters, ground vehicles and ships.
1978 – Assault Breaker – In 1978, DARPA integrated a number of technologies—including lasers, electro-optical sensors, microelectronics, data processors, and radars—important for precision guided munitions (PGMs) under its Assault Breaker program. Over a four-year period, Assault Breaker laid the technological foundation for several smart-weapon systems that were ultimately fielded with high success. Among these systems are the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), which integrated PGMs with advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems developed with DARPA support; the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles; a U.S. Air Force air-to-ground missile with terminally guided submunitions; the long-range, quick-response, surface-to-surface Army Tactical Missile System (ATMS), which featured all-weather, day/night capability effective against mobile and other targets; and the Brilliant Anti-armor Tank (BAT) submunition, which used acoustic sensors on its wings to detect and target tanks.
1978 – Excimer Lasers – Building on earlier joint efforts, the U.S. Navy and DARPA initiated a new joint program in 1978 with the objective of achieving a laser communications link between aircraft, space platforms or mirrors, and submerged submarines. The ground-based laser-space mirror part of this effort built largely on DARPA efforts toward high-powered, gas-phase excimer lasers (that could emit in the shorter, more water-penetrating region of the electromagnetic spectrum) that had led to the demonstration of a workable, moderate power, laser-optical receiver combination. Additional DARPA work on compensating for atmospheric effects on laser propagation fed into this project and were transferred to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The project yielded an efficient laser-receiver and a narrowband, matched-wavelength excimer-Raman converter laser system, which was used in successful demonstrations in 1988 of aircraft-to-submerged-submarine communication in 1988, after transfer of the Submarine Laser Communications-Satellite (SLCSAT) program to the Navy in 1987. Soon after, however, the Navy and DARPA agreed that the risks and expenses in developing new solid-state for the blue-green lasers would perhaps be more acceptable than those associated with going ahead with the gas-excimer laser systems in space. Excimer lasers would expand into medical arenas, especially for corrective eye surgery.
1978 – Hubble Telescope Assist – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Hubble Telescope takes the clearest images of the universe and transmits these to Earth via its antennas. From 1978 to 1980, DARPA funded the design, fabrication, delivery and installation of two antenna booms for the Hubble Space Telescope to demonstrate the advantages of metal-matrix composites. Made of a graphite-fiber/aluminum matrix, these booms permit radio frequency conduction while simultaneously serving as structural supports. Deploying this dual-use composite material resulted in a 60% weight savings over an alternative boom- design candidate. Through this new material technology, DARPA met NASA’s design requirements for weight, stiffness, and dimensional stability. DARPA also contributed to the Hubble’s optical successes. The telescope incorporates algorithms and concepts pioneered by DARPA’s Directed Energy Program in the late 1970s and early 1980s, by which mirrors can be deliberately deformed to correct for wavefront imperfections.
1980 – Aluminum-Lithium Alloys – In the late 1970’s, DARPA initiated a program with Lockheed Space Systems Division to develop the technology of welding aluminum-lithium alloys, which would combine high stiffness with low density and therefore lower weight. At the time, no one understood how to prepare these materials for welding and how to control impurities in the metals and welding process. Such control would be critical for producing materials repeatedly with predictable behavior and performance.
Within 18 months, metallurgists at Lockheed had developed the welding techniques for the 80/90 Al/Li alloy and applied it to the construction of space hardware. One of the most impressive structures made from this material was the Titan missile payload adapter, which was 14 feet in diameter and 17 feet high and fabricated from 3″ thick metal plate. By using this alloy, a 10% weight saving was achieved compared to the prior incarnation of that rocket components. The weight savings translated into millions of dollars at cost savings when it came to delivering hardware to obit. This material system made it into classified DoD applications as well. Lockheed scaled the process up to 400,000 lb/year of Al-Li alloys for the next four years.
1980 – Defense Sciences Office Founded – DARPA established the Defense Sciences Office (DSO) in 1980, combining the Nuclear Monitoring Research Office, materials science research, and cybernetic technology efforts into a single office. Since its inception, DSO has spawned two additional technology offices at DARPA: the Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) in 1992 and the Biological Technologies Office (BTO) in 2014.
1980 – MIRACL – In the mid-1970s, high-energy lasers showed great promise for anti-air warfare and in particular anti-ballistic missile defense. DARPA supported many technology and early system concepts for tactical high-energy lasers. This support culminated in DARPA funding the development of the Baseline Demonstration Laser (BDL) and the Navy ARPA Chemical Laser (NACL), the latter with a joint funding arrangement with the Navy.
Concurrent with these systems programs, DARPA funded the Special Laser Technology Development Program, which led to many advanced components and concepts. These concepts formed the bases for several developmental laser systems. Most noteworthy were the Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL), a massive megawatt device that relied on rocket-engine-like combustion and that first lased in 1980, and the Chemical Oxygen-Iodine Laser (COIL). The latter forms the basis of the Air Force’s Airborne Laser (ABL). In a later demonstration, the MIRACL system shot down a live, short-range rocket at White Sands Missile Range. The success led to the initiation of an operational system concept study by TRW to develop a Theater High-Energy Laser (THEL). Although the system demonstrated the capability of in-flight destruction of live artillery and the destruction of several rockets in a single day, the program ended in 2006. Even so, high-energy laser development has continued toward a pathway of operational capabilities.
1981 – JSTARS – In the mid-1970s, DARPA and the U.S. Air Force jointly developed an airborne target-acquisition and weapon-delivery radar program, Pave Mover, under the Agency’s Assault Breaker program. The Pave Mover system relied on even earlier DARPA-sponsored research into moving target indication (MTI) radar for detecting slowly moving targets. As the program progressed, researchers added a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to analyze areas for which the MTI radar could not detect a moving target, as well as capabilities for detecting helicopters and even rotating antennas. Also originally a part of Pave Mover was a weapon guidance feature.
These and other technologies became the basis for the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) in the 1980s. And by the early 1990s, the system proved its value in Operation Desert Storm as real-time support to commanders for both battle-area situation assessment and targeting roles.
Although both the radar and the weapon guidance elements were demonstrated in the DARPA Assault Breaker program, the weapon guidance part was later dropped from the Joint STARS Program. In 1996, the Department of Defense approved JSTARS for production and deployment. The Air Force executed contracts with Northrop Grumman to modify seventeen Boeing 707-300 series aircraft into what a fleet of E-8C JSTARS, which have undergone multiple modifications and upgrades over the years.
1981 – MOSIS Semiconductor Service – To hasten development in the microelectronics arena of very large-scale integration (VLSI), DARPA funded Metal Oxide Silicon Implementation Service, or MOSIS. The service provided a fast-turnaround (four to ten weeks), low-cost ability to run limited batches of custom and semicustom microelectronic devices. By decoupling researchers from the need to have direct access to fabrication facilities and to negotiate the complexities of producing microelectronic chips, MOSIS opened innovation in this space to players who otherwise might have been precluded. A key aspect of MOSIS was the pooling of several chip designs onto a single semiconductor wafer. MOSIS opened for business in January 1981 and a MOSIS service was still available in nearly 40 years later.
1981 – No-Tall-Rotor Helicopter – In the early 1980s, DARPA nurtured the development of no-tail-rotor (NOTAR) technologies, resulting in significantly quieter helicopters that could operate with a lower chance of detection. DARPA’s support helped to show the operational advantages of the NOTAR flying demonstrator led to a NOTAR series of helicopters used by government agencies and the commercial sector. The NOTAR system was considered to be the first successful fundamental configuration change to the single-rotor helicopter since the incorporation of the turbine engine in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
1982 – Tacit Blue – DARPA embarked on the pathbreaking research and development that would lead to stealth technology in the 1970s. A milestone in that R&D trajectory was the production of two demonstrator aircraft by Lockheed in what was called the HAVE BLUE program. This resulted in the first practical combat stealth aircraft, which made its first test flight by the end of 1977. A year later, the company received a contract to scale-up engineering development of what become the F-117 and which became operational in October 1983. In 1976, Northrup received a sole-source grant by DARPA to develop the BSAX aircraft, later named TACIT Blue aircraft, which could operate radar sensors while maintaining its own low radar cross-section. The experimental aircraft first flew in 1982 and the many stealth, radar, and aerodynamic innovations it incorporated laid foundations for development of the B-2 stealth bomber, which was first used in combat in 1999.
Stealth aircraft destroyed key targets in conflicts in Iraq, both in the 1991 Desert Storm operation and in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom; in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001; and in Libya in 2011. Complementing the key contributions of stealth capabilities in these missions was Department of Defense’s use of other technologies, including DARPA-enabled precision-guided munitions deployed by stealth and non-stealth aircraft. Since their initial development and deployment, stealth technologies have been applied to a wide range of weapon systems and military platforms, among them missiles, helicopters, ground vehicles, and ships.
1983 – Miniaturized GPS Receivers – With roots extending to the DARPA-supported Transit program—a Navy submarine-geopositioning system originating in the earliest years of the Space Age at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory—what became today’s world-changing GPS technology began to take modern form in 1973. That is when the Department of Defense called for the creation of a joint program office to develop the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System.
In the early 1980s, as this network of dozens of satellites and ground stations became ever more operational, Soldiers on the ground had to heft around bulky and heavy PSN-8 Manpack GPS receivers. In 1983, in response to a Marine Corps Required Operational Capability to lighten warfighters’ loads, DARPA re-emerged in the GPS-development landscape, focusing on miniaturizing GPS receivers. That effort created a context in which an industry participant in the development process, Rockwell Collins, took the baton to produce a gallium arsenide hybrid chip that allowed for combined analog and digital functionality and the first “all-digital” GPS receivers.
Miniaturized GPS technology has significantly improved the U.S. military’s ability to attack and eliminate difficult targets and to do so from greater distances—fundamentally and progressively changing strategy and enabling successes during the Cold War, the Gulf War, and in more recent conflicts in which the United States has had to contend with dispersed and elusive foes. It also has had transformative effects throughout society. Perhaps most emblematic of this ongoing technology revolution is that soothing voice saying, “Turn right at the next corner,” from your smart phone’s navigation application (and the arguably less soothing declaration, “Recalculating”).
1984 – Sea Shadow – Drawing inspiration from his work on the F-117 stealth aircraft, Ben Rich, then head of Lockheed’s Skunk Works, proposed applying the technology concepts he and his colleagues had learned for aircraft to submarines, with the idea of making these vessels undetectable via sonar. Initial tests on a small model suggested the stealth gains could be on the order of a thousand fold, albeit with a cost of speed due to the design.
The Department of Defense did not show interest in this line of investigation until Rich, with input from a colleague, adapted the idea to apply to surface ships. This led to a DARPA contract to apply stealth concepts and materials to surface vessels and to test the effects of seawater on the radar-absorbing materials.
Developed in great secrecy, a prototype, the Sea Shadow (also designated as IX-529) was assembled out of sight within a submersible barge (the Hughes Mining Barge 1) in Redwood City, California. The Sea Shadow’s first trials in 1981 proved greatly disappointing because the ship’s wake was unexpectedly huge and detectable with sonar and from the air. After discovering that the problem was due the motor propellers, which had been installed backwards, the project moved forward. The vessel was completed in 1984 and underwent night trials in 1985 and 1986. Even so, the Sea Shadow never made it beyond the testing phase, though engineers applied lessons learned in such applications as submarine periscopes and some newer Navy destroyers, including the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class ships. In 1993, the public got it first view of the stealth ship, which eventually was scrapped in 2006.
1984 – X-29 – The December 14, 1984, test flight of the X-29—the most aerodynamically unstable aircraft ever built—demonstrated forward-swept wing technology for supersonic fighter aircraft for the first time. Technology breakthroughs, among them a digital fly-by-wire flight-control system and carbon-fiber wing technology, made possible a lightweight design far more maneuverable than conventional aircraft. DARPA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force jointly developed two X-29 technology demonstration aircraft, which the Air Force acquired in March 1985 and used for 279 test flights by April 1990.
Although Air Force fighter designs ultimately embraced DARPA’s stealth revolution rather than the high maneuverability promised by forward-swept wings, other X-29 technologies found their way into future aircraft. Advanced composite materials are now used extensively in military and commercial aircraft. Aeroelastic tailoring to resist twisting under flight loads is now a standard tool for advanced designs with relevant outcomes including the long, thin wings of the Global Hawk, an unmanned surveillance aircraft.
1985 – GLOMR Satellite – The goal of the Global Low Orbiting Message Relay (GLOMR) satellite (aka CHEAPSAT) program was to demonstrate the feasibility of building a two-way, digital data communication satellite capable of performing important military missions for less than a million dollars in under a year. The broader objective was to demonstrate low-cost satellite construction technology that could pave the way for future satellites performing diverse missions.
Under DARPA sponsorship, Defense Systems, Inc. (DSI) designed and developed GLOMR. The spacecraft was placed into orbit from a getaway special canister (or GASCAN) aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger (Mission 61-A, Spacelab D-1) on October 30, 1985, and operated successfully on orbit for over 14 months, before it fell back into the Earth’s atmosphere.
A series of tests, including the use of a portable access terminal at DARPA, were conducted between Washington, D.C., and Santa Barbara, California, demonstrating two-way, cross-country communications via GLOMR. DARPA assisted in transitioning the capability of, and lessons learned from, the GLOMR program to the Defense Department (DoD) and other government agencies.
The GLOMR program demonstrated the feasibility of low-cost satellites. This spacecraft served as a model for many DoD and non-DoD uses, including communications, tracking of beacons, remote- sensor readout, and classified applications.
1986 – SEMATECH – Beginning in 1987, the SEMATECH consortium received funding from the Federal Government to help revitalize the U.S. chipmaking industry. SEMATECH is an acronym that derives from Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology A decade after its founding, in 1997, the consortium was standing on its own without annual funding from the Government. It has since spawned other organizations, such as the International Semiconductor Manufacturing Initiative with a focus on manufacturing equipment and operations.
1987 – MIMIC – The Microwave and Millimeter Wave Integrated Circuit (MIMIC) program’s objective was, according to a review by one of its program managers, “to develop microwave/millimeter-wave subsystems for use in military weapon system ‘front ends’ that are affordable, available, and broadly applicable.” The program catalyzed multi-faceted research in materials (gallium arsenide), device design, integration, defect management, manufacturing, and other areas. The work yielded a new infrastructure for MIMIC technology with specific applications proliferating throughout the military and commercial sectors.
Phased-array radar systems were among the technology’s earliest uses for defense, but as the technology progressed toward greater yields and cost reductions, cell phone designers turned to MIMIC-based power amplifiers, which placed far more communications reach in smaller packages than ever before. The program provided foundations for follow-on technology development and has served as a model for subsequent programs for pushing microwave, millimeter-wave, submillimeter-wave and THz-frequency solid-state electronics forward. In 1993, The Space Foundation, citing DARPA’s pivotal role, inducted MIMIC Technology into its Hall of Fame.
1987 – Tank Breaker/Javelin – Beginning in the 1970s, DARPA began the Tank Breaker program in response to deficiencies identified by the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps in their existing infantry anti-tank weapon. The Army evaluated two Tank Breaker designs by industry participants against alternatives in a shoot-off conducted in 1987-1988. The results led to selection of the Texas Instruments (later Raytheon) solution to the tank warfare challenge. Department of Defense officials approved it for full-scale development in 1989 under the Army’s Advanced Anti-armor Weapon System-Medium (AAWS-M) program. The Army later renamed the weapon Javelin, which entered full-scale production in 1997. It was the world’s first medium-range, one-man-portable, fire-and-forget anti-tank weapon system.
1988 – UAVs – Under a joint program (Teal Rain) with the U.S. Navy, DARPA funded the development of the first endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Amber, which in 1988 flew for more than 38 straight hours and reached an altitude of 25,000 feet. The Amber demonstration featured innovations in many technologies (digital flight controls, composite materials, microprocessors, and satellite navigation) and led to the Gnat 750 and the Tier 2 Predator. DARPA also supported development of the Global Hawk, a related high-altitude UAV system. These platforms have been transformative with respect to warfighting and ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capabilities.
1988 – Unmanned Undersea Vehicle – Full-sized, staffed ships and other sea platform cannot perform safely in all Navy missions in near-shore, or littoral waters. These missions include mine location and avoidance as well as remote surveillance. In 1988, a joint DARPA/Navy Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) Program was initiated, with the goal of demonstrating that UUVs could meet specific Navy mission requirements. The program started with a memorandum of agreement between DARPA and the Navy that specified the design and fabrication of test-bed autonomous vehicles, the independent development of mission packages, and their subsequent integration. The Navy initially pursued a submarine-launched UUV that would either guide the submarine through an area that might be mined or search an area for mines. When the Cold War ended, however, the Navy revised the program with the objective of developing a tethered shallow-water mine reconnaissance vehicle for littoral warfare. The work in the UUV led to many follow-on projects, along with a range of technology developments. Even as the Agency enters its seventh decade, UUV R&D remains part of its portfolio.
1989 – High Definition Systems – The High Definition Systems program was started in 1989 as the High Definition TV program. It was renamed High Definition Systems in 1990 and continued until 1993. The program supported work on display-related technologies, including materials and manufacturing techniques. One novel technology supported by the program, digital mirror projection technology, became a commercial success in electronic projectors, and led to an Emmy Award and an Oscar Technical Achievement Award.
1989 – RF Wafer Scale Integration – The microelectronics revolution led to a ubiquity of fingernail-sized chips bearing integrated circuits made of large numbers of tiny transistors, interconnects, and other miniaturized components and devices. DARPA challenged the research community to achieve the tight integration of chips to the scale of the entire semiconductor wafer from which, normally, hundreds of chips would be diced and then packaged into separate components of electronic systems. Among the motivations were the expectations of higher computation or storage capability in a smaller volumes, higher-reliability systems; and reduced power consumption of the wafer-based systems. The research included work in materials, defect management, manufacturing techniques, among other areas. The approach opened up novel engineering opportunities particularly for fabricating multi-element, phased-array, antenna modules on gallium-arsenide wafer for both transmitting and receiving signals.
1989 – Taurus Launch Vehicle – DARPA initiated a Small Standard Launch Vehicle (SSLV) program that led to the Taurus, a launch vehicle designed to supply the Department of Defense with quick-response, low-cost launch of tactical satellites from ground facilities. The initial DARPA model was first test-launched in 1989 and first used operationally in 1994. The prime contractor subsequently offered the vehicle in four versions.
1989 – Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Lasers – First proposed in 1977 by Japanese researcher Kenichi Iga, the vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) would have characteristics similar to light-emitting diodes and could be coupled to optical fibers. Over the next decades, a small research community began chipping away at the technical challenges it would take to produce practical VCSEL devices. But not until 1989 when DARPA began a series of programs that would support, among other technology goals, the government-wide High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Initiative, did the financial and institutional resources become adequate to move technical promise toward technological reality. VCSELs could provide short-distance, high-speed digital interconnections that would be important to meet goals of the HPCC initiative. One thrust of this effort led to the formation of the Optoelectronic Technology consortium, which led to an industry-stimulating demonstrating of multi-gigabit optoelectronic interconnect components that were based on VCSELs. At this point, still with some DARPA support, industry began to take the development baton. By 2000, VCSELs began to emerge from their developmental status into applications in fiber-fiber interconnections, optical data storage, and sensing applications. They later subsequent find roles in technologies, such as free-space chip-to-chip communications and atomic clocks, which were supporting or leading players in later DARPA programs.
1991 – Cermet Body Armor – In addition to supporting advanced materials development since its early years, DARPA has at times been called upon to identify technologies for specific near-term applications. One of these tasks occurred for Operation Desert Storm (1991-1992) when ground forces experienced a critical need for more effective armor. The DARPA solution in this case, particularly for roof protection for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) against artillery, was to ask the Lanxide Corporation to modify its cermet (ceramic/metallic) process and to work with a partner Foster Miller to produce appliqué armor.
From 1984 to 1986, DARPA supported the materials research and engineering that led to these cermet materials. With DARPA funding, 75 LAVs were up-armored with the tough composite materials. In the early 1990s, M-9 Armored Combat Earthermoves (ACE) also employed this lightweight armor. Variations of these cermet materials have been used for cockpit armor by the U.S. Air Force in C-130, C-141, and C-14 aircraft in Bosnia.
The Lanxide material has also been employed as high-power-density heat sinks for the F/A-18 and F-16 radars, turbine tip shrouds, commercial satellite heat sinks, very stiff parts for semiconductor lithography machines, and as vehicle brake components. All of the military and civil uses of Lanxide evolved directly from DARPA’s program. The military uses were under DARPA support, and then transitioned to U.S. Army and Air Force programs.
1991 – Radar Mapping – In the early 1990s, DARPA developed an airborne, all-weather, radar-based mapping capability that generated maps of the terrain with an accuracy to within six feet of elevation and that could do so day or night, and in adverse weather conditions, such as thick cloud cover or rain. Under DARPA sponsorship, the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERIM) carried out the project and mounted an interferometric radar system on a Learjet 36A to collect data, which was then processed on the ground into digital elevation models.
1991 – Short Takeoff-Vertical Landing – In 1983, DARPA began working with the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MoD) to develop a follow-on supersonic generation to the AV-8 Harrier, a pioneer aircraft for short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities. The international program that emerged from this intention, the Advanced Short Takeoff Vertical Landing (ASTOVL), expired in 1991, but various component efforts toward the same end continued. For its part, DARPA worked with the U.S. Navy to establish a development program for an STOVL Strike Fighter with capabilities specified by the Navy in 1988. The program evolved toward an aircraft that could build on much of the design base for the Air Force F-16.
In 1992, DARPA and the Navy initiated a revised ASTOVL program with an objective of demonstrating an affordable STOVL strike fighter for the U.S. Marine Corps with a conventional takeoff and landing version for possible U.S. Air Force service. In 1993 and 1994, this morphed into the DARPA-managed Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF) and into subsequent evolutionary incarnations managed by other Department of Defense entities.
1991 – Uncooled IR Detection – DARPA proved that practical, uncooled infrared detector technology was possible under the Low Cost, Uncooled Sensor Program (LOCUSP) of the late 1980’s. Previous generations of IR sensors used cryogenics to cool the detector materials and reduce system noise. Although these steps proved to be effective – these earlier systems were credited with being a major factor in the U.S. ground victory in Desert Strom, for example – the sensors were costly to develop, prohibiting widespread distribution to combat troops. Under the LOCUSP program, cost-effective, uncooled IR detector technology was developed, fabricated, and demonstrated for use across various military applications. In 1991, the Uncooled Focal Plane Arrays (UCFPA) project was started under the Balanced Technology Initiative to create practical applications of DARPA’s research into uncooled sensor arrays. Under this effort, uncooled focal plane arrays were advanced for applications such as surveillance systems for perimeter defense and weapon sights.
1992 – Brilliant Anti-Tank Munition – DARPA and the U.S. Army’s Fort Belvoir Research, Development and Engineering Center ran a series of concept studies in the early 1970s to define requirements for an anti-tank weapon referred to as the Terminally Guided Anti-Armor Indirect Fire Weapon System. Under DARPA’s wing, that morphed into the Brilliant Anti-Tank Munition (BAT), a terminally guided anti-armor munition originally intended to be carried aboard the TriService Standoff Attack Missile. Its design featured dual seekers to minimize spoofing and a novel acoustic sensor that could cue on the sound of running tank engines. A decade after the program began, more than 1,100 pre-production and low-production units had been built.
1992 – Non-Penetrating Periscope – In response to a call by Congress to establish a program to develop and efficiently transfer new hull, mechanical, and electrical technologies outside of normal U.S. Navy research and development channels, DARPA answered with the Advanced Submarine Technology (SUBTECH) program. Among ten technology demonstrations that successfully transitioned from the program to the Navy between 1989 and 1994 was the Non-Penetrating Periscope (NPP).
The NPP transformed submarine mast development when a prototype system using commercial visible and infrared spectrum cameras was built and demonstrated on the submarine USS Memphis in 1992. Using fiber optic data transmission, the new telescoping mast eliminated the need for the deep, hull-penetrating well that had been required to accommodate the optics tube on the then-current generation of submarines. The NPP also allowed greater flexibility in hull and interior design for future submarines.
1993 – DARPA becomes ARPA – In character with President Clinton’s emphasis on economic growth, the Department of Defense restored DARPA’s original name, ARPA, to, in the words of a letter distributed by William Perry, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, “to expand the agency’s mission to pursue imaginative and innovative research and development projects having a significant potential for both military and commercial (dual-use) applications.” In 1996, the Agency again would pick up that D, for Defense, and become known once again as DARPA.
1993 – Spintronics – In 1993, program manager Stuart Wolf initiated what become a sustained sequence of programs that helped develop the foundations of magnetics-based and quantum microelectronics. The first program, Spintronics, catalyzed the development of non-volatile magnetic memory (MRAM) devices and led to SPiNS, a program that sought to develop spin-based integrated circuits (ICs). During this period, DARPA started a dozen related programs in the field of magnetics and electron spin for microelectronics that collectively helped launch increasingly diverse and complex technologies, including ones that led to astoundingly dense data storage.
1994 – DARPASAT – Launched on July 13, 1994, the 198-kg DARPASAT demonstrated the possibility of placing in orbit a lightweight, low-cost payload for enhancing operational defense and warfighting capabilities. The primary performer, Ball Aerospace, oversaw the design, fabrication, integration, and testing of the spacecraft bus, which carried two government-supplied payloads. With frugal management of battery use and thermal loads, DARPASAT surpassed its mission goal of a three-year lifetime by lasting for eight years.
1994 – Microelectromechanical Systems – For many years beginning in 1994, DARPA provided substantial funding in the then emergent arena of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMs). With lineage in microelectronics technology, MEMs researchers cleverly adapted standard semiconductor-fabrication methods to fabricate miniature mechanical structures such as flexible membranes, cantilevers, and even trains of interdigitated gears, and integrated these with electronics to create a menagerie of MEM systems. Among the target deliverables for the DoD were inertial navigation devices for smartening up weapons and tracking soldiers, miniaturized “laboratories on a chip” for such uses as detecting biological weapons in the field, and optical switches and displays. DARPA’s patient support is widely credited with adding consequential momentum to the field of MEMs, which since has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar market in the military and civilian sectors.
1994 – Sensor-Fuzed Weapon – In 1994, the Sensor-Fuzed Weapon entered the Air Force Inventory. The weapon is an air-to-ground munition designed to meet the Air Force requirement for a general-purpose weapon that provides multiple kills per pass; can be employed over a wide area; functions under adverse weather conditions, at night, in an electronic countermeasures environment; and can be deployed from frontline fighters and bombers. DARPA began work in advanced weapons concepts for the Sensor Fuzed Weapon in the Assault Breaker Program as the Skeet Delivery Vehicle (SDV). In that program and related programs, DARPA developed and demonstrated a warhead and a simple infrared sensor concept leading to a 5.25-inch warhead, a more sophisticated sensor with target discrimination software, and a BLU launching/dispersal system. The smart projectile is a sensor-fuzed warhead comprised of an infrared sensor, a safe and arming device, a thermal battery, and a copper liner. The infrared sensor detects the target and fuzes the warhead to explosively form the copper liner into a kinetic energy projectile that can defeat both armored and soft vehicle targets.
1995 – Microwave/Analog Tech – DARPA launched the Microwave and Analog Front End Technology (MAFET) program in 1995 as a follow-on to the Millimeter Wave Monolithic Integrated Circuits (MIMIC) program, which began in 1987. MAFET aimed to significantly reduce non-recurring costs for microwave and millimeter-wave sensor systems for military applications.
1995 – Predator – DARPA developed the first medium-size endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Amber, which directly led to the Gnat 750 UAV and the Air Force-operated Tier 2 Predator UAV used in Bosnia. At altitudes of up to 25,000 feet for periods exceeding forty hours, the Predator aircraft operated successfully as an element of Exercise Roving Sands in early 1995 and was deployed in the Bosnia crisis to support UN/NATO operations. Originally a Navy-Army joint effort, the Predator UAV was transitioned to the Air Force in 1995 for operation and maintenance. The Amber Program was initiated in 1984, under DARPA’s rapid prototyping philosophy.
1995 – X-31 – The X-31 experimental aircraft was designed and built by Rockwell and Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB), as part of a joint U.S. and German Enhanced Fighter Maneuverability program to improve pilots’ abilities to control the aircraft’s pitch and yaw with more finesse than was possible in most conventional fighters. One outcome was the ability, with the help of design elements such as thrust vectoring, to execute controlled flight at extreme angles of attack at which conventional aircraft would stall or lose control.
DARPA joined the cause by sponsoring tests of the X-31. During a test on November 6, 1992, one of the two X-31s that were built in the program, achieved controlled flight at a 70° angle of attack. On April 29, 1993, the second X-31 successfully executed a swift, minimum-radius, 180° turn using a post-stall maneuver, a maneuver well beyond the ability of conventional aircraft. Of the two aircraft, one survived to the conclusion of the X-31 program in June 1995. That aircraft underwent further research at the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. Its ultimate destination was Germany where it remains on display at the Deutsches Museum Flugwerft Schleissheim.
1996 – ARPA renamed DARPA, again – With a desire by national leadership to re-emphasize the Agency’s focus on defense matters over commercial ones, ARPA regains its D for Defense to again become DARPA.
1996 – Geographic Synthetic Aperture Radar – The Geographic Synthetic Aperture Radar (GeoSAR) program was an airborne radar-based project for simultaneously mapping foliage canopies along with the terrain underneath the canopies. Begun in 1996, the program outfitted a commercial Gulfstream II business jet with a dual-band (P-band and X-band), dual-sided, interferometric mapping radar, designed to efficiently map wide-areas in a single pass of the aircraft.
1996 – Schottky IR Imager – From 1973 to 1980, DARPA funded efforts that reduced to practice a totally new concept for obtaining infrared (IR) images of targets. In Desert Strom, warfighters use such imagers to locate tanks and other military equipment buried in the sand. To continue to advance the technology, DARPA funded R&D for a new generation of IR imagers in the mid-90’s.
1996 – Soldier 911 – SOLDIER 911 is a personal emergency radio that monitors the position of the wearer, and if the soldier approaches a restricted area, the radio alerts the soldier and his or her chain of command. The radio also contains an emergency call button whereby the wearer can call for immediate assistance (hence the “911” name), and a geolocation network report-back system. SOLDIER 911 responded to an immediate need identified in 1995 by the Commander-in-Chief (CINC), Europe, to alert peacekeepers in Macedonia when they were approaching the Serbian border.
1997 – Head-Mounted Displays – With an eye on the future of wearable computers and other technologies that can assist warfighters in daunting acts of multi-tasking, DARPA initiated programs to develop head-mounted displays to enable soldiers to view information with unprecedented ease and efficiency.
1999 – Miniature Air-Launched Decoy – In 1999, the first flight test associated with the Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) program, which begun in 1995, took place. With origins in the tradition of metal radar-confusing chaff dropped from aircraft, the point of MALD was to develop a small, inexpensive decoy missile to counter air defense measures.
2000 – PicoSAT – DARPA initiated a microsatellite program featuring extremely small microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) radio frequency (RF) switches. The first picosat mission, launched on January 26, 2000, demonstrated MEMS RF switches operating on a pair of tethered satellites, each one weighing just over one pound. The program demonstrated how constellations of small satellites could work together in the future with dramatically reduced size and power requirements.
2002 – High-Productivity Computing – DARPA established its High-Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS) program, with a goal of revitalizing supercomputer research and markets, and incubating a new breed of fast, efficient, easier-to-use and affordable machines. DARPA made initial grants to five key players: IBM, Cray, Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Graphics, and Sun Microsystems.
2002 – Personal Assistant That Learns (PAL) – Through its Personalized Assistant that Learns (PAL) program, DARPA created cognitive computing systems to make military decision-making more efficient and more effective at multiple levels of command; reduce the need for large command staffs; and enable smaller, more mobile, and less vulnerable command centers. DARPA worked with military users to refine PAL prototypes for operational use, and with the defense acquisition community to transition PAL technologies into military systems.
2004 – Quantum Key Distribution Network – As part of the then three-year-old Quantum Information Science and Technology (QuIST) program, DARPA-funded researchers established the first so-called quantum key distribution network, a data-encryption framework for protecting a fiber-optic loop that connects facilities at Harvard University, Boston University, and the office of BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Mass.
2004 – The Grand Challenge – DARPA ran its pathbreaking Grand Challenge with the goal of spurring on American ingenuity to accelerate the development of autonomous vehicle technologies that could be applied to military requirements. No team entry successfully completed the designated DARPA Grand Challenge route from Barstow, CA, to Primm, NV, on March 13, 2004. The event offered a $1 million prize to the winner from among 15 finalists that emerged from a qualifying round at the California Speedway, but the prize went unclaimed as no vehicles were able to complete the difficult desert route.
2005 – A-160 – DARPA paved the way for extended-range unmanned vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) operations by sponsoring development of another Hummingbird: the A-160, a long-endurance, high-speed unmanned helicopter that flew for 18.7 hours and in 2008 set a world record for endurance in its weight class. The A-160 was part of research pursued by DARPA and the Services to produce a range of autonomous platforms that could team with people to create a more capable, agile, and cost-effective force.
2005 – Big Dog – With its sights on robotic pack mules to help warfighter in operations, DARPA initiated a program that yielded BigDog. The robot’s on-board computer controls locomotion, processes sensors, and handles communications with the user. BigDog’s control system keeps it balanced, manages locomotion on a wide variety of terrain, and does navigation. Sensors for locomotion include joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a gyroscope, LIDAR, and a stereo vision system. Other sensors focus on the internal state of BigDog, monitoring the hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine functions, battery charge, and others.
2006 – Chip-Scale Atomic Clock – The Chip-Scale Atomic Clock (CSAC) program created ultra-miniaturized, low-power, atomic time and frequency reference units. The development of CSAC enabled ultra-miniaturized and ultra-low power atomic clocks for high-security Ultra High Frequency (UHF) communication and jam-resistant GPS receivers.
2006 – Mi Tex – Boosted into geosynchronous orbit on June 21, 2006 aboard a Delta II rocket The Microsatellite Technology Experiment (MiTEx) technology demonstration investigated and demonstrated advanced high-payoff technologies from a variety of potential candidates, including lightweight power and propulsion systems, avionics, structures, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, advanced communications, and on-orbit software environments.
2006 – Revolutionizing Prosthetics – The LUKE arm was developed by inventor Dean Kamen and his colleagues at DEKA Research & Development Corp. as part of DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program with additional funding from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. Launched in 2006, DARPA’s program began with a radical goal: develop an advanced electromechanical prosthetic upper limb with near-natural control that would dramatically enhance independence and quality of life for amputees. Working with DARPA and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Rehabilitation Research and Development Service under a federal interagency agreement, DEKA spent years directly engaged with amputees in a number of studies, including VA studies, to better understand how the intersection of biology and engineering could ultimately lead to advanced prosthetic technologies. Mobius Bionics was launched in July 2016 to bring the LUKE arm to market. At a ceremony in New York in 2017, two veterans living with arm amputations became the first recipients of a new generation of prosthetic limb that promises them unprecedented, near-natural arm and hand motion.
2007 – Autonomous High-Altitude Refueling – In an in-air demonstration in 2007, DARPA teamed up with NASA to show that high-performance aircraft can easily perform automated refueling from conventional tankers. The 2007 demonstration was not entirely automated, however: a pilot was on board to set conditions and monitor safety during autonomous refueling operations.
2007 – DARPA Urban Challenge – The DARPA Urban Challenge was held on November 3, 2007, at the former George AFB in Victorville, Calif. Building on the success of the 2004 and 2005 Grand Challenges, this event required teams to build an autonomous vehicle capable of driving in traffic, performing complex maneuvers such as merging, passing, parking, and negotiating intersections. As the day wore on, it became apparent to all that this race was going to have finishers. At 1:43 pm, “Boss”, the entry of the Carnegie Mellon Team, Tartan Racing, crossed the finish line first with a run time of just over four hours. Nineteen minutes later, Stanford University’s entry, “Junior,” crossed the finish line. It was a scene that would be repeated four more times as six robotic vehicles eventually crossed the finish line, an astounding feat for the teams and proving to the world that autonomous urban driving could become a reality. This event was groundbreaking as the first time autonomous vehicles have interacted with both manned and unmanned vehicle traffic in an urban environment.
2007 – Orbital Express – The goal of the Orbital Express Space Operations Architecture program was to validate the technical feasibility of robotic, autonomous on-orbit refueling and reconfiguration of satellites to support a broad range of future U.S. national security and commercial space programs. Refueling satellites would enable them to frequently maneuver to improve coverage, improve survivability, as well as extend satellite lifetime. Electronics upgrades on-orbit would provide regular performance improvements and dramatically reduce the time to deploy new technology.
2008 – Massive DATA Analysis – With the goal of developing analysis techniques for massive data sets, DARPA rolled out the Topological Data Analysis (TDA) program, which ran from 2004 to 2008. Like many other programs, this one spawned a commercial firm, in this case a software firm that remained in business at the posting of this timeline in 2018.
2009 – Red Balloon Challenge – To mark the 40th anniversary of the Internet, DARPA announced the DARPA Network Challenge, a competition that explored the roles that the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems.
2010 – High-Altitude LIDAR – Leveraging past DARPA developments in laser-based versions of RADAR—known as LIDAR, short for light detection and ranging—the High-Altitude LIDAR Operations Experiment (HALOE) provided unprecedented access to high-resolution 3-D geospatial data. First deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, HALOE was one of several DARPA advances directly supporting the warfighter that earned the Agency the Joint Meritorious Unit Award from the Secretary of Defense in 2012.
2011 – Falcon HTV-2 – DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) program was a multiyear research and development effort to increase the technical knowledge base and advance critical technologies to make long-duration hypersonic flight a reality. Falcon HTV-2 is an unmanned, rocket-launched, maneuverable aircraft that glides through the Earth’s atmosphere at incredibly fast speeds—Mach 20 (approximately 13,000 miles per hour). At HTV-2 speeds, flight time between New York City and Los Angeles would be less than 12 minutes.
2011 – Radar for UAVs – In collaboration with the Department of Defense’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), DARPA initiated the Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (VADER) program to design and deploy a radar system for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or small manned aircraft. Developed for DARPA by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, VADER provided synthetic aperture radar and ground moving-target indicator data to detect, localize, and track vehicles and dismounted troops.
2021 – Gallium Nitride Transitions – For years, DARPA and its Service partners pursued the technically daunting task of developing high-power-density, wide-band-gap semiconductor components in the recognition that, whatever the end-state task, U.S. forces would need electronics that could operate and engage at increasing range. The result was a series of fundamental advances involving gallium nitride-enabled arrays, which now provide significant benefits in a wide range of applications in the national security domain.
2012 – ICECool – Intrachip/Interchip Enhanced Cooling (ICECool) The increased density of electronic components and subsystems in military electronic systems exacerbates the thermal management challenges facing engineers. The military platforms that host these systems often cannot physically accommodate the large cooling systems needed for thermal management, meaning that heat can be a limiting factor for performance of electronics and embedded computers.
2013 – Blast Gauge – Under a DARPA contract, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) developed the Blast Gauge, a small device worn by warfighters to measure blast exposure and cue medics for initial response. This phase of the project took just 11 months with a total development cost of approximately $1 million. As field tests began, and design refinement and larger production quantities were required, RIT researchers formed BlackBox Biometrics, a small business to commercialize and manufacture the Blast Gauges.
2013 – Debut of Atlas Robot – The Atlas disaster-response robot made its public debut on July 11, 2013. In its original form, the 6’2”, 330-lb. humanoid robot—developed for DARPA by Boston Dynamics of Waltham, Mass.—was capable of a range of natural movements. A tether connected the robot to both an off-board power supply and computer through which a human operator issued commands.
2013 – LS3 Pack Mule – To help alleviate physical weight on troops, DARPA developed a four-legged robot, the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), to integrate with squads of Marines or Soldiers. LS3 demonstrated that a highly mobile, semi-autonomous legged robot could carry 400 lbs of a squad’s load, follow squad members through rugged terrain and interact with troops in a natural way, similar to a trained animal and its handler.
2013 – STARnet Established – DARPA and key companies from the semiconductor and defense industries established the Semiconductor Technology Advanced Research Network, or STARnet. This effort, which lasted until 2017 when it was superseded by a similar program known as JUMP, supported large university communities to look beyond the current evolutionary directions in microelectronics research and development.
2013 – World Record Amplifiers – Two set of DARPA performers—one team with researchers from the University of Southern California and Columbia University and another with researchers from MIT and Carnegie Mellon University—achieved world-record power output levels using silicon-based technologies for millimeter-wave power amplifiers. RF power amplifiers are used in communications and sensor systems to boost power levels for more reliable transmission of signals over greater distances.
2014 – Biological Technologies Office Opens – DARPA in 2014 created its Biological Technologies Office (BTO), which has enabled a new level of momentum for DARPA’s portfolio of innovative, biology-based programs. The impetus for creating this new office was the maturation of genetic technologies and bioinformatics, in conjunction with breakthroughs in neuroscience, immunology, and related biomedical fields.
2014 – EXACTO Live-Fire Testing – DARPA’s Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program conducted the first successful live-fire tests demonstrating in-flight guidance of .50-caliber bullets. EXACTO rounds maneuvered in flight to hit targets that were offset from where the sniper rifle was aimed. EXACTO’s specially designed ammunition and real-time optical guidance system help track and direct projectiles to their targets during flight by compensating for weather, wind, target movement, and other factors that could impede successful hits.
2014 – Long Range Anti-Ship Missile – The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), which DARPA developed in partnership with the U. S. Navy and U.S, Air Force, becomes a program of record for the Navy. LRASM is anticipated to play a significant role in ensuring military access to operate in both open-ocean and littoral environments due to its enhanced ability to discriminate between targets and conduct tactical engagements from extended ranges. With the growth of maritime threats in anti-access/area denial (A2AD) environments, this semi-autonomous, air-launched anti-ship missile promises to reduce dependence on external platforms and network links in order to penetrate sophisticated enemy air-defense systems.
2014 – Memex – DARPA rolled out its Memex program to move forward the state of the art in content indexing and web searching on the Internet. Over the next few years, the Memex program yielded new tools that enabled quick and thorough organization of a subset of the Internet, leading to more comprehensive and relevant domain-specific indexing of web content and domain-specific search capabilities. Memex quickly proved its value in efforts to counter human trafficking.
2014 – Spectrum Challenge Finals – On March 19-20, 2014, 15 teams from around the United States participated in the final event of the DARPA Spectrum Challenge, a competition designed to encourage development of programmable radios that can deliver high-priority transmissions in congested and contested spectrum environments.
2015 – DARPA Robotics Challenge – In June 2015, the finale of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters, unfolded at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.
2016 – Cyber Grand Challenge – The 21st century has brought with it the ever more urgent need for automated, scalable, machine-speed vulnerability detection and patching as more and more systems—from household appliances to major military platforms—get connected to, and become dependent upon, the internet. Finding and countering bugs, hacks, and other cyber infection threats have effectively been artisanal: professional bug hunters, security coders, and other security pros work endless hours, searching millions of lines of code to find and fix vulnerabilities that those with ulterior motives can exploit. This is a sluggish process that can no longer can keep pace with the relentless stream of threats.
2016 – SIGMA – The goal of the SIGMA program, which began in 2014, was to develop and test low-cost, high-efficiency radiation sensors that detect gamma and neutron radiation and to network them via smartphones. This would a distributed detection network that would provide city, state, and federal officials with real-time awareness of potential nuclear and radiological threats such as dirty bombs, which combine conventional explosives and radioactive material to increase their disruptive potential.
2016 – SST Transition – At a mountaintop event in New Mexico on October 18, 2016, DARPA handed off ownership its Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) from an Agency-led design and construction program to ownership and operation by U.S. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), which operate the telescope in Australia jointly with the Australian government.
201 7 – Bay Area SDR Hackfest – The increased use of wireless and internet-enabled devices—from smartphones and computers to cars and home appliances—and the data they generate are creating opportunities and challenges for the defense and commercial sectors. To help explore and better understand the complex relationship created by the intersection of physical and cyber technology within the ever more congested electromagnetic spectrum, DARPA embarked on a year-long effort to build an engaged community of engineers and scientists operating within relevant technical areas
2017 – JUMP – In collaboration with the non-profit Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), DARPA recruited a consortium of cost-sharing industry partners to fund and oversee the Joint University Microelectronics Program (JUMP). Like a related predecessor program, STARnet, JUMP consists of a half-dozen university-based research centers, each dedicated to a different technology theme and collectively supporting fundamental microelectronics research of hundreds of professional scientists and their students. The goal is to catalyze innovations for increasing the performance, efficiency, and overall capabilities of broad classes of electronics systems for both commercial and military applications.
2017 – Service Academies Swarm Challenge – To help make effective swarm tactics with small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other robots a reality, DARPA planned and organized the Service Academies Swarm Challenge, a collaboration between the Agency and the three U.S. military Service academies—the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the U.S. Air Force Academy. An experiment at its heart, the research effort was designed to encourage students to develop innovative offensive and defensive tactics for swarms of small UAVs.
2018 – AI Next – In September 2018, DARPA announced a multi-year investment of more than $2 billion on artificial intelligence research and development in a portfolio of some 50 new and existing programs collectively called the “AI Next” campaign.
2018 – Sea Hunter Transfers to Navy – On January 25, 2018, DARPA took its Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program to one of the best finish lines the Agency knows of—an official transfer of a technology to a follow-on steward of development or to an end user in the field. In this case, following a period of open-water tests of the program’s demonstration vessel—dubbed “Sea Hunter”—to the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the latter organization officially took over responsibility of developing the revolutionary prototype vehicle as the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV).
2019 – Spectrum Collaboration Challenge – In 2016, DARPA rolled out a new Grand Challenge, the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2), with the goal of ensuring that the exponentially growing number of military and civilian wireless devices have ready access to increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum when needed. SC2 was designed to encourage researchers to develop smart systems that collaboratively, rather than competitively, adapt in real time to the fast-changing, congested spectrum environment—redefining the conventional spectrum management roles of humans and machines to maximize the flow of radio frequency (RF) signals. The primary goal of SC2 was to imbue radios with advanced machine-learning capabilities so that they could collectively develop strategies that optimize use of the wireless spectrum in ways not possible with today’s intrinsically inefficient approach of pre-allocating exclusive access to designated frequencies.
SC2 unfolded over a three-year period with two preliminary competitions preceding a live finale that occurred in October 2019. Team GatorWings from the University of Florida won first place in the competition, followed by Team MarmotE, comprised of current and former Vanderbilt University researchers, in second place, and Team Zylinium, a three-person start-up with expertise in software-defined radios and AI, in third place.
2020 DARPA Launch Challenge – On March 2, 2020, DARPA’s Launch Challenge came to a close with many lessons learned, including the ability to achieve launch-readiness with minimal infrastructure and little knowledge of launch conditions, but there was no winner. Less than two years from its start, DARPA’s effort to develop new and more agile approaches and processes associated with space launch ended with the lone Launch Challenge participant – Astra – scrubbing its launch attempt with less than a minute left in the countdown before liftoff. Astra faced technical and weather-related issues during the roughly two-week window of the Challenge campaign, which ran February 17 – March 2 in Kodiak, Alaska, at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSC-A).
2020 Finding Exploits to Thwart Tampering (FETT) Bug Bounty – After three months of reviewing more than 13,000 hours of hacking labor conducted by more than 580 cybersecurity researchers, DARPA announced on January 28, 2021 that its Finding Exploits to Thwart Tampering (FETT) Bug Bounty validated the security-enhancing efficacy of newly designed hardware architectures developed under the agency’s System Security Integration Through Hardware and Firmware (SSITH) program. The exercise also pinpointing critical areas to further harden defenses.