The UCAV program eventually transitioned in 2003 to a formal joint program office still managed by DARPA but much more tightly coordinated with the services. The new program was named Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS).4 The goal for the joint program office is maturation of the UCAV systems and the seamless transition of the technology base from a DARPA research and development effort to a formal military acquisition program. As part of this transition activity, the technical design approach to the vehicle has been changed somewhat to reflect new service requirements. These changes were driven by the evolution of the concept, by lessons learned in the earlier effort, and by a common operating system capability that reflects the service users' understanding of and expectations for future unmanned combat aircraft operations.
The J-UCAS program is considered within DARPA to be a highly successful effort. It incorporates many of the stages that Welby described earlier, including a concept development effort and a technical maturation effort. DARPA finds itself currently in the midst of the contracting process and is looking forward to eventual transition to acquisition. By identifying key enabling technologies and concepts, DARPA helped move the UCAV concept from speculation to demonstration. The next challenge for DARPA is fielding a truly transformational operational capability in the next few years.
The moderator, Charles Walker, began a series of questions to Steve Welby by asking him to elaborate on the processes, including policy processes, that DARPA is empowered to use to engage with service or agency infrastructures, specifically the laboratories or research facilities. He suggested that Welby use a specific example in the previous UCAV program to describe the mechanisms used. Welby responded that one of DARPA’s key challenges was coordinating its interaction with its armed service customers and with the rest of the military research and development community. DARPA does very little contracting or contracting support itself but instead uses an agent for this purpose. However, it typically engages with service customers, other agencies, and other users, playing an active role in the day-to-day management and coordination of program contract efforts. He went on to say that this allowed DARPA to grow its user base and to actively engage technical users within the service laboratory communities early in the process, which gave it an opportunity to leverage the latter’s capabilities and facilities. It also enables direct interaction with laboratory management early in the process and the development of a constituency within the receiving services for the kind of radical innovations that DARPA is trying to pursue.
Typically, DARPA will bring in a young lieutenant colonel or a young major to serve as a contracting officer’s technical representative early in the program. This individual will be responsible for the day-to-day coordination with the contracting team. However, as he pursues this work, he will also be building a constituency within his own agency working to draw DARPA technology further into the formalized military acquisition process. The process is largely people-based. DARPA attempts to try to engage the