ning of the industrial revolution in Britain in 1770.4 These technology-based innovation cycles flow in long multi-decade waves. Arguably, not only do these waves transform economies and the way we organize societies around them, they transform military power as well; U.S. military leadership has paralleled its technological innovation leadership. Perez found that the U.S. led the last three innovation waves—the information technology revolution represents the latest. Will this leadership continue? At stake is not only economic leadership but U.S. military leadership.

In other words, for the U.S. there has been a deep interaction between war and technology—war has greatly influenced technology evolution, and the converse is also true. While this has been the case for centuries, this interaction has been accelerating. Defense technology cannot be discussed as though it is separate and apart from the technology that drives the expansion of the economy—they are both part of the same technology paradigms. Military historian John Chambers has argued that few of the critical weapons that transformed 20th century warfare came from a specific doctrinal need or request of the military;5 Instead, the availability of technology advances has driven doctrine. If technology innovation is a driving force in both U.S. economic progress and military superiority, and these elements have interacted, we need to understand the causal factors behind this innovation.

One factor involves critical institutions, which represent the space where research and talent combine, where the meeting between science and technology is best organized. Arguably, there are critical science and technology institutions that can introduce not simply inventions and applications, but significant elements of entire innovations systems. We will focus on aspects of the U.S. innovation system supported by the defense sector—particularly the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). An Eisenhower creation, DARPA was the primary inheritor of the WWII connected science model embodied in Los Alamos and MIT’s Rad Lab. DARPA came to play a larger role than other U.S. R&D mission agencies in both the Cold War’s defense technology and the private sector economy that interacted with it.6 DARPA will be used as a tool to explore the deep interaction between U.S. military leadership and technology leadership. As we attempt to understand where DARPA came from, we will also ask where it goes next, particularly in IT, as a way of focusing on the continuing strength of the defense innovation system.


Carlota Perez, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital, Edward Elgar, 2002. See also Robert D. Atkinson, The Past and Future of America’s Economy—Long Waves of Innovation That Power Cycles of Growth, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2004.


John Chambers, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Military History, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 791.


Richard Van Atta, et al., DARPA Technological Accomplishments: An Historical Review of Selected DARPA Projects, Alexandria, VA: Institute for Defense Analysis, 1991; James C. Goodwin, et al., Technology Transition, Arlington, VA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, 1999, accessed at <>.

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