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Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts G The DARPA Model for Advanced Concepts Development The most frequently referenced model of success for advanced concept development is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA is the central research and development organization for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). DARPA’s mission is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security. DARPA is not tied to a particular operational mission. Near-term needs and requirements generally drive the Services to focus on those needs at the expense of longer-term changes. Consequently, a large organization like DOD needs a place like DARPA whose only charter is radical innovation. DARPA’s approach is to imagine what capabilities a future military commander might need and accelerate those capabilities into being through technology demonstrations. Since the very beginning, DARPA has been the place for people with ideas too far out and too risky for most development organizations. DARPA’s business processes reflect its singular focus on radical innovation for national security in a straightforward way: bring in expert, entrepreneurial program managers; empower them; protect them from red tape; and quickly make decisions about starting, continuing, or stopping research projects. The time horizon for DARPA programs is heavily driven by its staffing philosophy. Program managers must possess technical excellence, as well as management and leadership skills, and are selected for their entrepreneurial ideas and program vision. Program managers have intentionally short tenures (4-6 years typically), which ensure that they return to the mainstream as transition advocates and champions of their programs. Another unique feature of DARPA is that the agency has very limited overhead and no laboratories or facilities. DARPA invests about 97 percent of its funds at organizations outside DARPA. It funds researchers in industry, universities, government laboratories, and elsewhere to conduct high-risk, high-reward research and development projects that span basic, fundamental scientific investigations to full-scale prototypes of military systems. DARPA programs usually start as seedling studies in response to a Broad Agency Announcement for new ideas and concepts that fit the mission and objectives and that will lead to larger, focused programs in the future. If the seedling phase is successful, then a solicitation is formally issued for development and demonstration, with funding levels to hundreds of millions of dollars for full system prototypes. When a DARPA research program is completed, the technology is available to the Military Services and defense contractors for use in military systems. Getting DARPA’s scientific and technological achievements into the hands of the users is an exceptional challenge, because its focus is on high-risk, revolutionary technologies and systems, which may have no clear home in a Service, are Joint, or threaten to displace current equipment or doctrine. DARPA has several strategies to assist with technology transition. For example, to build potential Service customers for DARPA technology, DARPA deliberately engages a Service organization to serve as DARPA’s agent, signing the contracts with the research performers and monitoring the day-to-day technical work. This investment creates a cadre of technical champions inside a Service who are familiar with a DARPA technology, who can vouch for it, and who can shepherd it into a Service acquisition program. DARPA tries to ensure transition of system prototypes by negotiating a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Service
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Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts adopting the system. In general, for its Advanced Technology Development programs, DARPA requires that an MOA or a transition strategy be negotiated with a Service at some predetermined point during its development in order to proceed to its later stages. DARPA also makes use of an extensive network of transition liaisons to ensure successful technology transition to services: Special Assistant for Technology Transition—A permanent full-time person assigned to the Director’s Office and focused on promoting technology transition. Operational Liaisons—Personnel from each military Service assigned to the Director’s Office to maintain DARPA’s connection to real-life problems while helping transition DAPRA technology to the Services. Operational liaisons are usually very senior both in rank and in experience, come with a great set of contacts, and help reinforce the day-to-day links between DARPA’s research programs and the needs and opportunities of the DOD special assistant to the director for technology transition. Service Chiefs Program—Interns from the Services who rotate through DARPA on a 2- to 3-month basis for in-depth looks at DARPA programs. As these young officers progress through their careers, their exposure to DARPA at an early stage should make them more receptive to new technology and its potential value for U.S. national security. United States Special Operations Command liaison—DARPA representative posted to USSOCOM to maximize the flow of new technology to Special Forces. Questions posed to or by the Committee to Review the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts included how the federal government in general and NASA in particular should solicit and infuse advanced concepts into its future systems, and how other similar federal agencies such as DARPA accomplish this task. DARPA is the primary focus of this appendix, but the military departments in the DOD are also included. First, it is important to understand that DARPA is not monolithic in terms of how it solicits and selects projects nor in how the results of its programs are infused or transitioned so that the those results benefit the Military Services and other organizations in DOD. DARPA comprises five independent offices: two system offices, two technology offices, and one that does both. The Defense Sciences Office and the Microsystems Technology Office focus on new capabilities and component technologies that might have significant national security applications. The Tactical Technology Office (TTO) and the Strategic Technology Office are system offices focused on solutions to military problems and technology programs leading to specific military advanced concepts and products, such as strike aircraft. The Information Processing Techniques Office covers the continuum from research to prototyping of military systems. The activity and budget categories of these offices include 6.1, Basic Research; 6.2, Exploratory Research; and 6.3, Advanced Development. Each office has a well-defined mission set, goals, strategy, and programmatic thrusts. An example—for the TTO—follows: Mission High-risk, high-payoff advanced technology development of military systems, emphasizing the “system” and “subsystem” approach to the development of aerospace systems and tactical multipliers. Goals Highly capable systems that enable “order-of-magnitude” improvement in military capabilities. Avoidance technological surprise in areas of TTO emphasis. Efficient management and transition existing programs.
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Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts Strategy Understand and address critical deficiencies in crucial mission areas. Develop, demonstrate, and transition advanced technologies and concepts for effective, survivable, and affordable military systems. Institute modern materials, design, and manufacturing techniques that enable low-cost production of military systems. Thrust Areas Directed Energy Systems Precision Strike Space Operations Uncrewed Systems Air/Space/Land/Sea Platforms Now 50 years after it was established, DARPA has changed significantly. The constants in the DARPA programs are the continuing focus on major challenges with high payoff to military capability, and the focus on transition of programs and technologies to the military departments so that the improved capability can be fielded as soon as possible. In its early period DARPA was assigned single, major missions by the President or the Secretary of Defense. The first mission was space, and that was later transferred to NASA and the Air Force. The second was ballistic missile defense, which was executed and culminated in large-scale demonstrations and test. The program was transferred to the Army and became the Army Ballistic Missile Defense Agency. After that DARPA took on multiple missions and became more diversified in its goals and program activities. While DARPA does not develop systems ready for production, it does develop prototypes and carry out major system-level demonstrations, normally in a four-phase program. DARPA seeks to transfer or transition programs and concepts to the military departments or other DOD agencies for system development by a Program Executive Office or a Program Management Office that requires a technology readiness level of 6 or more. DARPA takes responsibility for the failure of a program if transition does not occur. The DARPA TTO and NIAC advanced concept development programs are not comparable. Funding for advanced technology programs at DARPA TTO is two to three orders of magnitude higher than it was at NIAC. A more reasonable comparison would be to compare NIAC to Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs or “seed” projects sponsored by the DARPA system offices, but even there, transition is planned for in Phase 3 of an SBIR project. Over the decades DARPA has evolved some proven processes for transitioning its programs: Maintain highly qualified staff with direct technical management of all programs. Maintain a continuing relationship with operational forces to ensure understanding of military needs and requirements. Stay abreast of technical intelligence on adversary capabilities. Develop a well-prepared plan for transition early in the technology program. Set up teaming arrangements with the military organization; make it a joint effort where possible. Sustain adequate funding to provide for successful demonstration of sufficient technical maturity. Establish the need for the technology by showing where it will enhance mission accomplishment. Recognize “windows of opportunity” where technology can be inserted into military systems.
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Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts The DARPA processes for establishing programs and solicitation of proposals include: Assignment by SECDEF or USD AT&L; Ideas for new programs from DARPA staff, SETA contractors, advisory boards, unsolicited proposals, and white papers; Solicitations conducted through broad agency announcement, request for proposal, request for information, and sources sought; A standing BAA at each DARPA Office is updated annually; New programs usually starting as “seedlings” at a low funding level; Following success in the seedling phase, formal solicitation issued for development and demonstration; Solicitation and awards that can be executed by DARPA, a military department command, a project management office or laboratory, or another federal agency; and Award instruments that include grants, cooperative agreements, procurement contracts, technology investment agreements, and other transaction-for-prototype agreements. Criteria for investment in a new program have varied over time, but one set of guidelines still in use in parts of DARPA are those developed by a previous director, George Heilmeier: What are you trying to do? How is it done today? What is new in your approach? If you are successful, what difference will it make? What are the risks and payoffs? How much will it cost? How long will it take? What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success? The time window of interest is a huge difference between DARPA programs and NIAC programs. NIAC’s objective was advanced concepts of interest between 10 and 40 years in the future. At DARPA the term for programs is 3 to 10 years with a few exceptions. Programs are normally finished and transitioned by then or they are terminated for one of the following reasons: Failed mid-term exam; Cost, schedule, and technical problems; Champion(s) left; or Transition prospects low.