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.

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