Early efforts by DARPA led to the development of the Air Force F-117 tactical fighter that was so successful in the Desert Storm operation, flying 1,271 sorties without a single aircraft loss, successfully penetrating air defenses, and delivering 2,000 tons of ordnance to account for some 40% of all targets with an 80%-85% hit rate.
In the early 1970s a study by DARPA, the Air Vehicle Observables workshop, brought to light the extent of the vulnerabilities of U.S. aircraft and their on-board equipment to detection and attack by our adversaries. Based on the study and encouragement from Office of the Secretary of Defense and others, DARPA embarked on a program to develop the technologies for stealthy aircraft. Under a codeword program, “HAVE BLUE,” two aircraft were built, and first flight occurred successfully in April 1977. Technologies addressed by DARPA included the reduction of radar cross section through a combination of shaping to form a limited number of radar return spikes designed to be less detectable by ground-based radars, radar absorbent materials, infrared shielding, heat dissipation, reduced visual signatures, low-probability-of-intercept (LPI) radar, active signature cancellation, and inlet shielding, exhaust cooling and shaping, and windshield coatings.
In November 1978, the Air Force initiated a program for the F-117 based on the HAVE BLUE demonstrations and the DARPA-developed technologies. First flight of the F-117 was in June 1981 and the aircraft became operational in October 1983. A total of 59 aircraft were built, and 36 were deployed to Saudi Arabia in late 1990, from which they were highly successful in F-117 Nighthawks attacks against high-value Iraqi targets.
The M16 Assault Rifle is the standard issue shoulder weapon in the U.S. military. It marks a departure from normal ballistics in that it uses a smaller, high-velocity round (5.56 mm caliber vs. 7.62 mm). This results in a smaller and lighter weapon as well as smaller ammunition, thereby significantly decreasing combat load.
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 eventually adopt a modified AR-15 as the U.S. military individual weapon of choice. The weapon was first deployed to the Air Force’s Air Police and later adopted by the Army. The move to high-velocity 5.56 mm was also subsequently adopted by the Israelis, the Soviets, and our NATO allies. DARPA’s most significant contribution to this program was its willingness to “think outside of the box” and try something new.