Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyAbout UsHistory and Timeline

Where the Future Becomes Now

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was created with a national sense of urgency in February 1958 amidst one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the Cold War and the already-accelerating pace of technology. In the months preceding the official authorization for the agency’s creation, Department of Defense Directive Number 5105.15, the Soviet Union had launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, and the world’s second satellite, Sputnik II… More

Beginning in 1987, the SEMATECH consortium received funding from the Federal Government to help revitalize the U.S. chipmaking industry. SEMATECH is an acronym that derives from Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology A decade after its founding, in 1997, the consortium was standing on its own without annual funding from the Government. It has since spawned other organizations, such as the International Semiconductor Manufacturing Initiative with a focus on manufacturing equipment and operations.
Microwave and Millimeter Wave Integrated Circuit (MIMIC)

The Microwave and Millimeter Wave Integrated Circuit (MIMIC) program’s objective was, according to a review by one of its program managers, “to develop microwave/millimeter-wave subsystems for use in military weapon system ‘front ends’ that are affordable, available, and broadly applicable.” The program catalyzed multi-faceted research in materials (gallium arsenide), device design, integration, defect management, manufacturing, and other areas. The work yielded a new infrastructure for MIMIC technology with specific applications proliferating throughout the military and commercial sectors.

Phased-array radar systems were among the technology’s earliest uses for defense, but as the technology progressed toward greater yields and cost reductions, cell phone designers turned to MIMIC-based power amplifiers, which placed far more communications reach in smaller packages than ever before. The program provided foundations for follow-on technology development and has served as a model for subsequent programs for pushing microwave, millimeter-wave, submillimeter-wave and THz-frequency solid-state electronics forward. In 1993, The Space Foundation, citing DARPA’s pivotal role, inducted MIMIC Technology into its Hall of Fame.

Tank Breaker
Beginning in the 1970s, DARPA began the Tank Breaker program in response to deficiencies identified by the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps in their existing infantry anti-tank weapon. The Army evaluated two Tank Breaker designs by industry participants against alternatives in a shoot-off conducted in 1987-1988. The results led to selection of the Texas Instruments (later Raytheon) solution to the tank warfare challenge. Department of Defense officials approved it for full-scale development in 1989 under the Army’s Advanced Anti-armor Weapon System-Medium (AAWS-M) program. The Army later renamed the weapon Javelin, which entered full-scale production in 1997. It was the world’s first medium-range, one-man-portable, fire-and-forget anti-tank weapon system.
Under a joint program (Teal Rain) with the U.S. Navy, DARPA funded the development of the first endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Amber, which in 1988 flew for more than 38 straight hours and reached an altitude of 25,000 feet. The Amber demonstration featured innovations in many technologies (digital flight controls, composite materials, microprocessors, and satellite navigation) and led to the Gnat 750 and the Tier 2 Predator. DARPA also supported development of the Global Hawk, a related high-altitude UAV system. These platforms have been transformative with respect to warfighting and ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capabilities.
Undermanned Undersea Vehicle
Full-sized, staffed ships and other sea platform cannot perform safely in all Navy missions in near-shore, or littoral waters. These missions include mine location and avoidance as well as remote surveillance. In 1988, a joint DARPA/Navy Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) Program was initiated, with the goal of demonstrating that UUVs could meet specific Navy mission requirements. The program started with a memorandum of agreement between DARPA and the Navy that specified the design and fabrication of test-bed autonomous vehicles, the independent development of mission packages, and their subsequent integration. The Navy initially pursued a submarine-launched UUV that would either guide the submarine through an area that might be mined or search an area for mines. When the Cold War ended, however, the Navy revised the program with the objective of developing a tethered shallow-water mine reconnaissance vehicle for littoral warfare. The work in the UUV led to many follow-on projects, along with a range of technology developments. Even as the Agency enters its seventh decade, UUV R&D remains part of its portfolio.
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High Definition Systems
The High Definition Systems program was started in 1989 as the High Definition TV program. It was renamed High Definition Systems in 1990 and continued until 1993. The program supported work on display-related technologies, including materials and manufacturing techniques. One novel technology supported by the program, digital mirror projection technology, became a commercial success in electronic projectors, and led to an Emmy Award and an Oscar Technical Achievement Award.
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RF Wafer Scale Integration
The microelectronics revolution led to a ubiquity of fingernail-sized chips bearing integrated circuits made of large numbers of tiny transistors, interconnects, and other miniaturized components and devices. DARPA challenged the research community to achieve the tight integration of chips to the scale of the entire semiconductor wafer from which, normally, hundreds of chips would be diced and then packaged into separate components of electronic systems. Among the motivations were the expectations of higher computation or storage capability in a smaller volumes, higher-reliability systems; and reduced power consumption of the wafer-based systems. The research included work in materials, defect management, manufacturing techniques, among other areas. The approach opened up novel engineering opportunities particularly for fabricating multi-element, phased-array, antenna modules on gallium-arsenide wafer for both transmitting and receiving signals.
Taurus Launch Vehicle
DARPA initiated a Small Standard Launch Vehicle (SSLV) program that led to the Taurus, a launch vehicle designed to supply the Department of Defense with quick-response, low-cost launch of tactical satellites from ground facilities. The initial DARPA model was first test-launched in 1989 and first used operationally in 1994. The prime contractor subsequently offered the vehicle in four versions.