DARPA’s management of its portfolio reflects the fact that while the Agency’s mission and philosophy have held steady for decades, the world around DARPA has changed dramatically—and the rate at which those changes have occurred has in many respects increased. Those changes include some remarkable and even astonishing scientific and technological advances that, if wisely and purposefully harnessed, have the potential not only to ensure ongoing U.S. military superiority and security, but also to catalyze societal and economic advances. At the same time, the world is experiencing some deeply disturbing technical, economic and geopolitical shifts that pose potential threats to U.S. preeminence and stability. These dueling trends of unprecedented opportunity and simmering menace—and how they can be expected to affect U.S. national security needs a decade and more from now—deeply informed DARPA’s most recent determination of its strategic priorities for the next several years.
How do we create this portfolio of programs? One major part of the answer is bottom up: DARPA program managers define and propose new programs they believe promise revolutionary change. This is important for several reasons. An effective DARPA program manager is the person closest to the critical challenges and possible technology opportunities in his or her arena, and the personal inspiration and drive behind a novel idea is the spark needed to start a big fire. But ideas also percolate from the top down, at times from DARPA management and often from the military Services themselves, which DARPA ultimately is designed to serve.
DARPA rewards risk, but how does the Agency determine which risks are worth taking? George H. Heilmeier, a former DARPA director, crafted a set of questions known as the "Heilmeier Catechism" to help Agency officials think through and evaluate proposed research programs.
DARPA today is focusing its strategic investments in four main areas:
Consistent with national policy and DoD Directives, DARPA fully supports free scientific exchanges and dissemination of fundamental research results to the maximum extent possible.
Because our programs push the leading edge, they are sometimes society’s first encounter with the dilemmas associated with new technologies. We pursue these technologies because of their promise, but we understand that in this pursuit, we might be working in areas that raise ethical, legal, security or policy questions. Learn more about how DARPA approaches the ethics and societal implications of its work.
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