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DARPA History

History of DARPA and its accomplishments

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DARPA embarked on the pathbreaking research and development that would lead to stealth technology in the 1970s. A milestone in that R&D trajectory was the production of two demonstrator aircraft by Lockheed in what was called the HAVE BLUE program. This resulted in the first practical combat stealth aircraft, which made its first test flight by the end of 1977. A year later, the company received a contract to scale-up engineering development of what become the F-117 and which became operational in October 1983. In 1976, Northrup received a sole-source grant by DARPA to develop the BSAX aircraft, later named TACIT Blue aircraft, which could operate radar sensors while maintaining its own low radar cross-section. The experimental aircraft first flew in 1982 and the many stealth, radar, and aerodynamic innovations it incorporated laid foundations for development of the B-2 stealth bomber, which was first used in combat in 1999.

Stealth aircraft destroyed key targets in conflicts in Iraq, both in the 1991 Desert Storm operation and in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom; in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001; and in Libya in 2011. Complementing the key contributions of stealth capabilities in these missions was Department of Defense’s use of other technologies, including DARPA-enabled precision-guided munitions deployed by stealth and non-stealth aircraft. Since their initial development and deployment, stealth technologies have been applied to a wide range of weapon systems and military platforms, among them missiles, helicopters, ground vehicles, and ships.

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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.
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.
In a seminal moment in the development of the Internet, DARPA’s Robert Kahn (who joined the Information Processing Techniques Office as a program manager in 1972) asked Vinton Cerf of Stanford University to collaborate on a project to develop new communications protocols for sending packets of data across the ARPANET. That query resulted in the creation of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), most often seen together as TCP/IP. These protocols remain a mainstay of the Internet’s underlying technical foundation.

Conceived by Douglas Engelbart and developed by him and colleagues at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), the groundbreaking computer framework known as oN-Line System (NLS), jointly funded by ARPA and the Air Force, evolved throughout the decade. In what became known as "The Mother of All Demos"—because it demonstrated the revolutionary features of NLS as well as never-before-seen video presentation technologies—Engelbart unveiled NLS in San Francisco on December 9, 1968, to a large audience at the Fall Joint Computer Conference. Engelbart's terminal was linked to a large-format video projection system loaned by the NASA Ames Research Center and via telephone lines to a SDS 940 computer (designed specifically for time-sharing among multiple users) 30 miles away in Menlo Park, California, at the Augmentation Research Center, which Engelbart founded at SRI. On a 22-foot-high screen with video insets, the audience could see Engelbart manipulate the mouse and watch as members of his team in Menlo Park joined in the presentation.

With the arrival of the ARPA Network at SRI in 1969, the time-sharing technology that seemed practical with a small number of users became impractical over a distributed network. NLS, however, opened pathways toward today’s astounding range of information technologies.