Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List



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Microelectronics support nearly all Department of Defense (DoD) activities, enabling capabilities such as the global positioning system, radar, command and control, and communications. Ensuring secure access to leading-edge microelectronics, however, is a challenge. The changing global semiconductor industry and the sophistication of U.S. adversaries, who might target military electronic components, suggest the need for an updated microelectronics security framework.

In the late 1970's, DARPA initiated a program with Lockheed Space Systems Division to develop the technology of welding aluminum-lithium alloys, which would combine high stiffness with low density and therefore lower weight. At the time, no one understood how to prepare these materials for welding and how to control impurities in the metals and welding process. Such control would be critical for producing materials repeatedly with predictable behavior and performance.

Within 18 months, metallurgists at Lockheed had developed the welding techniques for the 80/90 Al/Li alloy and applied it to the construction of space hardware. One of the most impressive structures made from this material was the Titan missile payload adapter, which was 14 feet in diameter and 17 feet high and fabricated from 3" thick metal plate. By using this alloy, a 10% weight saving was achieved compared to the prior incarnation of that rocket components. The weight savings translated into millions of dollars at cost savings when it came to delivering hardware to obit. This material system made it into classified DoD applications as well. Lockheed scaled the process up to 400,000 lb/year of Al-Li alloys for the next four years.


From 1968 to 1972, ARPA funded a program with the Perkin Elmer Corporation to develop the technology for fabricating large, stable, low-weight mirrors from beryllium, a featherweight metal, for use in space applications. The early focus of the program was in developing and evaluating improved forms of beryllium. Perkin Elmer was successful in improving the thermal stability of beryllium surfaces tenfold, and developing materials-processing techniques (powder metallurgy, hot isostatic processing, pressureless sintering) for making it possible to fabricate large beryllium structures.

Further ARPA- funded efforts led to surface-polishing techniques to dramatically reduce scattering of infrared wavelengths, the successful development of thin-film coatings techniques, and a demonstration of the long-term stability of beryllium surfaces. DoD applications included 1) the all-beryllium, 15-inch aperture, long-wave infrared (IR) telescope system for the Midcourse Airborne Target Signature program run by what was then known as the Advanced Ballistic Missile Defense Agency; 2) the fabrication of a lightweight, 40-inch, aspheric mirror for the U.S. Air Force; and 3) experimental near-net-shape production of a key component of the Trident 11 MK6 guidance system. NASA also applied the technology in the form of a 85-cm beryllium mirror assembly for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)'s IR Telescope Technology Testbed for eventual use in NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility (later renamed the Spitzer Space Telescope), which was launched in 2003 and as of 2018 was still in operation.


ARPA began a program to demonstrate and encourage the use of brittle high-temperature materials in engineering design, with an eye on ceramic components for gas turbine applications. The approach included major efforts in ceramic design, materials development, fabrication process development, and test and evaluation methodology. By the end of the program in 1979, one of the performers, a team with Ford, demonstrated that design with brittle materials in highly stressed applications is possible and, in particular, that ceramics are feasible as major structural components in gas turbine engines. This program started the "Ceramic Fever" that spread throughout the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The successful demonstration of ceramics in a gas turbine environment led to the establishment of ceramic programs in virtually every automotive or engine company in the world, in other U.S. government agencies, and in several foreign countries.


In addition to supporting advanced materials development since its early years, DARPA has at times been called upon to identify technologies for specific near-term applications. One of these tasks occurred for Operation Desert Storm (1991-1992) when ground forces experienced a critical need for more effective armor. The DARPA solution in this case, particularly for roof protection for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) against artillery, was to ask the Lanxide Corporation to modify its cermet (ceramic/metallic) process and to work with a partner Foster Miller to produce appliqué armor.

From 1984 to 1986, DARPA supported the materials research and engineering that led to these cermet materials. With DARPA funding, 75 LAVs were up-armored with the tough composite materials. In the early 1990s, M-9 Armored Combat Earthermoves (ACE) also employed this lightweight armor. Variations of these cermet materials have been used for cockpit armor by the U.S. Air Force in C-130, C-141, and C-14 aircraft in Bosnia.

The Lanxide material has also been employed as high-power-density heat sinks for the F/A-18 and F-16 radars, turbine tip shrouds, commercial satellite heat sinks, very stiff parts for semiconductor lithography machines, and as vehicle brake components. All of the military and civil uses of Lanxide evolved directly from DARPA’s program. The military uses were under DARPA support, and then transitioned to U.S. Army and Air Force programs.