As part of the Defense Department’s science and technology community, the role of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is to change what’s possible, the DARPA director said March 26.
DARPA makes pivotal early investments that allow the department to “take big steps forward in our national security capabilities, Arati Prabhakar told members of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities.
“That mission has not changed over our five-and-a-half decade history as an agency,” she said, “but of course the world that we’re living in has changed in that period.”
Today, the nation faces a wide variety of national security threats ranging from the actions of rogue nation-states to networked terrorism, Prabhakar said. All of those actors have access to very powerful technologies, she noted.
The growing cost of operational military systems also poses a threat to national security, the director said.
DARPA is addressing these challenges through a variety of innovative means, she said.
“The classic approach to these complex military systems leads us to a place where these systems are so costly and inflexible that they’re really not going to serve our needs for the next generation,” the director explained.
By seeking out scalable approaches for dynamically controlling the electromagnetic spectrum or distributed cooperative efforts to achieving air dominance, DARPA can help reduce the cost of future systems.
“We can see the information revolution unfolding across every aspect of military operations,” Prabhakar said. In response, DARPA is creating a new set of cybersecurity capabilities that will ensure that networked information is trustworthy.
“We’re also inventing the new tools that let us get a handle on this explosion that’s happening with data so that, instead of drowning in the data we can actually get deep insights out of all of that information out there,” she said.
Prabhakar said DARPA also looks for research areas that are “bubbling.” One of those areas is biology, she said, which is beginning to intersect with engineering.
“In that research, we’re seeing the seeds of technological surprise,” the director noted.
The flexibility to recruit and hire talented people is essential for the agency to do this kind of work, she told the committee.
“When I talk to our senior leaders in the Pentagon and here on Capitol Hill, I can see the weight of our national security challenges on them. … We do live in a volatile world, we all see the growth and the proliferation of threats [as] we’re dealing with constrained resources, Prabhakar said. ìBut I also know that American innovation has turned the tide time and again, and I’m confident that our efforts today can do that for the years to come.