The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also known as DARPA or ARPA is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. DARPA was established in 1958 in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik, with the mission of keeping the US's military technology ahead of its enemies. DARPA is independent from other more conventional military R&D and reports directly to senior Department of Defense management. DARPA has around 240 personnel (about 140 technical) directly managing a $2,000,000,000 budget. These figures are "on average" since DARPA focusses on short (two to four-year) projects run by small, purpose-built teams.

ARPA was its original name, then it was renamed DARPA (for Defense) in 1972, then back to ARPA in 1993, and then back to DARPA again on March 11 1996.

ARPA was responsible for funding development of ARPANET (which grew into the Internet), as well as the Berkeley version of Unix (BSD) and TCP/IP.

DARPA received media attention in 2002 and 2003 after its creation of projects like the Information Awareness Office and CTS, which civil liberties activists on both the left wing and right wing claim are unacceptably Orwellian.


DARPA was created as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), by Public Law 85-325 and Department of Defense Directive 5105.41, in February 1958. Its creation was directly attributed to the launching of Sputnik and to U.S. realization that the Soviet Union had developed the capacity to rapidly exploit military technology. Additionally, the political and defense communities recognized the need for a high-level Department of Defense organization to formulate and execute R&D projects that would expand the frontiers of technology beyond the immediate and specific requirements of the Military Services and their laboratories. In pursuit of this mission, DARPA has developed and transferred technology programs encompassing a wide range of scientific disciplines which address the full spectrum of national security needs.

From 1958-1965, ARPA's emphasis centered on major national issues, including space, ballistic missile defense, and nuclear test detection. In 1960, all of its civilian space programs were transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the military space programs to the individual Services. This allowed DARPA to concentrate its efforts on the DEFENDER (defense against ballistic missiles), VELA (nuclear test detection), and AGILE (counterinsurgency R&D) Programs, and to begin work on computer processing, behavioral sciences, and materials sciences. The DEFENDER and AGILE Programs formed the foundation of DARPA sensor, surveillance, and directed energy R&D, particularly in the study of radars, infrared sensing, and x-ray/gamma ray detection.

In the late 1960s, with the transfer of these mature programs to the Services, ARPA redefined its role and concentrated on a diverse set of relatively small, essentially exploratory research programs. The Agency was renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1972, and in the early 1970s, it emphasized direct energy programs, information processing, and tactical technologies. In the area of information processing, DARPA made great strides through the evolution of ARPANET (telecommunications network and precursor to the Internet) and research in the artificial intelligence (AI) fields of speech recognition and signal processing.

From 1976-1981, DARPA's major thrusts were dominated by air, land, sea, and space technology, such as follow-on forces attack with standoff weapons and associated Command, Control, and Communications; tactical armor and anti-armor programs; infrared sensing for space-based surveillance; high-energy laser technology for space-based missile defense; antisubmarine warfare; advanced cruise missiles; advanced aircraft; defense applications of advanced computing; and STEALTH technology. These large-scale technological program demonstrations were joined by integrated circuit research, which resulted in submicron electronic technology and electron devices that evolved into the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Program and the Congressionally-mandated charged particle beam program. Many of the successful programs were transitioned to the Services, such as the HAVE BLUE which culminated in the F-117A Black Jet, and the foundation technologies in automatic target recognition, space based sensing, propulsion, and materials that were transferred to the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO), now known as the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO).

During the 1980s, the attention of the Agency was centered on information processing and aircraft-related programs, including the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) or Hypersonic Research Program. The Strategic Computing Program enabled DARPA to exploit advanced processing and networking technologies and to rebuild and strengthen relationships with universities after the Vietnam War. In addition, DARPA began to pursue new concepts for small, lightweight satellites (LIGHTSAT) and directed new programs regarding defense manufacturing, submarine technology, and armor/anti-armor.

In the 1990s, the Agency is energized to develop revolutionary new technologies, both in products and processes, that will form the basis for new defense and civilian capabilities in the next century. Starting with basic technologies such as electronics and materials processing, DARPA will create new computers, sensors, and communications devices; develop new ways of manufacturing; and apply these creations using advanced technology demonstrators in operational environments to affect the total R&D process from concept development through lifecycle logistics support technologies.

This article (or an earlier version of it) contains material from FOLDOC, used with permission.

See Also: DARPA Grand Challenge

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