DARPA’s Indian Boss : Arati Prabhakar


By Soumitra Bose/Mukesh Kumar Sinha

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an “aggressive” agencyof the U.S. . Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major effect on the world, including computer networking, as well as NLS, which was both the first hypertext system, and an important precursor to the contemporary ubiquitous graphical user interface.

(DARPA was formed in 1958. Its hqs is is Srlington, Virginia, US. Its annual budget is $2.8 billion officially. )


UNTIL LAST YEAR, Arati Prabhakar worked for the venture capitalists who backed Solyndra, the green-tech firm that imploded in a scandal described by Mitt Romney as an example of the White House’s “ crony capitalism.” Now Prabhakar has a new job, this one in the Obama administration: running the Pentagon’s most important research agency. But being the geek-in-chief requires investing billions on risky, high-tech bets that aren’t so different from Solyndra.

Prabhakar is Darpa’s first Indian-American chief. And she boasts an impressive resume. Prabhakar came to this country at the age of 3, growing up in Lubbock, Texas. She earned a Ph.D. in applied physics from Caltech and founded Darpa’s Microelectronics Technology Office. In 1993, at the age of 34, she was appointed as the head of the 3,000-person National Institute of Standards and Technology. From there, she left for Silicon Valley, where she became a top officer at a specialty materials company. She joined the venture capital firm U.S. Venture Partners in 2001, spending a decade investing in green tech and IT start-ups.

“Dr. Prabhakar’s Department of Defense leadership, when coupled with her experience with technical communities in Silicon Valley and beyond, make her the ideal candidate to continue Darpa’s impressive track record of success,” Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall wrote in a memo to Darpa employees that Danger Room obtained.

But that experience may also draw fire from the White House’s political opponents. One of U.S. Venture Partner’s most famous bets was in Solyndra, the solar firm that was championed by President Obama, backed by half a billion dollars in government loans — and soon thereafter went bankrupt. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s “unclear whether Prabhakar was directly involved with the firm’s Solyndra stake.”

A senior defense official tells Danger Room that “Dr. Prabakhar, who underwent extensive vetting, had no involvement in the federal loan guarantee for Solyndra and wasn’t involved in the restructuring of the loan.”

But no matter what her connection to Solyndra — direct or less so — Prabhakar’s appointment once again raises an issue the President’s reelection campaign would rather forget.

First, the Department of Energy structured Solyndra’s loans in a way that paid back private investors before taxpayers. And some of those investors were six-figure backers of Obama’s 2008 presidential run. (For the record, U.S. Venture Partners wasn’t among them.)

The Solyndra connection is also important because it’s the Darpa director’s job to invest in high-tech firms. Darpa spreads its approximately $3 billion annual budget among hundreds of start-ups, government contractors, and academic researchers, all of whom are looking for government grants. With so many grants spread among so many people, the potential for improper dealings is ever-present. It’s crucial that the Darpa director be seen as beyond reproach.

That’s what got the last Darpa chief, Regina Dugan, in trouble. Her family firm, RedXDefense, won $400,000 in contracts from Darpa while Dugan was director — and while the company owed her a quarter of a million dollars. That spurred a wide-ranging inquiry from the Pentagon’s inspector general into how Darpa awards its contracts.

The investigation was supposed to be over months ago, allowing the new Darpa director to oversee an agency that had put any perceived troubles behind it. But with Prabhakar arriving at the blue-sky research agency in the middle of election season, that report could prove to be the least of Darpa’s concerns.


DARPA began as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) created in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the purpose of forming and executing research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science and able to reach far beyond immediate military requirements.[3] The administration was responding to the Soviet launching ofSputnik 1 in 1957, and DARPA’s mission was to ensure U.S. military technology be more sophisticated than that of the nation’s potential enemies. From DARPA’s own introduction:[4]

DARPA’s original mission, established in 1958, was to prevent technological surprise like the launch of Sputnik, which signaled that the Soviets had beaten the U.S. into space. The mission statement has evolved over time. Today, DARPA’s mission is still to prevent technological surprise to the US, but also to create technological surprise for our enemies.

ARPA was renamed to “DARPA” (for Defense) in March 1972, then renamed “ARPA” in February 1993, and then renamed “DARPA” again in March 1996.

DARPA is independent from other more conventional military research and development and reports directly to senior Department of Defense management. DARPA has around 240 personnel (13 in management, close to 140 technical) directly managing a $3 billion budget. These figures are “on average” since DARPA focuses on short-term (two to four year) projects run by small, purpose-built teams.


Adaptive Execution Office: The Adaptive Execution Office (AEO) is chartered to accelerate game-changing DARPA technologies into DoD capabilities. AEO provides the agency with robust connections to the warfighter community and assists the agency with the planning and execution of technology demonstrations and field trials to promote adoption by the warfighter. Biological Technologies office: The mission of the Biological Technologies Office (BTO) is to foster, demonstrate, and transition breakthrough fundamental research, discoveries, and applications that integrate biology, engineering, and computer science for national security. BTO seeks to establish and invest in new communities of scientific interest at the intersection of traditional and emerging disciplines. Its investment portfolio goes far beyond life sciences applications in medicine to include areas of research such as human-machine interfaces, microbes as production platforms, and deep exploration of the impact of evolving ecologies and environments on U.S. readiness and capabilities. BTO’s programs operate across a wide range of scales, from individual cells to complex biological systems including mammalian and non-mammalian organisms and the macro- and micro-environments in which they operate. Defense Sciences Office: The Defense Sciences Office (DSO) identifies and pursues high-risk, high-payoff fundamental research initiatives across a broad spectrum of science and engineering disciplines – sometimes reshaping existing fields or creating entirely new disciplines – and transforms these initiatives into radically new, game-changing technologies for U.S. national security. Information Innovation Office Program Managers: Wade Shen (as of December 2014), Stuart Wagner (as of September 2014), Steve Jameson (as of August 2014), Angelos Keromytis (as of July 2014), John Launchbury (as of July 2014), David Doermann (as of April 2014)


DRPA’s Present Active projects :

  • Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System(formerly TX): Cargo carrying UAV.
  • “Aircraft Carriers in the Sky”: Using large manned aircraft to launch and recover small UAVs.
  • ACTUV: A project to build an unmanned Anti-submarine warfarevessel.
  • Adaptive Execution Office: AEO provides the agency with robust connections to the war fighter community and assists the agency with the planning and execution of technology demonstrations and field trials to promote adoption by the war fighter.
  • Air Dominance Initiative: Developmental technologies to be used in sixth generation jet fighters.
  • ALASA: (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access): A rocket capable of launching a 100-pound satellite into low Earth orbit for less than $1 million.[26][27][28]
  • Atlas: A humanoid robot.
  • Battlefield Illusion
  • BigDog/Legged Squad Support System: legged robots.
  • BlockADE: Rapidly constructed barrier.[31]
  • Boeing X-37
  • Boomerang (mobile shooter detection system): an acoustic Gunshot Location Detection Systemdeveloped by BBN Technologies for detecting snipers on military combat vehicles.
  • Captive Air Amphibious Transporter
  • Clean-Slate Design of Resilient, Adaptive, Secure Hosts (CRASH), a TCTO initiative
  • Combat Zones That See: “track everything that moves” in a city by linking up a massive network of surveillance cameras
  • Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System
  • Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment(CODE): Modular software architecture for UAVs to pass information to each other in contested environments to identify and engage targets with limited operator direction.
  • DARPA XG: technology for Dynamic Spectrum Access for assured military communications
  • EATR: An autonomous tactical robotic system
  • Experimental Spaceplane 1: first stage of a reusable space transport
  • Ground X-Vehicle Technology
  • Fast Lightweight Autonomy: Software algorithms that enable small UAVs to fly fast in cluttered environments without GPSor external communications.
  • High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System
  • High Productivity Computing Systems
  • Human Universal Load Carrier: battery-powered human exoskeleton
  • Hydra: Undersea network of mobile unmanned sensors.
  • Integrated Sensor is Structure
  • Long Range Anti-Ship Missile
  • MAHEM: Molten penetrating munition
  • MEMS Exchange: MEMS Implementation Environment[citation needed]
  • MeshWorm: an earthworm-like robot.
  • Mind’s Eye: A visual intelligence system capable of detecting and analysing activity from video feeds.
  • Near Zero Power RF and Sensor Operations(N-ZERO): Reducing or eliminating the standby power unattended ground sensors consume.
  • Next Generation Tactical Wearable Night Vision: Smaller and lighter sunglass-sized night vision devices that can switch between different viewing bands.
  • One Shot: Sniper scope that automatically measures crosswind and range to ensure accuracy in field conditions.
  • Persistent Close Air Support
  • Phoenix: A satellite project with the aim to recycle retired satellite parts into new on-orbit assets. System launches no earlier than 2016 or 2017. Satlettests in low Earth orbit may occur as soon as 2015.
  • Protein Design: Processes
  • Proto 2: a thought-controlled prosthetic arm
  • Remote-controlled insects[
  • DARPA Silent Talk: A planned program attempting to identify EEG patterns for words and transmit these for covert communications.
  • Satellite Remote Listening System: a satellite mounted system that can eavesdrop on a targeted area on the surface of the planet in coordination with satellite cameras.[citation needed]This project is in its infant stage.[when?]
  • Squad X Core Technologies(SXCT): Digitized, integrated technologies that improve infantry squads’ awareness, precision, and influence.
  • SyNAPSE: Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics
  • XOS: powered military exoskeleton
  • Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node: Ship-based long-range ISR UAV.
  • UAVForge
  • Upward Falling Payloads: Payloads stored on the ocean floor that can be activated and retrieved when needed.
  • ULTRA-Vis(Urban Leader Tactical Response, Awareness and Visualization): Heads-up display for individual soldiers.
  • VTOL X-Plane
  • Vulture
  • Warrior Web: Soft exosuit to alleviate musculoskeletal stress on soldiers when carrying heavy loads.
  • WolfPack
  • XDATA: Processing and analyzing vast amounts of information.


BOTTOM LINE : ARPA/DARPA is well known as a high-tech government agency, and as such has many appearances in popular fiction. Some realistic references to ARPA in fiction are in Tom Swift and the Visitor from Planet X (DARPA consults on a technical threat),[60] in episodes of television program The West Wing (the ARPA-DARPA distinction), the television programNumb3rs[61] (DARPA research into creating the first self-aware computer), and in the motion picture Executive Decision (use of a one-of-a-kind experimental prototype in an emergency).


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