News Column

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Hearing

May 14, 2014

Chairman Durbin, Vice Chairman Cochran and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I am Arati Prabhakar, Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA. It is a pleasure to be here with my colleagues across the Department of Defense (DoD) Science and Technology (S&T) community. Our organizations work together every day to advance our Nation's defense technologies. DARPA plays a particular role in this community, and in the broader U.S. technology ecosystem. That role is to anticipate, create, and demonstrate breakthrough technologies that are outside and beyond conventional approaches - technologies that hold the potential for extraordinary advances in national security capability. This mission and our current work and plans are the focus of my testimony today.

DARPA's Mission and the Diverse Threats Facing our Nation

In the fall of 1957, a polished metal sphere, 23 inches in diameter and launched from Soviet soil, began its orbit around the Earth, passing over American skies approximately every 96 minutes and initiating the space age, a space race, and a new era in the long struggle to maintain American military and technological superiority. Starting DARPA was one of the pivotal choices our Nation made in the wake of Sputnik. America today enjoys a hard-earned, privileged position, with tremendous military might, economic strength, and social and political freedom. Yet, as this Subcommittee knows well, risk is ever evolving in our complex and dynamic world. Regional instability, shifting military and economic positions, demographic and natural resource trends - these forces drive constant change in our national security environment. Today and in the years ahead, our potential adversaries will still include nation states, but also smaller, less well defined bad actors and an increasingly networked terror threat. National security challenges will continue to range from the acute to the chronic. This is the threat environment that shapes our technology investments today at DARPA.

Adding to the security challenges we face is the fact that technology and its accessibility have changed so significantly. Startlingly powerful technologies - semiconductors, information systems, and nuclear and biological technologies among them - are now globally available to a much wider swath of society, for good and for evil. And while the cost of some technologies has dropped precipitously, other technology and non-technology related costs have risen steeply, leading DoD to make difficult choices about our operational capabilities. That means our assumptions about the cost of military systems must change. These factors will also continue to shape our investments at DARPA.

DARPA was designed and built for just this kind of shifting, challenging threat environment. Through more than 5 decades of tumultuous geopolitical and technological change, we have delivered outsized impact by focusing on our mission of breakthrough technologies for national security. We imagine groundbreaking new technology advances with the potential for defense applications. We bring the best of those ideas to fruition by providing the right mix of research support, intellectual freedom, and responsible oversight to outstanding performers in industry, academia, and other government organizations. And we facilitate the transition and operationalization of these new, paradigm-shifting capabilities.

Harnessing Complexity to Create Exceptional New Capabilities: DARPA's Programs

Like most truly great problems that confront us, today's diverse threats can either be viewed as an imposing barrier or as an opportunity to overcome a difficult challenge. Either way, I believe our national security will depend upon how we deal with complexity. DARPA chooses to tackle complexity by harnessing it, and our programs reflect that approach of playing offense. We do that with game-changing new capabilities and with layered, adaptable, multi-technology systems. We do that by catalyzing major new national technology advances and by rapidly exploiting commercially available technologies. And at a time when systems cost is the difference between building operational capability or just building PowerPoint, we do that by striving to invert the cost equation for our military.

DARPA has made important strides forward in delivering key breakthrough technologies. In discussing how we are tackling various aspects of technological complexity, I will update you on several new programs that we have launched, results we have achieved, and transitions that have been accomplished or are in process.

Rethinking Complex Military Systems

Much of DARPA's work rethinks complex military systems, recasting today's approach with the intention of achieving far greater capabilities at lower cost. Today, our military relies upon the meshing of electronic, optical, software, and mechanical components to create satellites and the vehicles, aircraft, and ships that carry our Warfighters into battle. We also depend upon this integration of components in designing and producing the weapons these men and women must be prepared to use. That is not new. But today, these technology components are becoming ever more complex. Consider: radar systems have thousands of antenna elements, platforms run millions of lines of code, and integrated circuits are made of billions of transistors. These many components are also now interdependent and interacting to an unprecedented degree. And, of course, these platforms and mission systems must operate in an environment that will be increasingly contested by others with access to ever-improving global technologies. All these factors contribute to the high cost, long development times, and inflexibility of today's most advanced systems. This demands that we rethink - sometimes in fundamental ways - how we approach the next generation of defense systems.

Let me give you a few examples of how DARPA is tackling this challenge from our portfolio of programs.

Robust Space

In times of conflict, our Nation's leaders count on our military to wage precise, overpowering war. This type of highly effective warfighting is critically dependent on space - for imaging and sensing, for communications, for navigation, even for keeping time. As never before, we require ready access to space and strategic control over our assets in space. But while space is becoming increasingly important, it's also becoming increasingly crowded and contested, and DoD's ability to access and operate in space has become less nimble and more expensive over many years. DARPA has several programs underway to change that equation.

Rapid Launch: Experimental Space Plane (XS-1) and Airborne Launch Assisted Space Access (ALASA)

Imagine a world in which getting a satellite into orbit can be as quick and reliable as an aircraft takeoff. Our new Experimental Spaceplane is designed to take a 3,000- to 5,000-pound payload into orbit using an expendable upper stage, all for under $5 million; that is one-tenth the cost of a comparable launch today. Our ALASA program focuses on 100-pound payloads for less than $1 million. Even more striking is our goal of providing satellite launches for these payloads with just 24 hours' notice.

Avoiding Collisions in Space: Space Surveillance Telescope (SST)

In space, one major challenge is simply a lack of knowledge of what is around you. With satellite traffic and the risk of space collisions growing, space domain awareness is a top priority. DARPA's SST enables much faster discovery and tracking of previously unseen, hard-to-find objects in geosynchronous orbits. We expect it to be ready for operations within 2 years in Australia as a result of a memorandum of understanding signed last November by Secretary of Defense Hagel with his counterpart. Once operational on the Northwest Cape of Australia, SST will provide detection and tracking of satellites and space debris at and near geosynchronous orbits within the Asia-Pacific region, information U.S. space operators can use to better protect critical U.S. and Allied space-based capabilities.

Lowering the Risk and Cost for Satellites

Communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit, approximately 36,000 kilometers above the Earth, provide vital communication capabilities to Warfighters and others. Today, when a satellite fails, we usually face the expensive prospect of having to launch a brand new replacement. Our Phoenix program strives to develop and demonstrate technology to robotically service, maintain, and construct satellites in the harsh environment of geosynchronous orbit. Phoenix is also exploring a paradigm change to satellite design that would enable ground and on-orbit assemble-able platforms to potentially lower the cost of next-generation space systems by a factor of 10 compared to what is possible today.

Winning in Contested Environments

Space is not the only environment that is growing more crowded and dangerous. We must always anticipate an actively contested environment as we look ahead to potential challenges from future adversaries. Today, we are dependent on centralized command and control, and the fragile lines of communications linking tactical assets to decision makers. While DARPA has multiple programs addressing these challenges for the air, ground and sea, a common thread is the development of technologies to shift and distribute capability at the forward edge of the battle and to adapt quickly to a changing technology landscape.

Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM)

Today's anti-ship missiles face challenges penetrating sophisticated air defense systems from long range. As a result, Warfighters may require multiple missile launches and overhead targeting assets to engage specific enemy warships from beyond the reach of counter-fire systems. In important progress to overcome these challenges, the DARPA-Navy LRASM program has had a series of successful flight tests on a precision-guided anti-ship standoff missile. That will reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, network links, and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation in electronic warfare environments. DARPA is collaborating with the Navy via a new joint program office, helping to move this leap-ahead capability to deployment very quickly.

Distributed Battle Management (DBM) and Communications in Contested Environments (C2E)

Under our Air Dominance Initiative, DARPA, the Air Force and the Navy together have been exploring systems-of-systems concepts in which networks of manned and unmanned platforms, weapons, sensors and electronic warfare systems interact to succeed in a contested battlespace. These approaches could offer flexible and powerful options to the Warfighter, but the complexity introduced by the increase in the number of employment alternatives - particularly in a dynamic situation - creates a battle management challenge. Further complicating matters, in future conflicts U.S. forces may face degradation or denial of critical communications capabilities essential for coordination and shared situational understanding.

We recently launched two programs that address these challenges. The Distributed Battle Management (DBM) program seeks to develop control algorithms and demonstrate robust decision-aid software for air battle management at the tactical edge. Our new Communications in Contested Environments (C2E) program is, at the same time, exploring the use of reference architectures to enable robust, scalable and rapidly evolvable airborne communications networks.

Dominating the Electromagnetic Spectrum

The challenge of the threat environment extends to the airwaves as well, a reality that also is beginning to affect commercial and civil activity as demand continues to grow for access to the electromagnetic spectrum. The United States and our Allies learned an important lesson in World War II, when we became the first to control and take advantage of one small part of the spectrum - the range occupied by radar. By many assessments, Allied dominance in radar technology was pivotal to our winning that crucial war. Today we can say that the next war may be won by the nation that controls the electromagnetic spectrum over the full range of wavelengths - a degree of control that can ensure dominance in communications and in the important linked domains of timing, location and navigation. It also can ensure dominance in seeing what our adversaries are doing, and in controlling what they see of us - both our capacity to hide things from their sensors and our capacity to make "visible" an array of things that are not really there.

Spectrum Challenge

One approach to dominating the spectrum is simply to be more nimble, both in sensing and using whatever portions of the spectrum are available. Radios, for example, lack agility, despite the fact that they are used for the most mundane to the most critical of communications, from garage door openers to first responders to military operations. Wireless devices often inadvertently interfere with and disrupt radio communications, and, in battlefield environments, adversaries may intentionally jam friendly communications. To stimulate the development of radio techniques that can overcome these impediments, DARPA launched its Spectrum Challenge, a national competition to develop advanced radio technology capable of communicating in congested and contested electromagnetic environments without direct coordination or spectrum preplanning. We expect to see a massive increase in innovation when the teams return for the final part of the Challenge with promising results for future applications.

Moving to New Frequency Domains: Terahertz Electronics (THz)

Another way to control the spectrum is to move to new frequency domains, where hardware limitations currently prevent us from operating effectively. The submillimeter wave, or terahertz, part of the electromagnetic spectrum falls between the frequencies of 0.3 and 3 terahertz, between microwaves and infrared light. Unlocking this band's potential may benefit military applications such as high-data-rate communications, improved radar, and new methods of sensing. But access to these applications has been limited due to physics and our limited understanding.

Researchers under DARPA'sTerahertz Electronics (THz) program have designed and demonstrated a 0.85 terahertz power amplifier using a micromachined vacuum tube; we believe it to be a world first. The vacuum tube power amplifier is one achievement of the broader THz program, which seeks to develop a variety of breakthrough component and integration technologies necessary to one day build complex terahertz circuits for communications and sensing.

Many more DARPA programs also rethink complex military systems. These include efforts to use the undersea environment to observe and access regions around the world; to rapidly bring advances in commercial technology to the battlefield; to develop hypersonic technologies for advanced speed, reach and range; and to create new distributed architectures for the contested environments of the future.

Information at Scale

Let's consider a different aspect of complexity. As the information revolution continues, the sheer scale and variety of data seems immensely, and perhaps overwhelmingly, complex - but this challenge also presents major opportunities.

Insight to Enhance Analysts' Capabilities and Performance

Military intelligence analysts face the monumental and escalating task of analyzing massive volumes of complex data from multiple, diverse sources such as physical sensors, human contacts, and contextual databases. DARPA's Insight program addresses the need for new tools and automation to enhance analyst capabilities and performance. The program seeks to enable analysts to make sense of the huge volumes of intelligence-rich information available to them from existing sensors and data sources. Automated behavioral learning and prediction algorithms help analysts discover and identify potential threats, as well as make and confirm hypotheses about those threats' potential behavior. The goal is a comprehensive operating picture in which expedient delivery of fused actionable intelligence improves support of time-sensitive operations on the battlefield. We are working closely with the Army and the Air Force to transition operational capabilities to programs of record.

MEMEX: A Different Approach to Search

Despite the vast amounts of data available, today's Web searches use a centralized, one-size-fits-all approach that searches the Internet with the same set of tools for all queries. While that model has been wildly successful commercially, it does not work well for many government use cases. Current search practices miss information in the deep Web - the parts of the Web not indexed by standard commercial search engines - and ignore shared content across pages.

To help overcome these challenges, DARPA launched the Memory and Exploration of the Internet for Defense (MEMEX) program. This ambitious effort seeks to develop domain-specific search technologies and revolutionize the discovery, organization and presentation of the types of search results needed for national security concerns. MEMEX's initial focus will be human trafficking, which is a factor in many types of military, law enforcement and intelligence investigations and has a significant Web presence to attract customers.

Mining and Understanding Software Enclaves (MUSE)

Information at scale includes not just data, but software code as well. Within the last few years, there has been a tremendous explosion in the number of open source projects and the size of codebases these projects contain. Software repositories today are estimated to contain more than 100 billion lines of code, and the number continues to grow. Open source software is widely used in mission-critical DoD systems as well as in the commercial world. DARPA's new Mining and Understanding Software Enclaves (MUSE) program aims to harness the scale and complexity of this array of software to instigate a fundamental shift in the way we conceive, design, implement, and maintain software. If successful, MUSE could lead to a new programming methodology, leading to automated mechanisms for improving resilience, reducing vulnerabilities, and simplifying the construction of software systems.

High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS)

Embedded systems form a pervasive network that underlies much of modern technological society. Such systems range from large supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that manage physical infrastructure to medical devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps, to computer peripherals such as printers and routers, to communication devices such as cell phones and radios, to vehicles such as automobiles and airplanes. These devices have been networked for a variety of reasons, including the ability to conveniently access diagnostic information, perform software updates, provide innovative features, lower costs, and improve ease of use. But researchers and hackers have shown that these kinds of networked embedded systems are vulnerable to remote attack, and such attacks can cause physical damage while hiding the effects from monitors. DARPA launched the High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) program to create technology to construct high-assurance cyberphysical systems. Achieving this goal requires a fundamentally different approach from what the software community has taken to date. If successful, HACMS will produce a set of publicly available tools integrated into a high-assurance software workbench, which will be widely distributed for use in both the commercial and defense software sectors. For the defense sector, HACMS will enable high-assurance military systems ranging from unmanned vehicles to weapons systems, satellites and command and control devices. In an early demonstration of the program, we are running first-of-its-kind provably correct software on a commercially available automobile.

These programs are examples from DARPA's broader portfolio in cyber and information at scale. Other efforts are developing new technologies to enable distributed computer systems to work through attacks; permit trustworthy Internet communications in untrusted environments; automate the discovery, identification and characterization of new malware; provide DoD with military cyber capabilities; and automatically process text information to discover meanings and connections that might otherwise not be readily apparent to analysts.

Biology as Technology

A third area of complexity of growing interest and importance to DARPA - and among the most promising for future major capabilities - is the idea of biology as technology. Biology is nature's ultimate innovator, and any agency that hangs its hat on innovation would be foolish not to look to this master of networked complexity for inspiration and solutions.

Living Foundries

Synthetic biology - a hybrid discipline of biology and engineering - has already proven itself capable of using customized bacteria to produce medicines, and now it is heading toward even more interesting applications as we harness it to create entirely new chemistries. Our Living Foundries program seeks to develop the next-generation tools and technologies for engineering biological systems, compressing the biological design-build-test cycle in both time and cost. For example, the program has demonstrated the ability to generate a suite of novel bioproducts in weeks rather than years. The program is also producing new classes of materials with novel properties that can enable a new generation of mechanical, optical and electrical products.

Rapid Threat Assessment (RTA)

Even as we develop new materials and tools for engineering biological systems, we understand that we must also be prepared to react quickly to how our adversaries may seek to use similar capabilities. This concern is not new: novel chemical and biological weapons have historically been mass-produced within a year of discovery. Using current methods and technologies, researchers would require decades of study to gain a cellular-level understanding of how new threat agents affect humans. This gap between threat emergence, mechanistic understanding and potential treatment leaves U.S. forces and populations here and around the world vulnerable.

DARPA launched the Rapid Threat Assessment (RTA) program with an aggressive goal: develop methods and technologies that can, within 30 days of exposure to a human cell, map the complete molecular mechanism through which a threat agent alters cellular processes. This would give researchers the framework with which to develop medical countermeasures and mitigate threats. If successful, RTA could shift the cost-benefit trade space of using chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces and could also apply to drug development to combat emerging diseases.

Brain Function Research

In an era when harnessing complexity will be the sine qua non of success, it should not be surprising that DARPA has a particular interest in tackling the brain. DARPA's interest starts with our desire to protect and assist our Warfighters, whether it means preventing or treating traumatic brain injury, easing the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, or learning to operate sophisticated prosthetic limbs with thoughts alone, as is now increasingly possible with our new and exciting technologies. These advances also open the door to a much deeper understanding of how humans interact with the world around them - new insights that may fuel the next revolution in how we work with complex technologies and systems. Over the past year, we launched several new brain function-related programs that are now getting underway. These efforts are part of the President's initiative in brain research. Recently, we have made unprecedented advances in developing advanced prosthetic arm systems and methods to restore near-natural movement and control, as demonstrated by the DEKA Arm System approved by the Food and Drug Administration last week.

DARPA's biology-related investments also include diagnostics and novel prophylaxes to outpace the spread of infectious disease and new methods to accelerate the testing of critical therapeutics.

New Frontiers

Consistent with our mission to prevent technological surprise by creating it, DARPA continues to invest across a wide range of fields where we see promising research that could lead to powerful technology capability. These investments are the seeds of what my successors, perhaps 5, 10, or 15 years from now, will be describing to you as technology revolutions.

I described earlier our work in developing new algorithms, software and architectures that allow us to better mesh our electronic, optical and mechanical components together. What about those components themselves? We are pushing the frontiers of physics to make them dramatically smaller, or more capable, or both.


Consider the many ways we are developing to harness light, which will directly affect the size, weight, cost and performance of military components ranging from small navigation sensors to phased array radars and communication antennas. One recently concluded program (iPhod) successfully miniaturized tools for creating delays in light transmission, while another (COUGAR) demonstrated unique designs in hollow-core fibers, which guide light within a device much more efficiently than conventional optical fibers. Yet another (ORCHID) successfully demonstrated the "squeezing" of light, a concept in quantum optics that can ultimately lead to dramatic performance gains in microsystems. These programs challenge the assumption that highly specialized, high-precision systems must be large and expensive.

Miniaturization with National Security Implications

Other advances in miniaturization include a recent demonstration by DARPA-funded researchers of the world's smallest vacuum pumps. This breakthrough technology may create new national security applications for electronics and sensors that require a vacuum: highly sensitive gas analyzers that can detect chemical or biological attack, for instance, or extremely accurate laser-cooled chip-scale atomic clocks and microscale vacuum tubes. As part of another program (QuASAR), one which seeks to exploit the extreme precision and control of atomic physics for new sensor technology, researchers have developed methods for measuring magnetic fields at scales smaller than the size of a single cell. Applications include critical advances in position, timing and navigation - all critical to military situational awareness and operations.

Ground Robotics

Some advances seem much closer to our doorstep than they really are - thanks to science fiction and the amazing special effects of creative individuals and teams who lead our entertainment industry. Ground robotics is one such domain. At the DARPA Robotics Challenge trials a few months ago, we drove robotics technology forward by engaging teams of creative specialists at companies, universities and other government agencies. These world-leading experts were charged with advancing the capabilities of robots to perform basic skills that would be required in carrying out humanitarian and disaster relief missions. The Robotics Challenge - which is still underway - is showing how robotics capabilities can advance. It is also demonstrating just how far these kinds of robots are from serious battlefield application. That, too, is part of DARPA's mission: push the research frontiers of what is possible and inform our military decision makers where those limits are and the prospects for the future.

Algorithms Opening New Horizons

Research in mathematical algorithms is also creating important new technological opportunities. Clustering algorithms can detect common activity patterns across a vast data set. A combination of vector mathematics, time integration, and power law distributions enables the analysis of ensemble behaviors - patterns that only become visible when correlated across large numbers of points. Time series analysis can find previously unknown outliers in a data set for anomaly detection. Our programs apply these mathematical techniques to immense data sets with hundreds of millions or even many billions of elements. Individually or in combination, these new algorithmic approaches enable rapid analysis of data volumes that finally begins to scale with the complexity of the national security challenges that we face today.

I have cited several examples of DARPA technologies that made significant progress in the last year. There are many more in that same category. Additional examples of successes in the making are attached to my testimony.

The President's FY 2015 Budget Request

The President's FY 2015 budget request for DARPA is $2.915 billion. This compares with $2.779 billion appropriated for FY 2014, an increase of $136 million. Before describing our FY 2015 plan, let me put this number in context.

From FY 2009 to FY 2013, DARPA's budget declined through a series of small reductions followed by the 8 percent across-the-board sequestration cut in FY 2013. The total reduction to DARPA's budget from FY 2009 to FY 2013 was 20 percent in real terms.

This pernicious trend turned around last year. I thank this Subcommittee, and Congress more broadly, for your support in helping us to begin to address this issue in FY 2014 by restoring an initial $199 million. The President's FY 2015 request continues restoration, almost returning the Agency's budget to its pre-sequestration level in real terms.

Let me outline what these budget changes mean in terms of our ability to execute DARPA's vital mission. As budgets eroded over the last few years, one effect was a reduction in our major demonstration programs. In some cases, we have been unable to advance our work to the point of actually demonstrating that a totally new approach is workable. In other cases, we had to rely on a single approach to solving a particularly challenging problem because we could fund only one performing organization. That is especially problematic since we are trying to do things that have never been achieved before. Reduced funds also meant fewer early-stage investments to explore new research frontiers. Sequestration further affected our programs, with many being delayed or reduced.

In the current fiscal year, the partial restoration of funds is making a real difference in DARPA's ability to attack the thorny problems the Nation faces in today's military and national security environment. As a projects agency, DARPA is always beginning new programs as old ones end. But the new efforts in FY 2014 are stronger because of the healthier budget level. In some areas, we are now able to plan for the real-world prototyping and field testing needed for new concepts to be fully evaluated. And our new programs include the important exploratory projects that will expand future national security opportunities. The FY 2015 request before you today will allow us to continue to restore and strengthen our portfolio of investments. With this funding level, we will be on the right track.

Let me close by saying that I am mindful of the challenges that our Nation faces and the increasingly difficult environment in which we work, including severe constraints on resources. But I also am excited about what lies ahead and confident that - with your support for the President's FY 2015 budget request - DARPA will continue to make a real and outsized difference in redefining the national security landscape and our Nation's security.

Again, thank you for your support - past, present, and future. I look forward to working with you, and will be pleased to respond to your questions.

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