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DARPA’s Unique Experience

Historical reference: DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States, which is a structural division of the United States Department of Defense that is responsible for the development of new technologies for the usage in the Armed Forces of the United States.

The Agency was founded in 1958 as a reaction in response to the launch of the satellite Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union. Before them there was set the task to preserve the forward positions of the military technologies of the United States. DARPA is a separate structure from ordinary military research establishments and subject directly to the top management of the Department of Defense.

DARPA counts about 240 employees, of whom approximately 140 employees are technical specialists. The program managers amount almost one third from the general quantity of personnel. The average age of specialists who work in DARPA is 37 years and annually they have a profit from 130 to 150 thousand dollars. Only 20% of workers in organization are the graduating students of top-universities. The budget of DARPA is 3,2 billion dollars. These indices are approximate as this structure is concentrated on realization of short-term projects (from three to five-six years) managed by small, carefully selected teams.

Originally, the agency was called ARPA, and then, after the several changes, the name DARPA (with the addition of the word “Defense”) was left.

During its activity ARPA was responsible for the funding of ARPANET development (which subsequently transformed into the Internet), as well as the BSD version (of the University of California, Berkeley) of Unix system and well-known communications protocols TCP/IP. At the moment, DARPA is sponsoring mainly the development of robot-cars, creation of autonomous flying machines, robots, technologies in genetic engineering, biomechanical prosthesis and other technologies that can be applied into a military sphere. Even such futuristic projects as the synthetics of synthetic blood and production of material, capable to change the form, are in the state of realization of DARPA.

The Agency’s structure has six principal offices: Adaptive Execution Office (AEO), Defense Sciences Office (DSO), Information Innovation Office (I2O), Microsystems Technology Office (MTO), Strategic Technology Office (STO), Tactical Technology Office (TTO). 

It is expected to create a powerful scientific and research structure under the working name GARDA (Government Advant Research Development Agency) – the analogue of the American DARPA but adopted to the Ukrainian realias in order to eliminate the vacuum created by chronic underfunding of the basic science and to estimate the total necessity in the development direction of separate fields and technologies.

Besides creation of the technology of the future, which would help to overcome global catastrophes and eliminate effects, the Ukrainian GARDA should also solve the personnel problem of national science. Moreover, in two directions. To stop the brain-drain from Ukraine, as the specialists from our defense enterprises start to leave not only in the direction of the European countries or the USA. And to find new personalities, new names that will be able not only to respond to the challenges of the present, but also to form the agenda of the future.

In order to adapt the American experience to the Ukrainian realities, we must carefully study the structure of the DARPA’s work.


The research and investigation work in the interests of the United States Department of Defense can be divided into two main units: 1) internal Research & Development, which are performed in the scientific and research laboratories (Livermore Laboratory, National Laboratory in Los-Angeles, Lincoln Laboratory, United States Army Research Laboratory, etc.); 2) external Research & Development, which are performed in corporations, universities, small innovative enterprises, sometimes in cooperation with defense laboratories.

Also, there are separate subdivisions of the United States Department of Defense, which are strictly oriented at the universities’ projects supporting.

In this regard, the Offie of Scientific Research and Development of armed forces types (AFOSR, ONR and ARO) is oriented at the supporting of Research & Development and aimed at the achieving of the goals and objectives of the respective types of military forces.

The research projects of the Department of Defense have three classifications:

  1. Fundamental projects, which, as a rule, are financed in the universities.
  2. Applied researches. They are often the continuation of fundamental researches that fulfil more completely the defense objectives. The data of the research, as a rule, are financed at the enterprises of military-industrial complex, the partner of which can be the university.
  3. Applied researches. The stage, on which the development has a certain military application and passed the tests. The enterprise, sometimes in the partnership with potential operational service, usually performs this type of works.

The Office of Scientific Research and Development also supports the projects of applicants’ cooperation with the scientific and research institutes (defense laboratories) of the Department of Defense. It is considered that such works facilitate the cooperation and allow to use the results of Research & Development in such projects according to the departmental programs of the Department of Defense and use for the implementation of mutual projects of specialized testing equipment.

DARPA’s existence in a developed system of military Research & Development defense may seem to be superfluous: the military departments (Army, Naval Establishment and Air Force) have in its subordination their own scientific and research subdivisions, whose activities are aimed at solving the current technological tasks of these departments, and specialized laboratories of defense investigations exist as well. However, DARPA was created in order to eliminate the sticking-point of the departmental Research & Development, to provide the financial support for those projects that cannot be supported and funded in the framework of research programs of other military departments.

Most of the technological innovations, that created the image of the modern United States Armed Forces, were developed and implemented with direct support by DARPA. They are related to: Stealth technology, different precision weapons, new means of reconnaissance and surveillance are referred to them. Although the Agency’s activity is concentrated primarily on the military problematics, the noticeable part of its program is devoted to the technologies development that have a double definition. The inventions, such as the Internet, the manufacture of semiconductors and integrative schemes, made with direct DARPA’s participation, are basically in all these directions, which are widely used at the present moment by civilian sector. The main task of the Agency is to bring into compliance the military commitments and technological capabilities, including the new combat concepts being found with the help of these technologies. The difficulty lies in the fact that, firstly, some of the military commitments do not have simple and obvious technical solution, and secondly, many emerging technologies can possess a value for the armed forces only in the long-term perspective. In this case, the risk of failure can be very high. The technological projects (programs) with a duration from 3 to 5 years are the main DARPA’s instrument. The main components, which are necessary for the program realization, in accordance with the Agency’s ideology, are the presence of innovative ideas and specialists who are ready to realize these ideas. During the process of selection, the DARPA’s projects are considered through the matrix of risk level – the level of significance for armed forces. DARPA is developing the criteria of projects selection in coordinates, “the degree of risk – the level of significance for the armed forces” (Technical risk – Potential military utility). Moreover, these criteria usually give priority to those projects that have a high risk and high pay-off at the same time (High risk – High pay-off) and, thus, ensure the breakthrough achievements. These are mainly the big long-term conceptual projects, which involve different offices of the Agency. The main part of financing is invested into these projects – about 60% of investments. The projects with a low risk and high pay-off (Low risk – High pay-off) are mainly an adaptation and appliance of finished commercial products to current defense necessities, which lies on the basis of spheres of responsibility of military departments. In the general case, 20% of investments are deducted to these projects, but the limits of financing can be subject to significant fluctuations in response to the tasks emerging before national defense. The projects with a high risk and low pay-off (High risk – Low pay-off) receive about 20% of investments. These projects include the development of dual-usage technologies, the occupation of niches on the market of private corporations, the development of new technological fields that have a military efficiency. As we can see, the integration of the GARDA structure into the staff structure of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine entirely fits in the form of the American experience, which includes both departmental laboratories and other scientific institutions. For this reason, the task of creation of the Ukrainian analogue of the Agency is not such an unbearable task in the presence of appropriate funding, as we will not forget that the first flight of an artificial Earth’s satellite was provided due to the significant participation of the Ukrainian enterprises, scientific establishments and scientists.


Dmytro Umanets


Chairman of Supervisory Board of the Association of Ukrainian Defense Manufacturers.

General-Lieutenant. Deputy controller of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ph.D, Warfare Science