Military

2020/06/18 Compact Optical Frequency Combs Provide Extraordinary Precision with the Turn of a Key

Optical frequency synthesizers – systems that output laser beams at precise and stable frequencies – have proven extremely valuable in a variety of scientific endeavors, including space exploration, gas sensing, control of quantum systems, and high-precision light detection and ranging (LIDAR). While they provide unprecedented performance, the use of optical frequency synthesizers has largely been limited to laboratory settings due to the cost, size, and power requirements of their components. To reduce these obstacles to widespread use, DARPA launched the Direct On-Chip Digital Optical Synthesizer (DODOS) program in 2014. Key to the program is the miniaturization of necessary components and their integration into a compact module, enabling broader deployment of the technology while unlock...

2020/06/17 DARPA Announces Third-Annual Electronics Resurgence Initiative Summit & MTO Symposium

From August 18-20, DARPA will host its third Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) Summit and Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) Symposium. The annual event brings together leaders from across the electronics ecosystem – spanning government, defense, academia, and industry – to foster collaboration and share technical progress on DARPA’s five-year, $1.5 billion dollar investment into the advancement of the U.S. semiconductor industry. To ensure the health and safety of the more than 1,000 expected attendees, the 2020 Summit will be hosted on a world-class, immersive, and entirely virtual platform with built-in features for live presentations, online interaction, exhibits, and networking. The 2020 Summit will emphasize ongoing and potential transition opportunities for DARPA technologie...

2020/06/12 DARPA Program Seeks to Develop Novel Therapeutics for Combating Microbial Infections

Antibiotic resistance is on the rise and is recognized by both the CDC1 and the U.S. Military2 as a current – and formidable – global health threat. The U.S Department of Defense (DoD) has long documented the warfighter’s outsized risk of exposure to infectious disease, including the increasing number of multi-drug resistant (MDR) organisms that have challenged military wound care in Iraq and Afghanistan3. Despite this looming crisis, there has been a notable exodus of pharmaceutical companies from the antibiotic space, as well as several high-profile failures of biotechnology companies focused on antibiotic development4. Current therapeutics to combat microbial infections, including MDR microbes and bacterial biothreats, are insufficient to meet the growing need, and existing methods to d...

2020/06/11 Episode 28: Swarm Commander

In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, Dr. Timothy Chung, a program manager since 2016 in the agency’s Tactical Technology Office, delves into his robotics and autonomous technology programs – the Subterranean (SubT) Challenge and OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET). From robot soccer to live-fly experimentation programs involving dozens of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), he explains how he aims to assist humans heading into unknown environments via advances in collaborative autonomy and robotics. The SubT Challenge focuses on the underground – human-made tunnels, the urban underground, and natural cave networks. Teams from around the world vie for prizes via Systems (physical) and Virtual competitions, with air and ground platforms attempting to rapidly map, navigate, an...

2020/06/09 Long-range Communications without Large, Power-Hungry Antennas

Establishing long-range tactical communications for U.S. troops in remote locations currently requires giant parabolic dishes, tall pole-mounted antennas, large antenna domes, and high-power amplifiers. Besides their significant weight, power, and cost (SWAP-C), these antennas present large visual and radio frequency (RF) signatures, are vulnerable to jamming, and constitute a single point of failure. To break this dependence on big antennas and amplifiers, DARPA recently announced the Resilient Networked Distributed Mosaic Communications (RN DMC) program. RN DMC aims to provide long-range communications through “mosaic” antennas composed of spatially distributed low SWaP-C transceiver elements or “tiles.” This approach replaces high-powered amplifiers and large directional antennas with m...

2020/06/08 DARPA Announces First Bug Bounty Program to Hack SSITH Hardware Defenses

Electronic systems – from the processors powering smartphones to the embedded devices keeping the Internet of Things humming – have become a critical part of daily life. The security of these systems is of paramount importance to the Department of Defense (DoD), commercial industry, and beyond. To help protect these systems from common means of exploitation, DARPA launched the System Security Integration Through Hardware and Firmware (SSITH) program in 2017. Instead of relying on patches to ensure the safety of our software applications, SSITH seeks to address the underlying hardware vulnerabilities at the source. Research teams are developing hardware security architectures and tools that protect electronic systems against common classes of hardware vulnerabilities exploited through softw...

2020/05/29 DARPA Selects Teams for Work on Tunable Gamma Ray Inspection Technology

Two California companies were selected for DARPA’s Gamma Ray Inspection Technology (GRIT) program and have begun work to develop a transportable, tunable source of gamma rays for a host of national security, industrial, and medical applications. Lumitron Technologies and RadiaBeam Technologies started work on the GRIT program in April and are exploring novel approaches to achieve high-intensity, tunable, and narrow-bandwidth sources of gamma ray radiation in a compact, transportable form factor. GRIT aims to provide a source of tunable, pure x-rays and gamma rays from tens of keV (kilo-electron volts) up through three MeV (mega-electron volts). Currently, tunable and narrow bandwidth gamma ray sources only exist at highly specialized user facilities best suited for basic research and are n...

2020/05/27 DARPA Selects Teams to Increase Security of Semiconductor Supply Chain

As Internet of Things (IoT) devices rapidly increase in popularity and deployment, economic attackers and nation-states alike are shifting their attention to the vulnerabilities of digital integrated circuit (IC) chips. Threats to IC chips are well known, and despite various measures designed to mitigate them, hardware developers have largely been slow to implement security solutions due to limited expertise, high cost and complexity, and lack of security-oriented design tools integrated with supporting semiconductor intellectual property (IP). Further, when unsecure circuits are used in critical systems, the lack of embedded countermeasures exposes them to exploitation. To address the growing threat this poses from an economic and national security perspective, DARPA developed the Automat...

2020/05/21 Episode 27: Detecting Threats with Time to Act

Episode 27: Detecting Threats with Time to Act In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, Mark Wrobel, a program manager since 2019 in the agency’s Defense Sciences Office (DSO), chronicles progress in the SIGMA+ program and its potential near-term relevance to monitoring the environment for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The now-completed predecessor program, SIGMA, delivered a sensor and analysis system for detecting imminent nuclear and radiological threats in complex settings like cities, stadiums, and travel hubs. That system has been transitioning into deployments. The charge of the SIGMA+ program is to expand the threat-detection system’s abilities to include an extensive range of chemical, explosive, and biological agents. To avoid costly false alarms and potent...

2020/05/14 Voices from DARPA #26 – The Eclectic Biotechnician

In this episode of our Voices from DARPA podcast, Eric Van Gieson, a program manager since 2017 in the agency’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO), recounts how a boyhood fascination with DARPA ultimately led to his current role overseeing a portfolio of envelope-pushing programs. These include a program that seeks new diagnostic tools for perhaps the earliest-possible detection of exposure to pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19; an effort to identify and leverage the biomolecular bases underlying optimal performance in such roles as piloting aircraft or participating in special forces missions; research toward new personal-protection technologies that combine advanced featherweight fabrics with designed, bio-based agents applied directly to the body where the...

2020/05/13 Gamebreaker AI Effort Gets Under Way

DARPA recently selected nine teams for the Gamebreaker Artificial Intelligence (AI) Exploration program, which held its virtual kickoff meeting May 5. Gamebreaker seeks to develop and apply AI to existing open-world video games to quantitatively assess game balance, identify underlying parameters that significantly contribute to balance, and explore new capabilities, tactics, and rule modifications that are most destabilizing to the game. The commercial gaming industry has a long-standing interest in maintaining game balance as balanced games are typically more entertaining, and market pressures help drive their development. In future conflicts, DoD investment is designed to maximize imbalance to create an advantage or to seek equilibrium when an adversary is seeking an advantage. “If we c...

2020/05/11 Blackjack Focuses on Risk Reduction Flights and Simulations to Prepare for Full Demonstration

In partnership with the U.S. Space Force and Space Development Agency, DARPA’s Blackjack program is targeting flights to low-Earth orbit (LEO) later this year and 2021. Using a series of small risk reduction satellites, the program aims to demonstrate advanced technology for satellite constellation autonomy and space mesh networks. Blackjack seeks to develop and validate critical elements of global high-speed autonomous networks in LEO, proving a capability that could provide the Department of Defense with highly connected, resilient, and persistent overhead coverage. The upcoming demonstration flights are all planned as rideshares, catching a ride to LEO on a launch with other missions. The first demonstration, Mandrake 1, is a cubesat that will carry supercomputer processing chips. Mandr...