DARPA Chief: Budget Cuts Will Erode Cyber Mission

Plan X is feeling the effects of sequestration.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s offensive cybersecurity initiative known as Plan X is a “great example of the negative effects of sequestration,” agency Director Arati Prabhakar told reporters Wednesday.

DARPA has had to delay Plan X, which aims to lay the groundwork for offensive cyber operations, for several months, one effect of across the board spending cuts at the agency totaling $202 million. Agency officials also project employee furloughs, Prabhakar told the House Armed Services subcommittee on intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities, last week.

“We’re going to prioritize within each bucket to take cuts where there’s the least impact,” Prabhakar said during Wednesday’s briefing. “It’s not a death blow when you take a one-time cut like that but it’s quite corrosive and something that, over time, erodes your ability to do the mission.”

DARPA’s long-range cyber strategy is focused on helping to make cyber defense a manageable part of daily operations and making cyber offense tools as effective and measurable as more conventional weapons, she said.

“We need to move . . . to a world where cyber is a capability like other weapons capabilities,” Prabhakar said, “meaning that a military operator can design and deploy a cyber effect, know what it’s going to accomplish and do battle damage assessments that measure what it has accomplished.”

DARPA’s main challenges in the next several years, she said, will be:

  • Responding to the changing nature of threats as terrorists and other non-state actors continue to challenge U.S. national security along with traditional nation states;
  • Responding to a changing technology environment as access to technology becomes more globally distributed; and
  • Responding to new budget pressure as the United States prepares to exit Afghanistan and funding moves away from defense to other national priorities.