DARPA Wants You to Brainstorm New Warfighting Ideas

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The agency wants to find the next great warfighting idea, no matter how crazy or nontraditional it might seem.

Historically, wars were generally won by the side with the largest armies and the biggest guns. While there is still something to be said for raw might and manpower, these days it’s more critical that a country’s armed forces are smart, as well as technologically advanced. This is especially important for a nation like the United States, which has doubled down on technological prowess, fielding one of the most advanced armed forces the world has ever seen.

But we can always do better, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, through its Tactical Technology Office, believes that the next great warfighting idea might be hiding in the brain of some previously unknown professor or inventor, or within the pages of an entrepreneur’s unread journal. The agency wants to learn about those ideas, no matter how crazy or nontraditional they might seem, and evaluate them for development and possible deployment within the military.

“We want ideas that upset the enterprise, unexpected approaches that could fundamentally change the way we develop, design, build, deploy and operate military systems,” said Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Don’t be afraid to challenge the most basic assumptions about how we fight, and what we give our warfighters to fight with.”

To that end, DARPA is sponsoring a unique Proposers Day event, where those with ideas about how to better protect our nation can explain their ideas. The event takes place on June 6 and 7 with in-person or virutal meetings, with the required registration open through Friday, June 1.

“Proposers Day is the perfect opportunity to float a novel concept that takes us in completely different directions, and just might lead to a strong proposal,” Kennedy said.

DARPA has made some suggestions about the kind of ideas it wants to hear, broken down into various theaters like land warfare, space and seaborne defenses.

For example, TTO Program Manager Lt. Col. Philip Root would like to hear ideas that could use technology to make ground combat teams more effective. “Within TTO, we seek to innovate technologies that create asymmetries in mobility, lethality and survivability for future formations,” he said.

In the Navy, technological innovation is already being deployed in the form of ships and systems which are the most advanced and mission capable ever designed, said TTO Program Manager Andrew Nuss. For Proposers Day, he would like to hear about ways to offload some of those capabilities to nontraditional vessels, decentralizing naval power and making our nation’s capital ships less of a juicy target for adversaries. “We envision a future fleet composed of manned, unmanned and optionally manned platforms working collaboratively to scout, control, deny and destroy the adversary or enable other fleet missions,” Nuss said. “So we are interested in approaches that bolster the human decision maker, not overshadow them.”

Program Manager Alexander Walan says future air forces could be more effective with a larger variety of assets working together to accomplish missions. “We want to explore systems that don’t require us to own the airspace in the traditional sense...” he said. “We’re looking to explore warfighting concepts that don’t rely on a few highly-capable, but also highly vulnerable, key systems.”

One of the newest theater of operations, and an area that is only starting to muster defenses, is space. TTO Program Manager Paul “Rusty” Thomas said that “We urgently need to add resilience to orbital systems, and we need to get the information that they generate to our end-users, so that information can be used within seconds, instead of the hours or days that it currently takes.”

The Proposers Day will feature one on one discussions with program managers for the appropriate theater of operation. Virtual meetings are possible if someone can’t make it into Arlington, but all engagements must be scheduled. So if you have a great idea that could improve our nation’s warfighting skills or defenses, don’t keep it to yourself. DARPA wants to talk.

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys