10 Breakthrough DARPA Technologies

From next-generation aircraft to smarter missiles, projects launched by DARPA's Tactical Technology Office push new limits. Take a closer look.

Elena Malykhina, Technology Journalist

April 29, 2013

10 Slides

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -- the research arm of the Department of Defense -- is out to make "huge leaps" in military weapon and defense technologies. Earlier this month DARPA's Tactical Technology Office asked developers and defense contractors to propose ideas, and discussed its requirements with potential partners during a two-day conference.

The Tactical Technology Office's goal is to develop advanced platforms, weapons and space systems that support U.S. military superiority through "overwhelming technological advantage." The two-day workshop focused on the development of innovative systems for military missions on the ground, air, sea and space. DARPA invited contractors, researchers and academic institutions to pitch their ideas.

"We're looking for potentially huge leaps forward from the existing state of the art, not incremental improvements," Brad Tousley, director of the Tactical Technology Office, said in a statement.

DARPA envisions "a holistic overhaul" of the equipment available to soldiers on foot patrol, increasing the reach and protection of assets at sea, and advances in air and space operations.

In particular, the Tactical Technology Office is seeking contributions in the following areas: soldier and squad technologies, combat vehicles, tactical operations in urban zones, surface and subsurface seafaring technologies, novel air vehicles, hypersonic airframes, spacecraft technologies, and situational awareness in space.

The Tactical Technology Office manages dozens of programs, which are organized into three broad categories: advanced platforms, advanced space systems and advanced weapons systems.

As one example of the kind of research it pursues, the office in March launched a program called the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN), after a family of seabirds known for flight endurance, to find a faster, less expensive way to strike mobile targets anywhere, anytime. The idea is to use small ships as mobile bases for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones (pictured).

In April, the Tactical Technology Office issued a request for information for a program called Digitizing Squad X, aimed at equipping soldiers with sensing, communications and mission-command capabilities that work together to create "an organically digitized and interconnected" squad.

Other Tactical Technology Office projects include the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) and other robots, the Phoenix program to harvest, repair and re-use satellites in space, and a project to develop a more flexible, supersonic missile dubbed the Triple Target Terminator.

DARPA pursues leading-edge research and development on behalf of the Department of Defense. The agency is organized into six R&D offices: Adaptive Execution Office, Defense Sciences Office, Information Innovation Office, Microsystems Technology Office, Strategic Technology Office and Tactical Technology Office.

In the meantime, here are nine breakthrough projects -- in addition to TERN -- already underway via DARPA's Tactical Technology Office.

Credit for all images: DARPA

About the Author(s)

Elena Malykhina

Technology Journalist

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she followed the world of advertising. Having earned the nickname of "gadget girl," she is excited to be writing about technology again for InformationWeek, where she worked in the past as an associate editor covering the mobile and wireless space. She now writes about the federal government and NASA’s space missions on occasion.

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