DARPA chooses its spending targets in line with adversaries’ bulls-eyes

DARPA chooses its spending targets in line with adversaries’ bulls-eyes

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Valerie Browning, director of the DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, at Wednesday's “Emerging Tech Summit” hosted by Nextgov (TMN photo by Tom Squitieri)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s technological innovation wing is looking for ways to interfere with adversaries’ decision-making processes while developing tools to influence social behavior as some primary means to offset gains by Russia and China, a top DARPA official said Wednesday.

Valerie Browning, director of the DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, said the sharp increase in operational tempo of new technologies from Russia and China has DARPA personnel looking “to invest in anything to take that threat off the table.”

DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Browning made her remarks at an “Emerging Tech Summit” hosted by Nextgov at the Conrad Hotel in Washington.

She said DARPA has a rigid focus on what projects should provide benefits five and 10 years down the road, as well as keep pace in critical areas such as hypersonics.

“What we can’t do is take our resources and spread it all over,” she said.

She also said the fact that China is spending significant sums of money in a few precise areas does not necessarily mean they will outpace the U.S. in critical developments.

“You can throw a lot of money, that doesn’t mean the money is well spent,” Browning said. “I’m quite confident that the investments the United States are making are being made smartly” in what she called “thrust areas.”

Those broadly fall under categories of either countering weapons already in adversary arsenals or proactive assets to surprise and stun opponents, she said.

For example, if DARPA can not match or overmatch an adversary weapon, it will invest in technology “so to make it so costly for adversaries to use those weapons,” she said. “Can we get into their decision-making loop and slow their (decision-making) process?”

Among the pro-active developments are where DARPA focuses on “social behavior scientific tools” to help the Pentagon compete in so-called gray zone warfare — actions that are short of traditional conflict.

“Our weapons are designed to give options,” Browning said.

One of DARPA’s mantras is not to be scientifically surprised by developments by other nations. Thus, Browning said DARPA was not surprised at this week’s news of a nuclear explosion in Russia following Moscow’s attempts to test a nuclear-powered missile. The Kremlin acknowledged on Tuesday that “a chain of tragic accidents” — apparently triggered by the Aug. 8 blast — killed five employees of the state-run nuclear agency.

Browning said the U.S. worked to develop a similar missile in the 1960s but put it aside because of dangers of radiation. She said the newly revealed Russian test did not affect DARPA’s agenda.

“We are not going to turn on a dime,” Browning said.

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