DARPA is the central research and development organization for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). It manages and directs selected basic and applied research and development projects for DoD, and pursues research and technology where risk and payoff are both very high and where success may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles and missions. By doing so, DARPA furnishes DoD with leading-edge technologies to help the department execute its national security mission. DARPA often produces prototype systems for conducting experiments that address the urgent needs of DoD. If successful and as appropriate, such prototype systems are transitioned into operational use by executing agencies of the federal government.
The agency tries to stimulate, develop, and demonstrate technologies that can cause fundamental changes in future military systems and operations. DARPA targets areas for timely transition to weapon capability through specially-designed prototypes, technology demonstrations, and manufacturing processes key to fostering a robust industrial base.
DARPA emphasizes dynamic technologies that are changing too fast to be captured adequately by traditional research and development practices. DARPA funds research in universities, government laboratories, and industry, with an absolute minimum of administrative layering through a horizontal organizational structure. Program managers are free to pursue technologies they perceive as promising and have attained a great deal of success throughout a spectrum of activities. DARPA is also authorized to enter into contractual arrangements as full partners with industry, receiving royalties and other the rights of a company and accepting corporate obligations. This flexibility provides a fertile research environment for creative thought, industrial collaboration, and technology transfer for commercialization.
- Mitch Waldrop, "DARPA and the Internet Revolution" (full-text).