A high-tech wish list

DARPA procurement plan shows Pentagon's IT research priorities

The Pentagon seeks to fund information technology research projects in technology arenas that reflect the military's emerging warfare challenges, especially those flowing from combat in South Asia and conflict in cyberspace, as outlined in a recent procurement plan.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for decades has been one of the most visible, if by no means the best-funded, conduit of Pentagon support to advanced IT research groups in universities and private companies. Organizations such as the multibillion-dollar National Reconnaissance Office, which routinely researches and designs IT for remote sensing projects decades in advance, as well as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, long have operated very-well-funded advanced research programs.

But DARPA's Broad Agency Announcement for the Strategic Technology Office (BAA) is a harbinger of full-scale IT projects in their early stages. The broadly drafted acquisition plan will stay in effect through Feb. 12, 2009.

The BAA covers research, development, design and testing that supports the Strategic Technology Office. The BAA acquisition format is designed to provide flexibility for agencies and vendors to launch projects covering several types of agency needs without committing the issuing agency to any set procurement agenda.

Among the most prominent technology areas that DARPA seeks to fund via the BAA are:

  • space and near-space sensors and systems;
  • strategic and tactical networks;
  • information assurance;
  • counter underground facilities;
  • weapons-of-mass-destruction defense;
  • small-unit operations;
  • maritime operations; and
  • core strategic technologies.

The acquisition announcement further defines the general topics listed above with dozens of types of research under each category. For example, project areas listed under the core strategic technology category include advanced 3-D image processing, analysis and feature extraction approaches, as well as advanced electronic vision and situation awareness devices, algorithms and systems.

The core strategic technology category includes 16 specific project topics.

The small-unit operations category, which is especially relevant to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as reported and confirmed missions inside Iran and Lebanon, respectively, includes the largest number of project topics at 36.

Representative topics for technology research projects to support small units include direction finding capabilities for urban applications, Global Positioning System (satellite locator)-free guidance and navigation, and low-cost expendable GPS sensors that would cost less than $100.

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