19 March 2016

China is creating its own Advanced Projects Research Agency

Written by Betty Laseter on 14 Mar 2016
United States has always remained a pioneer in space and technology sector. Past governments have always provided ample funding to NASA, DARPA and other scientific research agencies to test new technologies. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite into orbit. To stay neck-on-neck with them, President Eisenhower formed the Advanced Projects Research Agency (ARPA) in 1958.
The name got a D for Defense as its starting alphabet in 1973. Since that time, DARPA-funded research has been a very important part of an extraordinary era of technological dominance, ranging from stealth technology to the Internet.
China is seemingly looking forward to attain a similar technological edge now. To achieve the same, the nation is working on its own agency on similar footprint of DARPA.

In a recent Science report, it has been mentioned that under President Xi’s reorganization of the armed forces for staying dedicated to five theaters of operation, China has come up with a new science and technology committee to run defense R&D.
The journal added that as per a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Defense, dubbed in Chinese as asjunweikejiwei, the committee has been planned to meet the requirements of China’s military modernization.
The spokesperson mentioned that the committee will make management of defense S&T stronger, endorse native innovation in national defense, and synchronize integrated progress of military and civilian technologies.
The central government of China has planned to spend $147 billion on defense in 2016, and the amount set for defense R&D hasn’t been disclosed. Dennis Blasko, a former Army attaché at the US Embassy in Beijing, said, “Nobody knows how much is spent on military R&D”.

It is yet to be seen whether a similar project will work in such a tightly controlled Asian superpower as the People’s Republic of China. A vital part of DARPA’s strength lies in its link with businesses, not only defense giants, but also the tiny and agile companies that could have otherwise-undiscovered ideas.

According to a report in ScientificAmerican by Larry Greenemeier, "To stop a terrorist, it helps to think like one. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is channeling that philosophy with its new Improv program that encourages engineers, entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to imagine how someone might repurpose commercially available devices as weapons. The Pentagon is even offering to fund the process so that some inventors can turn their ideas for hacked cell phones, model rocket motors, drones and other gadgets into prototypes."

The increasing sophistication and relentless pace of new technologies available via the Web make it impractical for DARPA to continue to rely exclusively on a small group of its own handpicked experts to identify new ways of using technology that might pose a national security threat, Improv project leader John Main said Wednesday at a press briefing. “Basically you can get undreamed of levels of technological capability by getting on Amazon and Alibaba today that wasn’t possible 10 or 15 years ago,” he added.

"Part of this broad-based hacker "red-teaming" of potential improvised threats is focused on what can be done within a tight budget and a tight deadline. Selected "performers" will compete against each other for a chance to build their prototype during a short DARPA-funded feasibility study phase (with up to $40,000 funding per individual awards). The performing teams will have only two weeks to construct a prototype once they've been chosen, with up to $70,000 additional funding and up to $20,000 for provisioning for the evaluation test," according to a news report published by NextBigFuture.

“DARPA’s mission is to create strategic surprise, and the agency primarily does so by pursuing radically innovative and even seemingly impossible technologies,” said program manager John Main, who will oversee the new effort. “Improv is being launched in recognition that strategic surprise can also come from more familiar technologies, adapted and applied in novel ways.”

In a report published by the Popsci, "Defense technology is a dialog, and it follows a rough script: the defense creates a new form of protection, and then the offense figures out a new and different way to get past it. It’s not a particularly clean dialog, and in combat people die when engineers get the answers wrong. DARPA, the Pentagon’s blue-sky future projects wing, has spent decades trying to figure out the right technologies for future war, so they can always have the right answers to the offense/defense conversation. With IMPROV, new project announced today, DARPA wants hobbyists to get rid of the script and figure out how to turn commercially available, off-the-shelf technologies into new weapons."

The search is limited to commercially available projects, which is a super broad category. Main defined it as “anything you could purchase and use, from cell phones to model rocket motors, to construction equipment, to dive equipment, to UAVs, to any sort of hobbyist equipment or sophisticated engineer equipment that’s available right now.” When asked if this was focused on cyber technologies, DARPA deferred, instead focusing on the physical threats that can be assembled from existing stuff people can buy off of Amazon or Alibaba.

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