Friday, August 19, 2011

A Russian DARPA…

by Konstantin Bogdanov

In Russia, the voices continue, offering to create an equivalent of U.S. DARPA, functioning at the Pentagon. That is the problem author attempts to solve? And what they want, really?

A background of increasing problems with the performance of defense contracts one of the pioneers recent harsh criticism of the military departments - General Designer of Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering - Solomon once again announced a long time wandering in the summit, idea of the formation of state structures responsible for the defense advanced research. As an example of this establishment Yuri Semenovich gave DARPA.

Attempts to repeat this experience overseas in the Russian reality have already been made: for example, last fall, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has quite explicitly ordered the creation of such an organization. However, the executor appointed Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, a rather trivial reformulated the problem posed by the President. Agency-based research and development, has become a structure responsible for applied R & D Department of Defense, and then disappeared behind a veil of bureaucratic approvals.

What is the phenomenon of DARPA and how to implement its elements in the Russian system of management development of military technology? What problem would solve the new organization in this country, "the defense”?

Experience in America: forget Corporation

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Agency project) appeared on the horizon, the American military-industrial complex in 1958. As is usually accepted with pride to celebrate in our sources, "in response to the launch of the satellite by the Soviet Union”. However, this is not the case. The success of the USSR October 4, 1957 was probably the last straw, the camel was a turning back the military and political bureaucracy of the United States.

Aggressive discontent arose in  top U.S. political leadership in the overregulation of American "defense", its lack of transparency and overly tight links with the military establishment has led to a famous irritated speech of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who for the first time formulated the principle of military industrial complex - tightly coupled lobby of the military industry,concerned only by its profits.

But it was the only public aspect of the issue. In the category of real action was listed as re-training of the National Agency on aeronautics (NACA) in the National Aerospace Agency (NASA), cited above, the creation of DARPA and the Pentagon - after coming to power of the Kennedy administration - the Ministry of Defence calls "effective manager" Robert McNamara, the man rightly considered the father of modern American military machine.

DARPA had a hand in a number of well-known defense (and other) programs. This is a booster Saturn V, the competition for the rifle, M16, developing the concept of aircraft "Stealth", the GPS navigation system and so on. The number of unsuccessful projects the agency also surpasses all reasonable limits. But, as we shall see, this is a reasonable price for the result.

Price Risk

We should immediately make a reservation: DARPA not only conducts independent research, even it is not control center of the American defense of R & D. Pentagon pulls himself to hundreds of destinations funding applied research, serving major development program adopted by the armed forces.So, DARPA does not deal with them.

This is a small structure, numbering almost two hundred employees, performs one single task: to determine the potential breakthrough areas of scientific and technological progress and acting as a customer, "the missing technology." Being in close contact with high-tech business-related "critical national infrastructure" (including the "defense industry", but not limited to), DARPA managers point to the need for certain technologies that the U.S. economy does not have. After that, look in the scientific community of researchers who are interested in precisely these areas, and provide them with initial order (usually very small - the entire budget of DARPA barely exceeds $ 3 billion a year) in search of research.And then bring together customers (industry) and artists (the laboratory). Sometimes it does not get anything. Sometimes engineers, slapping his forehead, running to rebuild the production processes and prepare to market the new product.

That is exactly what has been broken the vicious “close circle” between military science and defense corporations, which by the beginning of the 60s were bad before the need to dig wider and deeper, spend more and more money to ensure that, discard about fifty solutions to fundamental problems; get one single technology that is "shot" sales.

Formation of transparent superconductor network links university science and small private intelligence startup with large corporate and public sector sharply reduced the share of the cost of blank scientific research in the cost structure of finished products and infrastructure solutions. Motto Agency (Bridging the Gap, which can be loosely translated as "bridges the gap") well illustrates this situation.

In contrast to the logic, which is already trying to instill in the Russian analog, DARPA does not deal with routine business. Subjects of its special interest – crossdisciplinary study, the formation of cross-species decisions, the development of dual-use technologies and technologies that create new markets.

Unique and personnel policies of the agency.Managers of research programs are employed by the very high qualifying parameters, a maximum of five or six years. However, none of them has the DARPA no career prospects: they will never enter into the heads of a structure in which they work. It enables, on the one hand, clear workflow from the careerists and opportunists, and the other - to allow people to immerse themselves in the scientific and technical problem, moving away from administrative bureaucracy merrymaking.

In the agency 60 percent of projects is passed along the graph "high risk - high return". These are tempting on their possible output studies, which are nevertheless not guaranteed. To applied R & D it is still very far away: sometimes it is even about to stably reproduce any effect, to build a laboratory demonstrator is not technology, but of scientific discovery.

This is the price of risk - sifting a huge amount of "garbage" of American science, DARPA managers are looking for the "pearl", which is able to break the paradigm and reformat the entire market. This is the main task of the agency.

Pineapples on barren soils

Do we need such a structure in Russia? The answer is simple and reflector, of course! Who will refuse from such a compact and effective tool for "extricating" innovation chain of fragmented heap of potential subcontractors. But to solve a problem, in fact, it was necessary to remember the American experiment?Let us turn to the opinion of the pillars of our defense industry.

Vice-Prime Minister Ivanov last fall, President Medvedev restate the problem as creating a structure that coordinates the applied research in the interests of national security. The Director-General of the concern "Vega" Vladimir Verba stated that the fund for "Russian DARPA” should reach 3-5 percent of resources allocated to the state armaments program (that is just as much as the American counterpart).

Yuri Solomon gave some more detailed "testimony to the use of" providing it with an analysis of the problem field. "The activity of this structure should be closely coordinated with the work of scientific-technical council of the Military-Industrial Commission of the Russian Government, - the chief designer Mita. - In addition, the new organization should be provided for advisory council composed of leading scholars and general designers. Based on their opinion, the Supreme Commander could quickly select and support the most promising directions of development of weapons and military technology directly to channel funds to finance them, bypassing the existing bureaucratic and corrupt system of decision-making in this vital national security area. "

What all this tells the reader- the defense request for a revolutionary innovation, suddenly emerged from our statesmen? That the request is in fact aimed at anything but the breakthrough in research with high risk!

In fact statement of the problem to create an analog DARPA sounded from the lips of President Dmitry Medvedev - and in fact the same thing and stop there. Below in response sounded very different requirements that correspond to more ardent aspirations of our "defense industry" and the military.Requests are simple: to restore the normal functioning of the defense applied research. And often even worse: Yuri Solomon actually says about such a structure as an advisory council, which measures specific projects and even individual weapons systems. What gives us the output is not nothing but a dictatorship of the military industry - it is something from which the formation of DARPA tried to get via Eisenhower.

As noted, the U.S. agency does not constitute a steering mechanism for military research in the United States, but rather it is part of the head. Brilliant, mobile, efficient structure engaged in the exploration front edge - not more. A "Workhorse" of U.S. applied research, painted on the program of the armed forces and not even accountable to the Pentagon's central office and individual departmental offices, drag associated with them the main routine.

Structure similar to DARPA, can easily afford the country with a well-oiled machine control applications for Defence Studies and R&D. It works well for infrastructure development "ordinary" development, which can reset the top result of a "horizon" of planning and be sure that the output will specific military programs, including certain models of weapons and military equipment.

In the absence of bureaucratic & administrative  "belts", the Russian DARPA will turn into a beautiful toy, perhaps, giving essential from a scientific point of view the result, but isolated, however, from real life.

Nevertheless, the attempt is worth it. Least because the "logic of DARPA” involves working with a full distributed environment for private business to science. Creating such a structure can indeed encourage private initiative in the field of advanced research, provoking the release of "downpour" of startups, whose work can be used for the Ministry of Defence.

At the same time and it will create a good feedback system, a kind of "intelligence brain", making it possible to rapidly map the research sector of the country and represent the political and military leadership about the real situation of the country's technological development and state of the sector of basic science.

The question is, how existing research structures, on the one hand, ready to work in this line of reasoning, but on the other - how they would react to a possible appearance in the way of small, nimble and toothy private shops. Something tells us that this will move through a lot of obstacles on the part of all actors involved.


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