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DoD Seeks Advanced Weapon Systems

Under the heading, “Innovative Systems for Military Missions,” the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is beginning to explore industry concepts for new advanced weapon systems.

According to a Broad Agency Announcement released on Nov. 16, 2009, DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) is “soliciting executive summaries, white papers and proposals for advanced research and development of Innovative Systems for Military Missions. Innovative Systems are integrated systems or critical systems components, which often incorporate emerging advanced technologies, and which enable revolutionary improvements to the capability, efficiency and effectiveness of the military.”

One of three “mission thrust areas” identified by the announcement involves advanced weapon systems, with the explanation that “TTO is interested in technological improvements in the ability to project precise force at a distance, prosecute time-sensitive targets with minimal collateral damage and decisively respond across the full spectrum of armed conflict. These interests include the ability to rapidly respond, identify and track threats in complex environments, persist over the battlespace, and to strike fixed and mobile targets at long and short ranges throughout the entire battlespace (air, land, urban, subterranean, maritime targets of interest) with kinetic and non-kinetic effects.”

Advanced Weapons Systems

Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM) being developed by DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). DARPA rendering

Under that umbrella description, the BAA further highlights three aspects: weapons delivery; precision effects; and both kinetic and non-kinetic effects.

Under weapons delivery, the DARPA planners note their interest in technologies ”that improve advance [sic] weapon systems performance in their ability to reach their intended targets. These interests include concepts resulting in a reduced logistics footprint, increased rate of fire / launch, faster delivery, greater effective range and an engagement capability enabling employment of complex tactics against multiple targets across multiple domains.”

Interest in precision effects focuses on “advanced concepts, methods, or techniques that improve end-game precision effects enabling a weapon and weapon system improved detection, discrimination, identification, location, tracking, attack and assessment of targets. These interests also include concepts enabling weapon system availability, responsiveness, logistics, supportability in the battlefield, cooperative engagement, and flexible operations responding to a spectrum of threats.”

Finally, in highlighting in its interest in advanced weapons technologies and systems capable of delivering both kinetic and non-kinetic effects in air, maritime, and ground operational environments, the BAA identifies interests including “electronic warfare; electronic attack, adjustable / adaptable lethal and non-lethal capabilities for scaled engagement against a wide spectrum of targets as well as other enhanced effects. Key technologies of interest also include: advance [sic] munitions with improved effectiveness and system integration of electro-magnetics, plasma, atmospherics, acoustics, intelligent projectiles, variable yield capabilities; and significant reductions in munitions size, power consumption, weight, and improved reliability.”

TTO acknowledges that the BAA solicitation “focuses on the high risk/high payoff development, integration, demonstration and evaluation of innovative systems or critical systems components enabled by, and incorporating, new or emerging technologies,” adding that “Proposed efforts must also show significant promise to provide the U.S. military with revolutionary new mission capabilities, and/or enable significant increases in mission effectiveness.”

“Innovative system concepts of interest to TTO typically address emerging technical opportunities, advanced systems concepts, emergent threats, and/or new technology-enabled concepts of operation,” the announcement continues. “TTO strongly encourages respondents to adopt a complete systems engineering approach to the problems.”

Industry is encouraged to respond to the BAA with an initial one-page executive summary. Based on DARPA interest, the responses can then grow through a six-page white paper to a full proposal.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...