DARPA Defense Sciences Office (DSO)-Discover DSO Day (D3)

Published: June 26, 2019


DARPA Defense Sciences Office (DSO)-Discover DSO Day (D3) June 18, 2019

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Defense Sciences Office (DSO) held their Discover DSO Day (D3) on June 18, 2019 at the DARPA Conference Center in Arlington, VA.  The goal of the D3 Day was to provide an overview of DSO and to review the main technical thrusts of DSO that are included in the DSO Office Wide BAA. There were four panels that included program managers who discussed in depth each DSO thrust area.

The first speaker was Dr. Peter Highnam, Deputy Director, DARPA DSO who gave a quick introduction of DARPA. DARPA’s mission is to conceive, develop, and demonstrate breakthrough technologies for national security and to counter technological surprise from adversaries. DARPA was specifically created to counter the developments of Sputnik during the Cold War.  There are currently six technical offices at DARPA these include:

  • Biological Technologies Office (BTO)
  • Defense Sciences Office (DSO)
  • Information Innovation Office (I2O)
  • Microsystems Technology Office (MTO)
  • Strategic Technology Office (STO)
  • Tactical Technology Office (TTO)

The second speaker was Dr. Valerie Browning, Director, DARPA DSO who provided a brief overview of the DSO Office. DSO is the oldest and most “forward looking” technical office at DARPA. DSO specifically focuses on technical advancements 10 years into the future in order to counter the developments in technological surprise.  Dr. Browning then indicated that DSO has four technical thrusts that are the main areas of their research. These technical thrusts are:

  • Limits of Sensing & Sensors
  • Frontiers in Math, Computation & Design 
  • Anticipating Surprise 
  • Complex Social Systems 

The DSO Office Wide Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) was released on June 12, 2019 and will solicit technical advancements in each of these areas. Deltek is tracking the DSO Office-Wide BAA under Opportunity ID: 180087 and the BAA will close on June 12, 2020.  The panel discussions briefly reviewed each of the technical thrusts and some examples of the types of technology involved.

The first panel discussion was on the Limits of Sensing and & Sensors and the panelists were Dr. Tatjana Curcic, Dr. Jiangying Zhou,  and Dr. Michael Fiddy, Program Managers, DARPA DSO.  This particular technical theme involves promoting involves promoting technologies for sensing modalities and measuring of various signals that are ubiquitous to military systems. Some examples of innovation in this area include surveillance, navigation, warfighter health monitoring, and target ID/tracking. 

One example of a program out of this technical area is the Driven and Nonequilibrium Quantum Systems (DRINQS) Program.  Deltek tracked the BAA for the DRINQS Program under Opportunity ID: 164806.  This program surrounds the exploitation of technologies involving quantum physics. The goal of this program is to improve the capabilities of quantum sensors and devices of importance to national security. According to the program managers, the major challenge in this area is exploring the limits of novel DOD sensing and sensor capabilities. Some examples of innovation that are needed in this area include:

  • The innovation of atomic clocks and sensing modalities through the use of quantum physics.
  • Machine learning and sensing technologies to improve imaging systems.

In conclusion, this thrust area involves sensor modality and quantum physics to help to promote innovations in areas such as surveillance and warfighter health monitoring. The innovations for this area will help to promote innovation of technology to identify stimuli that can be found in and around an entire battlefield environment. Technology involving the use of the advancements in quantum physics is a major theme in this technical area.

The next panel discussion reviewed the Frontiers in Math, Computation & Design technical thrust area and the panelists were Dr. Rosa Alejandra Lukaszew, Dr. Jan Vandenbrande, and Mr. Ted Senator, Program Managers, DARPA DSO. The focus of this area is to promote innovative, computation, and design tools to ensure that innovation meets future military needs. The operational environments on the battlefield are growing more sophisticated, fast paced, complex, and dynamic. The advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help to speed up the process to counter these challenges in the battlefield environment.

One example of an effort is the Space Environment Exploitation (SEE) Program, which can be found on GovWin under Opportunity ID: 170880. The SEE Program helps to exploit technologies and computational models to predict the space environment with sufficient precision and accuracy. In other words, this program helps to predict and identify events in space that are natural or man-made.

According to the Program Managers, the challenge is how DOD designs Materials, Platforms, and Systems for future military needs. The program managers also provided some examples of the technical needs in this area.  These include the following:

  • Exploiting technologies that explore new algorithms in order to improve the speed in which data is processed.
  • Identifying technologies that can help to improve the manufacturing processes of materials that are needed on the battlefield.
  • Promoting technology to improve the human and AI partnerships involved with tasks for systems engineering. 

In conclusion, the major theme with this technical area is to provide technologies that continue to develop mathematical tools and design systems that help to meet the needs of military systems. The battlefield can be a complex and dynamic environment in which decisions are made. AI technology can help to meet these challenges on the battlefield by speeding up the process in which data is processed and decisions are made.

The next panel reviewed the Anticipating Surprise thrust area and the panelists were Dr. Bill Carter, Dr. Mark Wrobel, and Maj. C. David Lewis, Program Managers, DARPA DSO.  The goal of the Anticipating Surprise focal area is to promote innovation in order to ensure that the warfighter has access to the most advanced technology available in order to counter current and emerging threats. Areas of interest in this area involve the following:

  • Technology to counter the threats involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
  • Innovation of materials that can withstand harsh environments
  • New Propulsion Concepts

One example of an effort is the SIGMA+ Program, which can be found on GovWin under Opportunity ID: 173644.  This program involves creating technical advancements in systems to help in the detection, interdiction, and deterrence of clandestine WMD activities. Some of these systems include fused data analytics, network infrastructure, and systems integration technologies. The program managers indicated a few of examples of technical needs in this area could include the following:

  • Advancements in material science and technology to address the challenges related to hypersonic vehicles.
  • Innovative technology that can detect current and emerging CBRNE threats.
  • Technology that can detect changes in the atmosphere that are either natural or manmade.

In conclusion, this thrust area will involve efforts to ensure that the warfighter has access to the most advanced tools to detect, counter, and engage any current and emerging threats from an adversary. This focal area will require innovative technologies that will fill the gaps with the challenges in dealing with WMD threats and also help to create new technologies for hypersonic vehicles.

The final panel reviewed Complex Social Systems and the panelists were Dr. John S. Paschkewitz, Dr. Adam Russell, and Dr. Bartlett Russell, Program Managers, DARPA DSO.  This focal area involves innovations to help analyze social behavior and complex social networks in order to make decisions in military operations which include maintaining stability, counter-terrorism, training, and mission planning.  This area will address the challenges in utilizing social behavior science as innovation for DOD.  AI will be crucial in this area in order to help teams make decisions for problem solving, war-gaming, and managing complex scenarios.  The AI technology must be able to adjust to complex scenarios and interact with humans efficiently. 

An example of a project is the Understanding Group Biases (UGB) Program, which can be found under GovWin Opportunity ID: 166589.  This program involves innovative technology to help to speed up the processes that can capture and analyze data from group biases and cultural models from increasingly available large digital datasets.

According to the panel, some of the technological needs will involve:

  • New and innovative technology to improve war-gaming and training scenarios
  • AI technology to improve human-machine symbiotic decision-making processes
  • Development of models to analyze the social dynamics of different kinds of social and cultural conflict

In conclusion, the aforementioned technology will help the analyst and decision makers to efficiently collect and analyze social data in a given scenario. AI technology will again play a major role in speeding up the processes in which data is collected and by improving human-machine symbiotic interactions.  AI technology must also be able to adapt to complex scenarios.  Social Science technologies will also be crucial in improving war-gaming and training scenarios.

The final two speakers were Mr. Scott Wenzel, Assistant Director, Program Management, DARPA DSO and Mr. Desmond Donaghue, Contracting Officer, DARPA DSO. Mr. Wenzel spoke on “Doing Business with DARPA” and indicated the importance of contractors to engage in discussions with DARPA’s Program Managers. One the major talking points was that contractors should meet with a Program Manager before a BAA is released in order to discuss ideas for technological innovation. Discussions with Program Managers can help to shape the topics included in a BAA. Finally, Mr. Wenzel indicated that there are two types of BAA’s that DARPA issues to solicit ideas for new technologies. Program BAA’s are issued for a more specific or focused area and can result in much larger projects. Office-Wide BAA’s are issued by each of DARPA’s technical offices and are refreshed on an annual basis.  Office-Wide BAA’s offer each Technical Office’s current technical areas of interest in order to solicit new technical ideas for each area.

The final speaker was Mr. Desmond Donaghue, Contracting Officer, DARPA CMO who spoke on Contracting 101 and the Disruptioneering Initiative. Mr. Donaghue’s presentation highlighted the process of how DARPA reviews proposals and negotiates awards resulting from a BAA.   The main aspect of his presentation was to provide information on the Disruptioneering BAA. Deltek is tracking the parent BAA for this initiative under Opportunity ID: 177985.  The Disruptioneering Program invests in science and technology projects in order to stay ahead of the acceleration of new areas of study on a worldwide basis. Through this program, DARPA is investing in technologies with faster responses and smaller targeted investments.  Finally, the key feature of the Disruptioneering Program is to award a contract for an idea within 90 days or less and each contract award has a value of $1 Million or less.

The purpose of the DSO D3 Day was to introduce to Industry the DSO and its four technical thrust areas. These technical areas include Limits of Sensing & Sensors, Frontiers in Math, Computation & Design, Anticipating Surprise, and Complex Social Systems. The advancements in technology in these thrust areas will help the warfighter to quickly identify and adapt to the battlefield environment and to counter current and emerging threats. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play an important role in promoting innovation in each technical area. AI will help to speed up data processing and the process of making decisions. AI will need to adapt to complex situations and help to improve machine-human symbiotic interaction. Finally, one of the major initiatives out of DSO is the Disruptioneering Program, which will rapidly award a contract for an idea within 90 days in order to keep up with the pace with adversarial innovation.