DARPA’s Air Dominance Initiative

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency(DARPA) is studying next-generation fighter concepts under a new air dominanceinitiative that should yield results for next year’s budget cycle.

DARPA director Arati Prabhakar says that the air dominance studygrew out of conversations she had with Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendallwhen she took the helm at DARPA last year. “Out of those conversations came thenotion of taking a look at air dominance and asking the question about how wecould create this generational shift and how we could extend our airsuperiority capability,” she says. However, Prabhakar adds the caveat that”there really isn’t going to be a silver bullet technology that, for example,extends air superiority into the next three or four decades.”

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But the Pentagon believes that it must begin studyingtechnologies to take on advanced threats because future threats will be muchmore dangerous that the enemies the USA has faced since the end of the ColdWar. “Frank Kendall, I think, also had a strong view that, first, that it’svery important for us to create this generational shift in capabilityrecognizing that the threats we are going to face in the future are likely tobe much more sophisticated than what we have seen in the last decade,”Prabhakar says.

Prabhakar says that DARPA has “very deliberately” chosen a”systems approach” to the problem. “This is not a question about what does thenext aircraft look like, this is a question about what are all the capabilitiesthat it will take, layered together, in order to really comprehensively extendair superiority,” she says.

DARPA is conducting the study in conjunction with the US AirForce and the US Navy. There are eight DARPA programme managers matched withUSAF and USN experts working on next generation technologies for theproject.  Those technology areasspan networks and communications, control of the electromagnetic spectrum,sensing across the electromagnetic spectrum, manned and unmanned teaming, andthe role of space-based assets. “It been a very high-energy effort over thelast few months,” Prabhakar says.

Preliminary results from the study could influence furtherdevelopments as early as the fiscal year 2015 budget process.

“At this point, we’re just a few months into a study, what Ihope will come out of this will be some initiatives for the next budget cycle,”Prabhakar says.

 

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