Forget the Silver Bullet

In the Third Offset strategy, Arati Prabhakar wants the Department of Defense to stop “thinking in silver bullet terms” and start “thinking in deeper, architectural terms.” The DARPA director said, “the biggest shift that has happened in technology itself is not about any one technology, it is about the technology ecosystem that we’re in.” Prabhakar made her comments at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington, D.C., on Thursday where she said the DOD was lost in a “nostalgia for the good old days when the US got to own all the technologies for decades before anyone else got to play. … We need to get over it. That is not the world we live in.” Today, technology is driven by industry and that is driven globally, she said, not just in the US. And it moves fast, at a pace “that is very different than we, certainly in DOD, are structured for.” Second Offset technologies themselves, like precision strike and stealth, “gave us the opportunity for an extended period of military technological dominance,” Prabhakar said. But in “this next big offset … technologies that we’re dealing with today move at a pace that means you can no longer assume that you will get 20 or 40 years of technological advantage.” This realization should drive Third Offset strategy, which Prabhakar said is currently shackled to the old way of thinking.

Even the most modern US military systems “are essentially hostile to all advances in underlying technology. That’s why it takes half a billion dollars to upgrade an obsolete semiconductor component in an F-35 that hasn’t even reached IOC.” She sees DARPA’s role within the DOD shifting within this new environment. No longer the laboratory that developed GPS and the internet, DARPA is being shaped under Prabhakar to act more like a startup incubator that helps DOD think deeper as it tries to think ahead. DARPA wants “new architectures that would allow not just for the leap in capability, but for composable systems that grab new technology and continue to advance.” For Prabhakar, this is “the only way we’re going to get ahead in the kind of technological environment that we’re in today.”