Pentagon way-out research arm Darpa may be forced to get by on a mere $3 billion next year. The Senate Armed Services Committee has recommended taking $143.4 million out of Darpa’s proposed budget for 2011.

DARPAPentagon way-out research arm Darpa may be forced to get by on a mere $3 billion next year. The Senate Armed Services Committee has recommended taking $143.4 million out of Darpa’s proposed budget for 2011, as legislators question just how mad the Defense Department’s mad-science agency ought to be during wartime.

Since Sept. 11, Pentagon way-out research Darpa has been in a bit of a tricky position, even as its budget has grown by nearly 50 percent. The agency is supposed to investigate the wildest of the wild science and technology ideas; but it’s also supposed to translate that blue-sky material into real advantages for troops at war. The agency allegedly reports to the Director, Defense Research and Engineering, the Pentagon’s top geek; but, in practice, DDR&E hasn’t had much impact on what Darpa pursues.

Under new chief Regina Dugan, Darpa seems to be getting pulled in two directions at once. Dugan is trying to make sure that every program it pursues has a “transition plan” — a way to eventually get gear out to the armed forces. But she’s also increasing by 59 percent the agency’s funds for so-called “basic research,” the foundational investigations that may or may not lead to anything particularly concrete.

In its markup of the Defense Department’s budget, the committee says it likes the idea of more blue-sky research money. Except that it doesn’t: “An increase in basic research is beneficial and reverses a trend that has affected the broader national science and technology enterprise, [but the committee] is concerned that the ability to transition technology will be adversely impacted unless there is a more appropriate balance between basic research and advanced technology development.”

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Source: Wired
Photo: Darpa