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A breakthrough in an uncertain direction
Material posted: Publication date: 10-08-2012

In Russia continue to hear voices, prompting you to create analogue of the American DARPA, functioning in the Pentagon. Whether the task is trying to solve the authors of this initiative? And what they really want?

Amid growing problems with the execution of state defense orders is one of the pioneers of the recent harsh criticism of the military establishment – the General designer of the Moscow Institute of thermal technology Solomon has once again announced a long time wandering in the top of the idea of formation of state structures responsible for advanced defense studies. As an example of such an institution Yury Semenovich has led DARPA.

Attempts to replicate this overseas experience in the Russian reality have already been made: last autumn, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev quite clearly gave the order about creation of such organizations. However, appointed by Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov reformulated rather non-trivial task set by the head of state. The Agency focuses on search research and development, turned into a structure responsible for applied R & d of the Ministry of defence, and then disappeared behind a veil of bureaucratic approvals.

What is the phenomenon of DARPA and how to implement its elements to the Russian management system of the development of military technology? What task will have to meet new organization in domestic "oboronke"?

The American experience: forget corporations

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, the defense advanced research Agency projects) appeared on the horizon, the American military-industrial complex in 1958. As is customary with pride to note in our sources, "as a response to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik". However, it is not so. The success of the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957, was rather the last straw that fractured the camel's back, the military-political bureaucracy of the United States.

Aggressive dissatisfaction with the top political leadership of the United States over-regulation of American "defense", its opacity and excessively tight connections with the military establishment have led to the well-known irritated speech of Dwight Eisenhower, for the first time formulated the principle of the military-industrial complex is tightly coupled, the lobby of the military industry, only concerned about their profits.

But it was only the public side of the issue. In the category of real cases were considered training of the National Agency on Aeronautics (NACA) to the National aerospace Agency (NASA), as mentioned above, the creation of DARPA in the Pentagon and after the coming to power of the Kennedy administration – a call to the Ministry of defence of "effective management" of Robert McNamara, the man considered the founding father of the modern American military machine.

DARPA had a hand in a number of well-known defense (and not only) programs. We are talking about the rocket Saturn V, the competition for the M16, the development of the concept of aircraft "Stealth", a GPS navigation system and so on. The number of failed projects, the Agency also surpasses all reasonable limits. But, as we will see later, this is a reasonable price for the result.

The price of risk

It must be said: DARPA not only conducts independent research, but not even is the control center of the American defense research and development. The Pentagon is dragging itself on the hundreds of lines of financing application, serving the main adopted the program of development of the armed forces. Now, DARPA does not deal with them.

This small structure, numbering almost two hundred employees, performs one single task: identifies potential breakthrough directions of development of scientific-technical progress and acts as the customer's "missing technologies". Being in close contact with representatives of high-tech businesses associated with the "critical national infrastructures" (including "defense", but not be limited to), DARPA managers indicate the need for certain technologies that the U.S. economy does not have. After searching in the scientific community of researchers interested in these areas, and provide them with the primary order (usually very small – the entire DARPA budget barely exceeds $ 3 billion per year) on research. And then bring together customers (the industry) and artists (lab). Sometimes this doesn't work. Sometimes engineers, slapping himself on the forehead, run to restructure production processes and to prepare to market a new product.

And it was broken the vicious circle of "closed" military science defense corporations, which by the early 60's was before ill need to dig wider and deeper, to spend more and more money on that, throwing with fifty solutions to fundamental problems, to one single technology that will make sales.

The formation of a transparent superconducting communications network of a University and the small private intellectual start-UPS with major corporate and government manufacturers have sharply reduced the proportion of empty expenditure on scientific research in the cost structure of finished products and infrastructure solutions. The motto of the Agency (Bridging the Gap, which can be loosely translated as "Mostim divide") well illustrates this situation.

In contrast to the logic that is already trying to instill in the Russian "analog", DARPA does not turnover. His special interest is cross-disciplinary research, the formation of inter-specific solutions, development of dual-use technologies and technologies that create new markets.

Unique and personnel policies of the Agency. Managers of research programs have been employed on a very high qualification parameters, a maximum of five or six years. While none of them is there are no career prospects: they will never enter into the heads of the structures in which they operate. This enables, on the one hand, clear workflow from careerists and opportunists, and on the other to allow people to immerse themselves in scientific and technical problem, moving away from administrative bureaucracy merrymaking.

In a similar way a set of ordinary experts: project managers have a broad right to hire and fire workers they need. Usually (but not necessarily), these are people with scientific degrees. Personnel and retired military personnel among them, by the way, a little bit.

The Agency 60 per cent of projects are on the line "high risk – high return". It's tempting in its potential output of research, which, however, it is this yield is not guaranteed. Applied to OCD here is still very far away: sometimes it is at least that stable to play of any effect, to build a lab demonstrator is not more technology, but the scientific discoveries.

This is the price of the risk – sifting through a huge amount of "junk" scientific American, DARPA managers are looking for that "pearl grain", which is able to break the paradigm and reshape entire markets. This is the main task of the Agency.

Pineapples in the non-Chernozem soils

Do we need this structure of Russia? The answer is simple and reflexive: of course! Who would not want such a compact and efficient tool for "pulling" innovation chain from a fragmented heap of potential subcontractors. But how to solve the problem, in fact, needed to remember the American experiment? Refer to the view of the pillars of our defense economy.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov last fall, reformulated the task of President Medvedev as the creation of coordinating applied research in the interests of national security. The General Director of concern "VEGA" Vladimir Verba has solidaritas then with this position, stating that the Fund "Russian DARPA" should be 3-5 per cent of funds allocated for the state armament Programme (that is, just as much as the American counterpart).

Yuri Solomonov gave a slightly more detailed "application", providing his analysis of the problem field. "The activities of this structure should be closely coordinated with the work of the scientific and technical Council of Military-industrial Commission under the government of the Russian Federation, – said General designer Mita. – In addition, the new organization must be provided by the expert Council, composed of leading scientists and chief designers. Based on their opinion, the Supreme commander could quickly select and support the most promising directions of development of armament and special equipment, directly to allocate funds for their financing, bypassing the existing bureaucratic and corrupt system of decision-making in this vital national security area."

What all this says to the reader, trying to sort out in the wilds of the reasons for the request for defence of revolutionary innovation, sudden our statesmen? The request is in fact focused on anything but breakthrough research with high risk.

In fact, the formulation of the problem on creation of analogue of DARPA, came from the lips of President Dmitry Medvedev – and in fact the same thing and limited. From below in response sounded very different demands, which are much more in line with the hot wishes of our "defense industry" and military. These requests are simple: to restore the normal operation according to the applied defence research and development. And often worse: Yuri Solomonov actually says such a structure as on the expert Council, which measures specific projects and even individual weapons systems. That gives us the output not that other, as dictatorship of the military industry – is something from which in the formation of DARPA was trying to leave Eisenhower.

As already noted, the American Agency does not constitute a steering mechanism of the military research in the United States, but rather is its head. Brilliant, portable, efficient structure is engaged in the exploration of the front edge – no more. A "workhorse" American applied research, the painted programme of the armed forces and not even accountable to the Central office of the Pentagon, and some departmental offices, pull the associated main routine.

A structure similar to DARPA, can easily afford a country with a well-oiled machine control application defensive research and development. It works fine on the developed infrastructure of "ordinary" development, in which you can reset the top score of "over the horizon" planning and be sure that the output will appear to be a specific military programs, including those or other models of weapons and military equipment.

In the absence of a driving-belt, transforming the planned strategic intent in a boring, systematic tactical gameplay (the most "di Erste column marchert"), the Russian DARPA will turn into a beautiful toy may give a significant from a scientific point of view the result, but isolated, however, from real life.

Nevertheless the attempt is worth it. At least because "the logic of DARPA" is intended to work with a rich distributed among the private sector on science. The creation of such a structure is really able to encourage private initiative in the field of advanced research, provoking the release of "rain" startups, whose work can be used in the interests of the Ministry of defence.

At the same time this will create good feedback system, a kind of "intelligence, brains", giving the possibility of quickly mapping the research sector of the country and present political and military leadership, and information about the real situation with the technological development of the country and the state of the sector of fundamental science.

The question is whether the current research structure, on the one hand, ready to work in this logic, and with another – how they would react to the possible emergence in the way of small, bright-eyed and toothy private shops. Something tells me that they have to go through a lot of obstacles on the part of all actors.

Konstantin Bogdanov

Published in the issue of the military-industrial complex No. 28 (394) July 20, 2011


Tags: Russia , innovation

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