DARPA seeks better, faster development of complex defense systems

Agency to fund research to improve design, production of aircraft and ground vehicles

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking to fund research that will improve and accelerate the development process of complex defense systems, such as aircraft and ground vehicles, that incorporate software and electromechanical systems, according to a recently published notice.

DARPA’s program, named META, aims to “develop model-based design methods for cyber-physical systems far more complex and heterogeneous than those to which such methods are applied today,” according to a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the program published on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. DARPA is taking proposals for META until Feb. 18.

DARPA said the cost and time to develop such systems has grown exponentially. The research agency said it wants META to yield a framework and toolset that can produce complicated aircraft and ground vehicles five times faster than the conventional approach allows.

To trim development and production time, DARPA wants to use META to develop:

  • A practical, observable metric for cyber-physical systems
  • A quantitative metric of adaptability associated with a given system architecture that can support trade-offs between adaptability, complexity, cost, etc. and
  • A structured design flow that has a hierarchical abstraction of electromechanical and software components.

META will be structured in three phases, the first of which will be broken down into two sub-phases:

  • Phase 1a, for design flow, metrics and tools development, will last for nine months and will involve up to three contract awards, each worth up to $4 million
  • Phase 1b, for putting the toolset in place, will last for sixth months and up to two awards each valued up to $10.4 million
  • Phase 2, for component and manufacturing model library development, will last for 12 months with at least one award worth up to $26 million, and
  • Phase 3, to create a rapid development demo, would last for more than 15 months, but specifics haven’t yet been determined.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

Reader comments

Sat, Jan 30, 2010

I like the general direction. I would like to see this developed as an open source tool or tool stack. But the first step needs to address the concerns of the previous commenters. The concept was stated as a tool to save billions of dollars. But it also has to address the small system. The tool needs to be scalable thus affordable - open source. The tools need be able to keep up with technological progress in systems engineering and changing requirements in manufacturing and construction technologies. We just need to make sure we have fully described the problem before we design a solution, unless of course there is a favorite solution some one has that they want to sell to us.

Thu, Jan 14, 2010 ed hennessy united states

Certainly, will not profess on this critical topic, however have been working for several decades in bringing Government Agencies, Defense Contractors and COTS Suppliers together to go from womb-to-tomb on specific, program requirements. Have a few observations: 1) Does DARPA believe that it can accomplish 1a, 1b & 1c in the time and cost allotments noted? 2) Although there are logical stages for this initiative, how will it get translated to Industry and eventual, real-world implementation and life-cycle support (if, that's the intent)? 3) After reviewing the general requirements and scope, it would seem that there are few sources that can take the ball the whole journey. Hope this does not end-up being a piecemeal effort that breaks the initiative into fragments, with spotty awards going here-and-there. This initiatve requires the best in the Industry and a consortium that will be dedicated (and sustain) the whole ride. On the flip-side, commend DARPA for putting "heat-and-light" on this area - it continues to be an Achille's heel.

Mon, Jan 11, 2010 Mike H.

Missing from the above: how do we ensure that the accelerated development does not come at the expense of increased ownership cost? There is a way to do it without that happening, but not if the focus is purely on the technology, and then someone confuses a "technology" or even a "design" with a "product" as in "the design is done and we're ready for production".

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