I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Arati Prabhakar talk at an executive breakfast this week. She is the new director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Listening to her poised, articulate and informed presentation was a delightful way to begin the day!
Dr. Prabhakar stressed her commitment to finding breakthrough capabilities that will improve our national security, enabling our warfighters to possess a “strategic surprise” that can change an outcome. As we wind down from a decade of war, which necessarily focused DARPA on more near-term deliverables, she hopes to move the agency past the counter insurgency realm and towards a longer-range and broader perspective.
Access to our core manufacturing capabilities is one of her prime objectives. Some of this work we simply can no longer do in the US (we just don’t have the expertise or the equipment). Identifying what these core capabilities are and preparing a plan on how we will access them in a time of need is essential.
Dr. Prabhakar discussed the inherent conflict that exists between what her organization does and what the service Program Managers and Labs do. DARPA’s mission is to find technologies that “break the business models”. Injecting these technologies into DoD programs can sometimes cause disruptions. Having liaison officers from each service at DARPA has helped considerably with this. I’m convinced that if anyone can smooth over the seams, it will be Dr. Prabhakar!
Here is her official bio from the DARPA site:
DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS AGENCY
Dr. Arati Prabhakar has spent her career investing in world-class engineers and scientists to create new technologies and businesses. Her first service to national security started in 1986 when she joined DARPA as a program manager. She initiated and managed programs in advanced semiconductor technology and flexible manufacturing, as well as demonstration projects to insert new semiconductor technologies into military systems. As the founding director of DARPA’s Microelectronics Technology Office, she led a team of program managers whose efforts spanned these areas, as well as optoelectronics, infrared imaging and nanoelectronics.
In 1993, President William Clinton appointed Dr. Prabhakar director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where she led the 3,000-person organization in its work with companies across multiple industries.
Dr. Prabhakar moved to Silicon Valley in 1997, first as chief technology officer and senior vice president at Raychem, and later vice president and then president of Interval Research. From 2001 to 2011, she was a partner with U.S. Venture Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm. Dr. Prabhakar identified and served as a director for startup companies with the promise of significant growth. She began with entrepreneurs in energy and efficiency technologies, components for consumer electronics, and semiconductor process and design technology.
Dr. Prabhakar received her Doctor of Philosophy in applied physics and Master of Science in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology. She received her Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University. She began her career as a Congressional Fellow at the Office of Technology Assessment.
Dr. Prabhakar has served in recent years on the National Academies’ Science Technology and Economic Policy Board, the College of Engineering Advisory Board at the University of California, Berkeley, and the red team of DARPA’s Defense Sciences Research Council. In addition, she chaired the Efficiency and Renewables Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Energy. Dr. Prabhakar is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a Texas Tech Distinguished Engineer, and a Caltech Distinguished Alumna.