Obviously, these aren't the sort of technologies you decide you need, and then go to the store to buy them. They took years and years to develop and to bring online. And one of the biggest lessons I learned at the Pentagon is just how much you owe that job to your predecessors and to earlier commanders in chief. When the Gulf War was over with I picked up the telephone and I called former President Ronald Reagan and thanked him for the absolutely essential defense buildup of the 1980s. And I remember feeling tremendous gratitude to former Secretaries of Defense, Democrat and Republican alike, who made sure we had the force we needed in that conflict -- public servants like Frank Carlucci , Cap Weinberger, Harold Brown , and Jim Schlesinger . And Don Rumsfeld , too, of course, because he had been President Ford's Defense Secretary in the mid-70s. As I've reminded Don, this makes him the only man to serve as Secretary of Defense in two different centuries. (Laughter and applause.)
One thing we didn't have a lot of in Desert Storm was the unmanned aerial vehicle. But thanks to DARPA, that technology was advancing rapidly in the early '90s. And we've been able to use it all the time in both Afghanistan and Iraq -- for reconnaissance, for remote sensing, and to strike the enemy. DARPA has also brought us the very small UAV's that are so useful to a fighter in the urban warfare setting -- the little machines that Marines refer to as the "guardian angels." You developed the networking technology that foot soldiers are using every day -- to share information on a fast and secure basis, so they can operate within an enemy's reaction time. And there are so many other tools now in common use -- from advanced alert systems, to special gloves that do an almost miraculous job helping troops stay cool in the desert heat -- tools that simply wouldn't be around now if we didn't have DARPA. Most Americans, perhaps, haven't heard of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But if they knew how much you've done to save and protect our men and women in uniform, they would be grateful beyond words.
We're talking here about a federal agency that fulfills its mission, and delivers results, to a degree that most other organizations would envy. And if we look to the reasons why DARPA has been so consistently successful, we can see some fundamental advantages.
By its charter, DARPA basically has no short-term obligations. It can stay focused not on small increments, but on the big changes. This is critical -- especially in wartime, when the armed forces have more than enough to do, and don't really have the chance to invent, develop, and test disruptive technologies. DARPA is out there every day working on the far side, where the ideas are, and finding ways to bring it over to the near side, where the operations are. And it's driving relentlessly toward the new core of technologies that'll maintain our military superiority far into the future.
DARPA is not encumbered by parochial interests. It defends no status quo, and it doesn't find itself wasting time on turf wars. As Tony Tether has said, DARPA works best as a "swashbuckling place, constantly getting into -- getting management in trouble, constantly [testing] revolutionary, crazy ideas, but always out there in front" where it belongs.
Though it's 50 years old, DARPA has never developed the apparatus or the mindset of a bureaucracy. It's still a highly manageable enterprise, leading huge projects but operating on a human scale. By one description, DARPA is a "hundred geniuses connected by a travel agent." (Laughter.) And DARPA leadership does a terrific job bringing out the best work in government, academia, and the private sector.
The whole ethic of this agency is fresh thinking -- and it preserves that ethic with a high rate of turnover. Everyone at DARPA knows this. In fact, if you work there, your last day on the job is printed right on the front of your I.D. badge. Come to think of it, so is mine. (Laughter and applause.) This may not be the best way to plan out a career -- (laughter) -- but it's all the more reason to admire the people who go into DARPA. The idea is not to settle in, but to dive in, to take up the toughest intellectual challenges, and to know the rewards of turning concepts into actions, and finding out that a project will be a "go."
With all its inherent advantages, plus the incredible talent it brings in, DARPA is rightly known for "setting great minds on fire with big ideas." And it doesn't overstate matters to say that we need this creative force more than ever before.