The ARPA Model: A Reading List

A comprehensive syllabus on the ARPA model and its family tree
January 31st 2024

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is well known for its role in a variety of major inventions, from GPS to the Internet. Since DARPA’s success, a variety of other “ARPAs” have been set up within the federal government, all hoping to produce cutting-edge research and inventions in a given sector. U.S. government ARPAs with substantive funding in FY2023 include DARPA (~$4B), ARPA-H ($1.5B), ARPA-E ($470M), and IARPA.

At IFP, we’ve been interested in the ARPA model for a while, and have written extensively about both the model’s strengths and its limitations. Can it be copied across the federal government, or in other countries? Is its success specific to the time and place it was founded? These are important questions. In our effort to better understand the ARPA model, we’ve compiled this list of resources. This guide was last updated in January of 2024, and we’ll maintain it as a living resource guide that is updated periodically.

The guide begins with DARPA itself, the original ARPA. Then we provide resources on the ARPA model generally, focusing on the “Heilmeier Catechism” of guiding questions, how ARPAs manage risk, and a literature on replicating ARPAs in different contexts. Then we share resources on the existing ARPA clones in the US and worldwide.


DARPA was created by President Eisenhower in 1958, following the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite. It is the most famous and most successful ARPA.





The ARPA model

What constitutes an ARPA, and what broad lessons about the model’s strengths and weaknesses are commonly accepted?

The Heilmeier Catechism

The catechism is a set of questions crafted by George H. Heilmeier, the director of DARPA from 1975-1977, meant to guide research proposals. It has been adapted at other ARPA institutions.

Risk Management at ARPAs

By definition, ARPAs are working on projects that have a relatively high likelihood of technical failure. However, research outputs may also be misused or cause unintended consequences. We’ve collected some resources that address this challenge and propose methods for preparing for downside risk.

Cloning DARPA

Resources on the possibilities and perils of replicating DARPA.

ARPA for Everything


In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress authorized the creation of AgARDA, a pilot effort designed to generate and deploy advanced agricultural technologies, research tools, and qualified projects and products. AgARDA has not yet been established because of lack of funding.


The “Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy” was created in 2007 by the America COMPETES Act, and was funded in 2009.



ARPA for Education

Various ideas for an education ARPA have been proposed, including by the Biden administration.


The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health is housed within the Department of Health and Human Services, and was established in March of 2022.




The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Infrastructure was established within the Department of Transportation in June 2023. It aims to ensure “that the future of transportation in America is safe, secure, efficient, and resilient for all.”


The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity serves as an ARPA for the intelligence community, designing tools and inventions that are valuable to intelligence agencies. It was founded in 2006, and most of its research is unclassified and publicly available.



ARPAs around the World

Other ARPA-style agencies around the world include Japan’s Moonshot R&D and Germany’s Cybersecurity Innovation Agency.


The German, non-military counterpart to DARPA, SPRIN-D was established in 2019 and funds research across various fields, such as biotechnology, energy, and computing.




The Joint European Disruptive Initiative (JEDI) was launched in 2018 with the goal of positioning Europe as a leader in the development of breakthrough technologies. It organizes competitions (“Grand Challenges”) to foster technological or scientific advancements.



The Advanced Research and Invention Agency is a new British agency, announced in 2021 and formally established in 2023. Like SPRIN-D, it funds research across diverse areas, from programmable plants to robotic hardware to climate monitoring.