New DARPA Chief Is 3rd Woman to Lead Pentagon's Secretive Research Arm

Victoria Coleman at the Wikimedia Developer Summit 2017.
Victoria Coleman at the Wikimedia Developer Summit 2017. (Raimond Spekking/Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Victoria Coleman, an artificial intelligence and microelectronics specialist, has been named director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s secretive research arm.

Coleman will be the third woman to head DARPA since its creation in 1958, following Regina Dugan, who served as director from July 2009 until March 2012, and Dr. Arati Prabhakar, who left the agency in 2017.

Coleman had been serving as chief executive officer of Atlas AI, which offers what it calls “cutting-edge artificial intelligence” to analyze trends in developing countries.

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In announcing the appointment Monday, Michael Kratsios, acting under secretary of defense for Research and Engineering, said that the Defense Department was looking forward to having Coleman build upon “DARPA’s unmatched record of achievement.”

He noted that Coleman’s career spans over 30 years in academia, the private sector and government, including previous service as the founding chair of DARPA’s Microsystems Exploratory Council and membership on the Defense Science Board.

“During this era of great power competition, DARPA is critical to strengthening the U.S. military’s technological dominance and advancing innovations that benefit our warfighters,” Kratsios said.

Coleman’s appointment will allow Dr. Peter Highnam, who had been serving as acting DARPA director, to return to his previous position as DARPA deputy director.

DARPA’s mission, as defined by DoD, is to “anticipate, explore, and achieve the concepts and technology on which the nation’s future deterrent and defense capabilities depend.”

DARPA did foundational work in the creation of the Internet and in recent years has put emphasis on the uses of artificial intelligence in warfare.

Earlier this month, DARPA sponsored an “AphaDogfight” challenge for eight companies that pitted their AI-powered simulated aircraft against each other.

Heron Systems of Maryland won that faceoff and then used its algorithms to defeat an actual F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot "in five straight simulated dogfights in the man-vs-machine finale," DARPA officials said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that Coleman is the third woman to head DARPA.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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