DARPA "Project Improv" Asks DIY Enthusiasts and Makers How They'd Attack America

The answers will be both creative and terrifying.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known for developing the most advanced weapons in the United States’ arsenal, is worried that the next threat to America will come from where we least expect it. The agency’s new Improv initiative aims to discover ways the nation’s enemies might “combine or convert commercially available products” into threats to the homeland.

“DARPA often looks at the world from the point of view of our potential adversaries to predict what they might do with available technology,” program manager John Main explained in the announcement. Now, they’re enlisting others who want to keep America safe to look at it like our enemies might. And they’re paying them a pretty penny to do so. Selected applicants will receive $40,000 to build their threat and receive an additional $90,000 if their creation warrants further testing and development.

With that kind of cash at stake, DARPA should expect a bunch of ‘innovative’ submissions. In fact, here are a few cost-effective ideas on how to attack America using commercially available technology.

1. DIY Chemical Weapons

Chlorine, sarin, and napalm are all commercially available ingredient for chemical weapons and there are plenty of recipes available online for the manufacture of gases and powders. Producing chlorine gas requires only some bleach and an acid-containing drain cleaner to trigger the spontaneous reaction that forms the deadly nerve agent. A pretty accurate version of Napalm can be harnessed by dropping styrofoam into some gasoline. And homemade sarin is also doable and was famously used in the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 11. Of course, getting any of the toxic agents into the air takes a little more creativity, but it’s not all that hard either.

2. Drone Missiles

A variety of reports have already addressed the threat posed by commercially available drones being harnessed by terrorists. Paired with an explosive device or not, drones have the potential to wreak havoc on infrastructure or transportation. And before we build up our defense technology, like geofencing secure areas so drones automatically shut down when flying over them, the threat remains greater. While posing a threat with a drone may require an additional explosive, the heavy metal objects themselves entail a pretty serious danger on their own. Just look at what a bird can do to a plane, and imagine the object was four times as heavy and hauling a lithium battery.

3. Legally Available Guns

One of the easiest ways to attack America is to go down to your local gun store and legally purchase a weapon designed to kill people. Its effectiveness is beyond repute, and its availability simple and secure. In fact, at most gun shows, backgrounds checks aren’t even required. From Paris, where the guns used were acquired illegally, to San Bernardino, where they were legally purchased, good old-fashioned firearms continue to rack up victims by the score.

If you’re interested in submitting your own ideas on attacking America, DARPA is hosting a Proposers Day webinar on March 29. If your ideas are more tech-focussed than ours, we’re sure the NSA will be there too — you know, for moral support.