Two ideas critical to the birth of the Institute for Defense Analyses, also known as IDA, emerged from World War II. The first was the necessity for unifying the several services into a single, coordinated department. The second was the realization of the strength of the relationship between science—and scientists—and national security.
The first reached fruition when President Harry Truman signed the National Security Acts of 1947 and 1949, creating the Department of Defense. (In 1947 the Department of War and the Department of the Navy had been combined to create the National Military Establishment. From it the present Defense Department was created in 1949.)
To give the nascent Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) the technical expertise and analytic resources to hold its own and to help make unification a reality, James Forrestal, the department’s first secretary, established the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG) in 1948 to assist OSD and the Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by:
- Bringing scientific and technical as well as operational military expertise to bear in evaluating weapons systems;
- Employing advanced techniques of scientific analysis and operations research in the process; and
- Approaching its tasks from an impartial, supra-Service perspective.
The demands on WSEG were more than its small staff of military and civilian analysts could satisfy, and by the early years of the Dwight Eisenhower administration, there were calls for change. The several options gradually coalesced into one and, in 1955, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked James R. Killian, Jr., then President of MIT, to help form a civilian, nonprofit research institute. The Institute would operate under the auspices of a university consortium to attract highly qualified scientists to assist WSEG in addressing the nation's most challenging security problems. And so, in April 1956, IDA was incorporated as a non-profit organization. In 1958, at the request of the Secretary of Defense, IDA established a division to support the newly created Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), later renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Shortly after its creation, the mandate of this division was broadened to include scientific and technical studies for all offices of the Director of Defense, Research and Engineering (DDR&E).
Universities overseeing IDA expanded from the five initial members in 1956 — Caltech, Case Western Reserve, MIT, Stanford and Tulane — to twelve by 1964 with the addition of California, Chicago, Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Princeton. University oversight of IDA ended in 1968 in the aftermath of Vietnam War-related demonstrations at Princeton, Columbia, and other member universities.
Subsequent divisions were established under what became IDA's largest research center, the Studies and Analyses Center (now the Systems and Analyses Center), to provide cost analyses, computer software and engineering, strategy and force assessments, and operational test and evaluation. IDA created the Simulation Center in the early 1990s to focus on advanced distributed simulation, and most recently, established the Joint Advanced Warfighting Program to develop new operational concepts.
IDA’s support of the National Security Agency began at its request in 1959, when it established the Center for Communications Research in Princeton, New Jersey. Additional requests from NSA in 1984 and 1989 led respectively to what is now called the Center for Computing Sciences in Bowie, Maryland and to a second Center for Communications Research in La Jolla, California. These groups, which conduct research in cryptology and information operations, comprise IDA’s Communications and Computing FFRDC.
In 2003, IDA assumed responsibility for the Science and Technology Policy Institute, a separate FFRDC providing technical and analytic support to the Office of Science and Technology Policy and other executive branch organizations.
Throughout its history, IDA also has assisted other federal agencies. Recent work includes research performed in support of the Department of Homeland Security, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Director of National Intelligence, and others.