JUST IN: Pentagon Releases Artificial Intelligence Strategy to Counter China, Russia

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Photo: iStock

A new artificial strategy developed by the Pentagon calls for accelerating the acquisition of AI platforms to stay ahead of China and Russia.

The  “Summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy: Harnessing AI to Advance Our Security and Prosperity,” released Feb. 12, noted that the new planning blueprint is meant to drive urgency, scale and unity of effort as the military pursues the emerging technology.

“AI is poised to transform every industry and is expected to impact every corner of the [Defense] Department, spanning operations, training, sustainment, force protection, recruiting, health care and many others,” the document said. “With the application of AI to defense, we have an opportunity to improve support for and protection of U.S. service members, safeguard our citizens, defend our allies and partners and improve the affordability and speed of our operations.”

The new strategy comes as nations such as Russia and China — which the Pentagon considers peer competitors — are making investments in artificial intelligence including for applications that raise questions regarding international norms and human rights, the report noted.

“These investments threaten to erode our technological and operational advantages and destabilize the free and open international order,” it said. “The United States, together with its allies and partners, must adopt AI to maintain its strategic position, prevail on future battlefields and safeguard this order.”

A new organization — the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center — will be tasked with carrying out much of the strategy.

“To derive maximum value from AI applications throughout the department, the JAIC will operate across the full AI application lifecycle, with an emphasis on near-term execution and AI adoption,” the summary said. “This enables consistency of approach, technology and tools for delivery-focused AI projects.”

The center— which was established in June 2018 — was created to accelerate the delivery of new capabilities. It is being led by the Defense Department’s Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy and Air Force Lt. Gen. John "Jack" Shanahan.

In a statement accompanying the release of the report, Deasy said: “The speed and agility with which we will deliver AI capabilities to the warfighter has the potential to change the character of warfare. We must accelerate the adoption of AI-enabled capabilities to strengthen our military, improve effectiveness and efficiency, and enhance the security of our nation.”

He noted that the strategy is in close alignment with President Donald Trump’s executive order, “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence,” which was signed Feb. 11. The order calls for broad investment in AI technologies across federal agencies.

The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is currently staffed by about 25 representatives from across the Defense Department, according to Heather Babb, a Pentagon spokesperson.

The center will work closely with other Pentagon organizations such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and military research laboratories, the strategy document noted. It will identify, prioritize and select new AI mission initiatives and “execute an initial sequence of cross-functional use cases that demonstrate value and spur momentum,” the report said.

Major areas of focus outlined in the strategy include improving situational awareness and decision-making, increasing safety of operating equipment, implementing predictive maintenance and supply and streamlining business processes.

The JAIC, the Defense Innovation Unit — which serves as a conduit between the Pentagon and innovative startups — and the Air Force are already working in tandem to produce prototypes that take advantage of predictive maintenance, the document said.

“These commercially developed AI-based applications have the potential to predict more accurately maintenance needs on equipment, such as the E-3 Sentry, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-35 Lightning II and Bradley Fighting Vehicle, thereby improving availability and reducing costs,” the report said.

Another key focus of the strategy is the need for the Pentagon to more closely work with industry, academia and the international community as it develops new systems.

“Engaging with and strengthening the AI technology ecosystem requires us to experiment with a range of partnership models,” the document said. “These include bold new AI initiatives with large industrial partners, small startups and venture capital firms. In addition, we will take steps to make it easier for members of the AI community to engage with the department.”

Planned initiatives include lowering administrative barriers and establishing a centralized AI portal for potential partners that “details key processes, topics of interest and contacts in order to streamline contracting, acquisition and on-boarding processes."

The Pentagon also intends to collaborate with academia to create AI "innovation districts." The department plans to make longer-term, stable funding “available to entice our best academics to invest in long-term research relevant to critical DoD areas and remain in the business of educating the next generation of AI talent," the summary said.

The strategy will require the establishment of geographic concentrations of interconnected companies and research institutions in artificial intelligence, it said. “Strong and stable academic partnerships clustered in this manner will provide benefits to the department, industry and national competitiveness,” it added.

Despite calls from the Pentagon and the White House to invest more in artificial intelligence, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said other technology areas are currently of greater importance.

“There are other things that need to be done first,” he told reporters during a breakfast meeting Feb. 12 ahead of the release of the Pentagon’s strategy. While China and Russia are making advancements in AI, they are also doing so in other areas.

“Our peer competitors, China in Russia, they have a lot of things that are better than the things that we have" such as artillery, he said. “To me that's, that's the priority. ... When we get caught up there” then other areas can be looked at, he added.

- Additional reporting by Connie Lee

Topics: Defense Department, Robotics, Research and Development, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Cyber

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