Pentagon raises AI ambitions

data center analytics (Timofeev Vladimir/ 

The Defense Department wants to accelerate its artificial intelligence efforts with increased personnel training, education and a new, collaborative cloud-based environment for tools and data-sharing called the Joint Common Foundation.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he wants to expand DOD's in-house AI community by increasing the Pentagon's Joint AI Center's nine-week training program available to all components over the next year.

The JAIC launched the Responsible AI Committee this year to help DOD leaders "foster a culture of AI ethics" and created "the Responsible AI Champions program, a nine-week training course for DOD personnel directly involved in the AI delivery pipeline," Esper said at DOD's two-day virtual AI symposium Sept. 9.

"We plan to scale this program to all DoD components over the coming year," the secretary said.

In October, the JAIC, which serves as DOD's epicenter for AI initiatives and coordination, plans to unveil a "six-week pilot course next month to train over 80 defense acquisition professionals of all ranks and grades" to teach personnel "how to apply AI and data science skills to our operations," Esper said.

The department is also planning "a real-world competition involving full-scale tactical aircraft in 2024" that pits human pilots against artificial intelligence-controlled aircraft, he said. The secretary also indicated that he would lobby Congress for "additional funding for the services to grow this effort over time and deliver an AI-ready workforce to the American people."

Dana Deasy, DOD's CIO, highlighted some of JAIC's accomplishments in a Sept. 10 speech, citing an "engine health model" for Black Hawk helicopter maintenance and a language processing application that will automatically review financial and administrative documents and memos for consistency, accuracy and compliance.

In addition to having more AI-educated personnel, DOD hopes to make tools and data readily available for them and industry partners just as quickly through the Joint Common Foundation.

"The JCF is built to be an environment that sits on top of things like Cloud One platform, JEDI, et cetera," the JAIC's acting director Nand Mulchandani told reporters Sept. 10, that will have labeled, curated data, tools, and systems for testing and evaluation.

Mulchandani said early access is now available to some mission partners with some now migrating to JCF, but wouldn't give specifics.

The Defense Information Systems Agency awarded Deloitte a $106 million contract to help build the JCF environment for the AI center in August, which Mulchandani said would allow industry partners to deploy tools straight to developers, and with that, make partnerships easier.

"We believe, and want, all of those products to be deployed through the JCF so that our developer community can actually have access to the best tech that's out there," Mulchandani said.

The Defense Department is also keen on cementing domestic commercial and international partnerships. The JAIC plans to release the AI-Partnership for Defense next week so military and defense organizations from select countries can work to incorporate ethics into their AI pipelines.

"Over the coming year, we expect to expand this initiative to include even more countries, as we create new frameworks and tools for data sharing, cooperative development, and strengthened interoperability," Esper said.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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