Lawmakers push for 'attitudinal' shift at the Pentagon in new report

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A new congressional report challenges the Pentagon to take emerging technology seriously, especially artificial intelligence and unmanned systems.

The House Armed Services Committee's Future Defense Task Force released its final report Sept. 29 almost a year after it was formed. The bipartisan group, led by Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), was tasked with reviewing the Defense Department's technology needs and evaluating any barriers to meet them through a series of briefings and hearings. The result is an 81-page report with 25 findings and recommendations.

During a Sept. 30 Brookings Institution event, Banks said that while the report, which is intended to be a "roadmap" for the national security community, aligns with the 2017 National Defense Strategy, the task force's evaluation has shown not enough has been done to make substantive changes.

"We've done too little in four years to foster the type of attitude in the Pentagon that it's going to take to develop the environment that fosters innovation," Banks said. "We need greater innovation in artificial intelligence, AI, in the air at sea, surface, underwater, space."

Banks said during the task force's review the repeated feedback from the private sector was that "the barriers to innovation at the Pentagon prevent the same type of innovation that's occurring in China and Russia and elsewhere."

AI was at the fore of the task force's recommendations starting with the first one which called for "every Major Defense Acquisition Program to evaluate at least one AI or autonomous alternative prior to funding" and for those programs be AI-ready and interoperable with existing and planned joint all domain command and control networks, according to the report.

The second recommendation stressed the development of international norms that limit AI's potential harmful use, even suggesting the development of a treaty to "establish an international code of ethics and privacy protections that ensure personal freedoms and liberties globally."

At Brookings, Moulton said spending a certain percentage of the defense budget on AI or other emerging tech wasn't the goal but that it needed to be paired with cutting legacy system investments, and looking at what the force structure will look like, which could mean spending money on personnel, education and training.

"What we need to think about is what does our force look like to truly meet these new threats," Moulton said. "We probably need to have a lot more cyber warriors engaged in the Department of Defense...I expect that will mean we will have to raise pay and benefits to make sure we can attract and retain that talented workforce."

For Banks, any substantive changes to surmount the Pentagon's "attitudinal barrier"

will have to come from the defense secretary.

"We need leadership at the Pentagon who takes this report seriously and echoes the themes and recommendations we're making to help us get to where we need to be," he said.

To assist with the Pentagon's mindshift, the congressmen stressed investing resources in successfully disruptive organizations, such as the Defense Innovation Unit, AFWERX, the Air Force,'s Kessel Run software factory, and Army Futures Command.

Moulton expressed that sentiment in a February hearing, suggesting that the Defense Innovation Unit's potential success was stunted by its resources.

"With an initial funding of $520 million, which would be $4.5 billion in today's dollars, [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] led to current initiatives like DIU, which while particularly noteworthy, simply doesn't enjoy the same level of support with a mere $41 million budget," Moulton said in February. "We cannot expect the same success without the same level of commitment."

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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