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Delivering AI to Warfighters Is Strategic Imperative

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The Defense Department is in an important transformational period, taking the conceptual applications of artificial intelligence and harnessing this emerging technology to advance America's security and prosperity, the DOD chief information officer said in prepared remarks.

Dana Deasy spoke today at the 2020 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Symposium and Exposition. 

The department's vision for AI is guided by the National Defense Strategy, which describes an increasingly complex security environment with technological challenges from adversaries in every domain, he noted.


So, it's a strategic imperative to accelerate AI and deliver tangible solutions for the warfighter to preserve the nation's strategic military advantage, he said.

The DOD Digital Modernization Strategy provides a framework to harness the full potential of AI, tying together the technological capabilities of cloud, data, AI, command and control, and cybersecurity into a common ecosystem, Deasy said, explaining that these capabilities are closely interconnected and each enables the other in very important ways. 

"We cannot deliver AI at scale without cloud, cyber and a strategic approach to how we manage and utilize the department's vast data resources," he said. This is why AI has to fit into the broader digital modernization ecosystem to effectively deliver at scale and speed to meet the strategic imperative laid out by the NDS. 

A key component of this strategy is the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, he said. The JAIC is the cornerstone of the department's efforts to adopt and scale artificial intelligence. 

"The evolution of the JAIC is a journey that is still in the making and we are generating positive momentum from our early days as AI pioneers toward a mature organization of AI practitioners," he offered.

The JAIC was designed two years ago to scale AI across a vast and geographically dispersed DOD, he said. 

Today, the JAIC is starting to deliver real AI solutions for the warfighter while leading the department in AI ethics and governance, Deasy said. 

The JAIC's budget went from $89 million in fiscal year 2019 to $268 million in FY 2020 and the department plans to spend about $1.6 billion over the next few years thanks to strong bipartisan support from Congress and DOD leadership, he said.

The JAIC is already generating early returns on investment in its mission initiatives, ranging from predictive maintenance to business process transformation, he said. The JAIC recently delivered an innovative "engine health model" predictive maintenance capability that is being utilized by Black Hawk helicopter maintainers from the Army's Special Operations Aviation Regiment.  

Man works computer
Computer Ops
Navy Seaman Anthony Migliori troubleshoots a computer aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey somewhere in the East China Sea, Aug. 20, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Langholf
VIRIN: 200820-N-FA490-1016M
Woman works on computer.
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Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Laura Rafanan, assigned to Personnel Support Detachment Okinawa, checks personnel information on the Transaction Online Processing System on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, Aug. 25, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Dickinson
VIRIN: 200825-N-GG858-1005M

Under "business process transformation," the JAIC is delivering language-processing AI applications to the Washington Headquarters Service and the DOD's administrative and financial management teams," he said. These capabilities are automating the review of thousands of documents and memos for consistency, accuracy and compliance, thus increasing speed and efficiency while reducing manual, laborious processes.  

To tackle the department's scaling challenge, the JAIC is laying the groundwork for the Joint Common Foundation, an AI development environment that will broaden opportunities for AI developers across the department to build and deliver AI capabilities, he said. 

These early projects are providing valuable lessons learned as the JAIC places more focus on the tactical edge to develop AI solutions in support of joint warfighting operations, Deasy said. 

"Our initial focus is creating decision support tools for front-line commanders that will be critical in an evolving operational environment where speed, precision and agility are paramount for success,” he said. To these ends, the JAIC is developing an "operations cognitive assistant" capability that enhances human-machine teaming to drive faster and more efficient decision-making, through AI-enabled predictive analytics.

Man works computer
Computer Work
Marine Corps Cpl. Christophe Tait, a data systems administrator with the new Network Activity - National Capital Region, monitors network activity from the operations floor at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Aug. 31, 2020.
Photo By: Marine Corps Capt. Hector Alejandro
VIRIN: 200831-M-HO284-316M
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Green Group
Air Force airmen monitor computers in support of the Advanced Battle Management System Onramp 2 at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 2, 2020. The effect ABMS is attempting to achieve is Joint All-Domain Command and Control.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Daniel Hernandez
VIRIN: 200902-F-XT642-0027M

The true, long-term success of the JAIC will depend on how the organization adapts and delivers real-world solutions when the strategic landscape and priorities change, he said.  

A good example, he said, is when the JAIC developed a predictive-logistics AI-dashboard platform for the U.S. Northern Command that enabled National Guard teams to assist states and municipalities in mitigating panic buying and managing supply chains. That project went from concept to code in a matter of weeks. More importantly, it demonstrated the JAIC's ability to support the emergent needs of a combatant commander and deliver real AI solutions during a national emergency.  

A very important part of what the JAIC does, Deasy said, is what takes place behind the scenes: coordinating and in some cases partnering its efforts with DOD organizations like Defense Digital Services, the Defense Innovation Unit and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; the Department of Energy; the European Union; friends and allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere; industry and academia.

"We simply cannot achieve success without working together," Deasy added.

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