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New DOD Chief Digital Artificial Intelligence Office Launches 

Feb. 4, 2022 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

The Defense Department must become a digital and artificial intelligence-enabled enterprise capable of operating at the speed and scale necessary to preserve its military advantage, according to a memorandum issued by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks.  

The memorandum, published on defense.gov, outlines how the chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, or CDAO, is charged with making sure DOD supports such an enterprise. John Sherman, DOD chief information officer, will serve as the acting chief digital and artificial intelligence officer until the position is filled permanently.   

A woman wearing civilian clothing and a man in a military uniform stand next to one another.
Hicks Tour
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks receives a briefing during a tour of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Arlington, Va., Oct. 29, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 211029-D-XI929-1011

 "[It's] an honor to be able to help get this organization stood up while performing my chief information officer duties," Sherman said today in a Pentagon media roundtable, adding that he has worked closely with several organizations to make sure the CDAO effort is launched on a solid footing.  

"This is a key milestone for the department to become a digital AI-enabled enterprise," a senior DOD official said in the roundtable. The intent of the office is to set up a strong foundation for data analytic and AI-enabled capabilities to develop and field at scale, the official said.  

 "This foundation includes the necessary people, platforms and processes needed to continuously provide business leaders and warfighters with agile solutions, so the CDAO will serve as a department senior official responsible for strengthening the integration of data analytics and digital solutions, as well as AI functions across the department," the official explained.  

DOD has made a lot of progress in this effort the last few years, and has a number of different components that have been working on it, such as the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Defense Digital Services, chief data officer and the Advana platform.

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Surveillance Cameras
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class MaryJoy Ortiz sets up Gantz-Mountain surveillance cameras during a command post exercise at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., Dec. 7, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Stephane Belcher
VIRIN: 201208-N-PG340-1059C

 "At this stage in the department, what we're hoping to do is provide an opportunity for stronger alignment and synchronization among these efforts," the DOD official said. "The principal purpose for creating the CDAO is to elevate the importance of the issue sent to the secretary of defense, deputy secretary and other principals … while also ensuring unity of mission and strategic alignment in the department's enterprise level, data analytics, digital solutions and AI efforts." 

Sherman, as acting CDAO, will serve a couple of critical functions, such as lead the department strategy and policy on data, analytics and AI adoption and governance to oversee these efforts across the department, the official said.  

The second function will be to enable the development of digital and AI-enabled solutions across DOD while also selectively scaling proven solutions for enterprise and joint-use cases, the official said.  

The third function will provide a "sophisticated cadre of technical experts that serve as a de facto data and digital response force," able to address urgent crises and emerging challenges with state-of-the-art digital solutions, the official said.  

"The CDAO is going to perform these functions in close collaboration with the military services, Joint Staff, our research and engineering undersecretary and other digital leaders," the official added.  

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Pentagon Briefing
Nand Mulchandani, acting director of the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, briefs reporters about DOD's recent initiatives involving artificial intelligence at the Pentagon, July 8, 2020.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 200708-D-BN624-0005

 The CDAO will also need to work closely with industry, interagency and DOD's international mission partners.  

 "Our planning to get to [initial operating capability] has incorporated extensive feedback from a wide range of stakeholders internal to the department, including the undersecretaries for military departments, the services, Joint Staff, combatant commands, defense agencies and field activities, as well as inputs from a number of external stakeholders in Congress, academia and industry," the official said.  

 The goal is for data, data analytics and AI to enable faster and better decision-making to allow for military advantage, from campaigning to conflict, the official said.  

 A concern to DOD is China's aggressive investments in using such capabilities to offset traditional U.S. advantages, the official said, adding "and this is a key part of our effort to keep [matching] that pacing threat."   

The CDAO's full operating capability is expected to be June 1, officials said.