Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Warfare
by David Vergun, DOD News
June 10, 2020
Army Lt. Gen. John N.T. ''Jack'' Shanahan spoke remotely from the Pentagon on June 4, 2020 with Dave Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
''It is my conviction and deep passion that AI will transform the character of warfare in the Department of Defense in the course of the next 20 years,'' Shanahan said. ''There is no part of the department that will not be impacted by this, from the back office to the battlefield, from under sea to cyberspace and outer space, and all points in between.'
August 14, 2019 - An M4 Carbine rifle equipped with the Smart Shooter sighting device lies next to drones to be used as moving targets for the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California. The sighting device attaches to the weapon and then locks on and fires to neutralize its target with or without movement. The device is also being used to limit friendly fire, as the weapon cannot be fired unless it is purposely locked on. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Alexandre Montes)
Artificial intelligence, often called AI, has been happening in commercial industry, but that effort only started in earnest in the department about 10 years ago, he noted, but ''we've been stuck in first gear in terms of fielding''.
DOD has long struggled with how to take the world's best research and development and field it at speed and at scale, he added.
Since the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center began operations about two years ago, all of the foundational elements have been put into place, Shanahan said, noting that the center now has 185 employees with a $1.3 billion annual budget.
Shanahan elaborated on what artificial intelligence foundational elements mean ... including AI strategy, policy, ethics, coalition partnerships, rules of engagement, user testing and evaluation.
All those elements were brought into the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, where integrated product teams for projects do all of that work simultaneously, as opposed to sequentially, he said. ''In the department, those tend to happen in very different places, and sometimes they don’t happen at all.''
The center's initiatives are focused on lower-consequence, lower-risk missions such as preventive maintenance, humanitarian assistance, defensive cyber and business process transformation, he said.
But perhaps the most important current focus is on joint warfighting operations, he said.
August 14, 2019 - Air Force Staff Sgt. Colton Becker, 9th Security Forces Squadron training flight, notifies Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Dustin Hall, 9th Reconnaissance Wing command chief, that he is cleared to fire while using the Smart Shooter sighting device during a demonstration at Beale Air Force Base, California. The 9th SFS Airmen have been using off-the-shelf commercial technology to help training and to improve how their missions are conducted. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Alexandre Montes)
Over the next one to two years, the goal will be delivery of these AI-enabled systems to the warfighter, he said. ''We have to show we're making a difference,'' he added.
Shanahan said moving the department from being an industrial age, hardware-driven force to being an information-age, software-driven, more risk-tolerant one won’t be easy. Nor will it be easy to choose where to take those risks and how to take those risks, he said.
''We're dealing with 60 years of legacy systems, legacy workflows, legacy talent management. You can't just bolt those cutting-edge technologies onto ... legacy equipment and expect to transform the Department of Defense,'' he said, adding that, culturally, AI has to be in the fabric of the department and what DOD does every single day.
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