The Pentagon Just Launched a New AI Initiative to Transform Global Warfare

Welcome to the future of global warfare.
Brad Bergan
A 3D rendering of an abstract hologram or data network.koto_feja / iStock

Imagine a nuclear arms race with few-to-no casualties and almost no threat of human extinction. Now replace nukes with unconscionable volumes of real-time data. Welcome to the future of global warfare.

The Pentagon just launched a new artificial intelligence (AI) initiative designed to enhance the curation process of massive amounts of tactical data, according to an announcement from Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, in an initial report from National Defense.

In other words, the AI arms race is finally here.

AI will streamline the Pentagon's global command infrastructures

The new campaign, which is called the DoD AI and Data Acceleration initiative (ADA), is designed to move novel data and AI-linked concepts like joint all-domain command and control, also called JAD2, said Hicks in the report. "The ADA initiative will generate foundational capabilities through a series of implementation experiments or exercises, each one purposely building understanding through successive and incremental learning," she explained during the AI Symposium.

The Pentagon's motives behind this involve a push for "AI-readiness", which demands a formidable data foundation that treats information as a strategic asset, added Hicks. "Data enables the creation of algorithmic models, and with the right data we are able to take concepts and ideas and turn them into reality," she said. "We will ensure that DoD data is visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable and secure." Central to the DoD's approach in ADA is a software-centric approach to engineering new infrastructure capable of vastly expanding the Pentagon's defense capabilities through numerous parallel efforts.

"We are creating operational data teams that will be dispatched to all 11 combatant commands. These teams will rapidly work to catalog, manage and automate data feeds that inform decision-making," added Hicks in the report. "These teams will stay to ensure data is captured, complete, curated and usable until combatant commands can leverage the data needed to create decision advantage." She also emphasized that teams of technical experts will help automate and streamline workflows during the integration of AI into combatant command infrastructures. "These flyaway teams will bring top-tier talent and technology, building real capabilities that can be evaluated in real operational environments."

A growing rivalry with China will accelerate the 'AI arms race'

Building on further operational data gathered throughout the above exercises, the Pentagon aims to update its defense infrastructure by removing policy barriers and ensuring the effectiveness and reliability of its capacity to wage war worldwide, added Hicks. "Importantly, these events will be conducted in alignment with the busy combatant command experimentation and exercise cycle," she said. "Through successive experiments, we seek to understand the obstacles and challenges that impair our current ability to rapidly scale AI across the department and the joint force."

"As we complete these episodic exercises and experiments, we intend to leave behind capability in our wake," said Hicks. "True to our software engineering mindset, we aim to iteratively gain capability and rapidly scale to other combatant command environments with similar challenges." 

This comes a few years after the U.S. DoD invested $2 billion in AI research, with which the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) announced a new campaign to place three core concepts at center: Handcrafted knowledge, statistical learning, and contextual reasoning. This plan was revealed in 2018 during a speech by Steven Walker, director of DARPA, during the agency's D60 Symposium. While there are serious ethical concerns to confront in the future of AI-enabled warfare, it's hard to argue with the urgency of implementing AI into defense infrastructures. With China and other potential rivals of the U.S. investing heavily in similar AI systems, and an increased frequency of hacked infrastructure (like Colonial Pipeline), the AI arms race may soon resemble the nuclear arms race, in investment and gravitas, if not in the threat to humanity's existence.

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