WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top artificial intelligence official warned Tuesday that the department’s biggest competitive threat is obsolescence.

“The biggest competitive threat is our own obsolescence,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. “I could walk out into the parking lot of the Pentagon, turn on my iPhone and join a data-driven, completely integrated environment. I can get whatever services I want. I can review, I can find, I can research. I can do it all at my fingertips. I can’t do any of that on a defense network.”

“We can’t operate that way. We can’t win that way. We can’t be competitive in that way,” he said during the Potomac Officers Club AI Summit.

Groen referred to his oft-used comparison to lancers fighting against machine guns: Though leaders knew the more advanced technology was out there, a legacy combat system was used. That tech was “foreseeable, but not foreseen” and by looking at commercial industry, the national security apparatus can foresee the technologies that will define the future of warfare: resilient networks, autonomy, data-driven decision-making platforms and artificial intelligence.

“Transformation of warfare accompanies the transformation of the economy,” Groen said.

With technological advancement, warfare is heading toward “small will beat our big capabilities. Fast, faster than us, will beat slower operations.”

Artificial intelligence will be core to data processing for Joint All-Domain Command and Control, a unified war-fighting concept in which the best sensor is connected with the best shooter across domains. Developing platforms with open architectures is key to development JADC2 systems so capabilities can be added and integrated, Groen said.

“So even our efforts to be joint is not adequate,” Groen said. “Until we have an integrated war-fighting capability, data-driven that can operate at tempo, we’re vulnerable.”

The JAIC is responsible for accelerating AI adoption across the department. The center provides services such as data readiness evaluations, test and evaluation, and recently launched its Joint Common Foundation, which will give DoD components a broad range of AI development tools.

China is trying to become the global leader in artificial intelligence by 2030. To compete, Groen said that the department needs integrated systems that can connect data to the sources that need it. However, a cultural barrier in the way is that the stovepiped nature of the department, in which services and components collect their data without wider distribution. That data is key for both war-fighting needs and the development of artificial intelligence systems.

Groen said that there is clear progress being made on the data readiness to ensure that components across the Pentagon are getting their data ready. Successes include the establishment of chief data officer positions across the Pentagon, services and combatant commands, as well as the release of the DoD data strategy, he said.

Each service is creating software and artificial intelligence tools in their own development platforms. The department wants to link those development platforms to help the services to cooperate and make artificial intelligence more accessible, Groen said.

“That’s what we’re after here. Using artificial intelligence, and more importantly, the infrastructure of artificial intelligence to connect the dots between data sources and command and control and decision outcomes for the joint force and for the services.”

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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