WASHINGTON — Artificial intelligence can provide vital savings for the Pentagon in the face of flat or decreasing budgets, the director of the department’s top AI office said Friday.

Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, leader of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, promoted the efficiencies of AI, particularly for business systems, on the same day the Biden administration announced a topline defense budget proposal of $715 billion, which amounts to an overall decrease, when adjusted for inflation.

“In an era of tightening budgets and focus on squeezing out things that are legacy and are not important in the budget, the productivity gains and the efficiency gains that AI can bring to the department, especially through the business process transformation, actually becomes an economic necessity,” Groen said at a press briefing. “So in a squeezed play between modernizing our warfare that moves at machine speed and tighter budgets, AI is doubly necessary.”

The JAIC, tasked with increasing the use of artificial intelligence across the department, wants to drive the Pentagon to operate more like a data-driven software company. That includes establishing data feeds and algorithms that are shared across the department.

Groen said that implementing those practices would create productivity gains, new insights and improved management across the department.

“It really represents a transformation of our operating model,” Groen said. “That operating model will have to create a common data environment where data is shared, data is authoritative, [and] data is available.”

He added, “it’s about making our organization, the Department of Defense in this case, as productive and efficient as any of these modern successful data-driven enterprises.”

Earlier this month, Groen warned that the department’s biggest strategic threat was its own technological obsolescence and called for the department to invest more in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and resilient networks, that will define the future of warfare. Artificial intelligence and associated technologies underpin the DoD’s plans to stay competitive, and it’s the JAIC’s responsibly to provide best practices and services to assist organizations on their AI efforts.

Providing those services is core to the organization’s pivot to JAIC 2.0, in which it focuses more on providing broad AI-enabling services to department components rather than developing AI products.

Under the JAIC 2.0, “we measure our success in the success of others,” Groen said.

“We come in as archivists of best practice across the department, and say, ‘Hey, show us how you’re doing that. Let us learn from you,” he said. “And then we can share, ‘Hey, you know, there’s another agency in the department that has a problem very similar to yours and here’s how they’re addressing that.’ So we played broker for information and expertise across agencies, across services across combatant commands.”

That shift has recently manifested itself through the release of solicitations to industry for test and evaluation help and data readiness services in an effort to boost its ability to help department components implement artificial intelligence.

The JAIC is also viewed as central to AI efforts at the Pentagon by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, a congressionally mandated organization that provided recommendations to boost the country’s AI readiness. The report urges the department to be “AI ready” by 2025 and suggests the JAIC take on a broad range of responsibilities, from developing workforce initiatives to advising components on AI development.

The JAIC’s prominence has also increased because of a provision in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act that elevated the center’s reporting responsibility to the deputy secretary of defense, a move Groen said gives the JAIC more insight into department priorities and boosts the stature of the center internally.

The move allows the deputy secretary and the “rest of the department leadership access to the tools and processes to reinforce their priorities, underline our ethical foundations, integrate our enterprises and transform our business processes,” he said.

Bob Work, former deputy secretary of defense and vice chair of the NSCAI, echoed Groen’s comments at the press conference, arguing that AI leadership is core to the department’s future competitiveness.

“You have to have top down leadership, you cannot say AI is important and let all of the agencies and subordinate departments figure out what that means,” Work said.

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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