WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian announced a new initiative Tuesday to prepare combatant command networks for the data-heavy, artificial intelligence-driven reality of the future battlefield.

Speaking at the Defense Department AI Symposium, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks described the Artificial Intelligence and Data Acceleration Initiative, an effort that will deploy technical teams to combatant commands to prepare military networks for Joint All-Domain Command and Control, the Pentagon’s plan to quickly pass the best data from AI-backed systems to war fighters.

“Its goal is to rapidly advance data and AI-dependent concepts like Joint All-Domain Command Control,” Hicks said.

Though light on details, the initiative will rely on combatant commands’ experimentation events and exercises to test new artificial intelligence and data capabilities that could be critical to JADC2. Building the future war-fighting concept into reality will require top-tier artificial intelligence tools that can process data rapidly on a contested battlefield and speed up a commander’s decision-making.

“The AIDA initiative will generate foundational capabilities through a series of implementation experiments or exercises, each one purposefully building understanding through successive and incremental learning,” Hicks said. “Each exercise pushes the boundaries of the one before, building on the knowledge gained.”

The military plans to send “operational” data teams to the 11 combatant commands, Hicks said. These teams will provide the commands with expertise in cataloging, managing and automating data. According to Hicks, the teams will stay at a command until it can “leverage the data needed to create decision advantage.”

The initiative includes additional “flyaway” teams staffed by technical experts to assist combatant commands with integrating artificial intelligence to streamline and automate workflows. According to Hicks, the teams will build “real capabilities that can be evaluated in real operational environments.”

The information gathered by the teams and collected at the combatant command exercises will allow the department to update network infrastructure, remove policy barriers and ensure the “reliability and effectiveness of our global war-fighting capability,” 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,” Hicks said. “As we complete these episodic exercises and experiments, we intend to leave behind capability in our wake.”

The department will apply capabilities gained at one combatant command to other commands that face similar issues, she said.

“This will ultimately produce data and operational platforms designed for real-time sensor-data fusion, automated command and control tasking, and autonomous system integration. It will allow data to flow across both geographic and functional commands,” Hicks said.

Hicks’ announcement is significant given its emphasis on combatant commands. Much of the work on JADC2 so far has been driven by service projects, such as the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System.

The AI acceleration plan is a step toward achieving the DoD’s mission to link sensors and shooters on the battlefield. Most recently, the Pentagon announced that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin signed off on the Pentagon’s JADC2 strategy, though the document is classified.

At a separate event this week, Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, the CIO/J6 and JADC2 lead for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon started an analysis to understand the technology gaps it needs to address to prepare for the battlefield of the future; however, its findings are classified.

“Despite all the capability that we have, there’s a pretty long list of things that we believe we need to improve upon and really fulfill,” Crall 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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