WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers this month pitched a new program to increase adoption of artificial intelligence across combatant commands, one of the latest efforts to boost a technology that officials say provides an edge over world competitors like Russia and China.

A $200 million Artificial Intelligence Development Fund was included in the $1.5 trillion fiscal year 2022 government funding package, and was highlighted by House and Senate appropriation committees. Another $50 million was flagged to improve recruitment and development of AI talent at the Department of Defense.

“The congressional defense committees’ oversight efforts discovered numerous opportunities to accelerate the pace of change, especially with respect to security and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region, space and cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, and infrastructure and public shipyard improvements,” budget documents state.

The efforts lodged in the latest budget dovetail with the Pentagon’s Artificial Intelligence and Data Acceleration initiative, announced in June 2021. The program embeds data-focused technical teams with the 11 combatant commands and hopes to streamline workflows.

“By dispatching teams to our combatant commands, ADA looks to generate foundational capabilities through a series of implementation experiments or exercises, each one purposefully building understanding through successive and incremental learning,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said March 12 at the South by Southwest kickoff in Texas. “This software engineering approach will be critical to advancing our data-centered capabilities.”

The Pentagon has described AI as a game-changer — the sort of development that demands investment, lest the U.S. be left behind.

Artificial intelligence, according to the Defense Department’s 2018 strategy, can help maintain equipment, reduce costs, improve readiness and modernize organizations. It is also a key component of the department’s ongoing communications overhaul, Joint All-Domain Command and Control, which involves substantial amounts of data that need deciphering, sorting and relaying.

“As AI implementation scales across the department, it has the potential to automate routine functions, lead to improved decision making and allow for multi-domain integration,” Hicks said last summer. “Only through the integration of AI and related technologies will we gain both an information advantage and operational advantage on rapidly accelerating future battlefields.”

The Defense Department had more than 685 artificial intelligence projects under its umbrella as of April 2021. The projects span several services and combatant commands, according to the Government Accountability Office, a monitor of federal programs and spending.

The Army and Navy are each handling more than 200 artificial intelligence projects, mostly funded via research and development. At least 17 of the Pentagon’s 88 reported major weapon systems in fiscal year 2021 had AI projects associated with them, the watchdog said.

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its NNSA — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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