WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin and IBM subsidiary Red Hat agreed to work together to tackle artificial intelligence and data-sharing challenges faced by the U.S. Department of Defense as it prepares to spread forces over greater distances and equip them with smaller, more mobile gear.

The collaboration between the defense contracting giant and the software specialist was announced Oct. 25 and comes on the heels of a demonstration in which Lockheed used Red Hat Device Edge to update software mid-flight on a Stalker Unmanned Aerial System. The revisions, relayed during a simulated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission, allowed the drone to more accurately identify its target through automated recognition.

“Red Hat Device Edge will enable Lockheed Martin to revolutionize artificial intelligence processing for our DOD customers’ most challenging missions,” Justin Taylor, Lockheed’s vice president of artificial intelligence, said in a statement. “The ability for small military platforms to handle large AI workloads will increase their capacity in the field, ensuring our military can stay ahead of evolving threats.”

The Pentagon is increasingly interested in AI and machine learning, both on and off the battlefield; Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks in documents published earlier this year said an embrace of the technology is needed “to maintain our military advantage in a digitally competitive world.”

The department’s public spending on AI, including autonomy, grew from a little more than $600 million in fiscal 2016 to $2.5 billion in 2021. More than 600 AI projects — including several connected to major weapons systems, such as the MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle — were underway as of April 2021.

A majority of Pentagon AI activities fall under research and development, with a focus on recognizing targets, feeding recommendations to commanders, such as where to move troops or how to respond to a threat, and improving autonomy of uncrewed systems, according to the Government Accountability Office.

“Lockheed Martin is at the forefront of global innovation that often defines a technological era,” Francis Chow, vice president and general manager of in-vehicle operating system and edge at Red Hat, said in a statement. “With our latest solution, Red Hat Device Edge, we’ll be able to work together to change what communications and artificial intelligence looks like in the most space-constrained and far-flung environments, whether it’s a remote mountain range or beyond the boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere.”

Lockheed, the largest defense contractor by revenue, according to Defense News analysis, previously teamed with Red Hat to more quickly upgrade the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor. Before that, Red Hat joined Lockheed’s cybersecurity alliance. Other members included FireEye, Microsoft and Verizon.

IBM acquired Red Hat in 2019 for $34 billion.

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — 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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