From Amazon’s Alexa to self-driving cars, artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly improving and promises to soon transform almost every aspect of life.

As data, the lifeblood of AI, increasingly becomes both a tool and a vulnerability on today’s battlefield, the Department of Defense is taking notice. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, recently testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that operationalized AI will be a key capability in the future of warfare.

Many in the defense community, however, worry that the DoD is losing to great power rivals like Russina and China in the race to embrace artificial intelligence. A recent report on the Defense Department’s progress on the AI front, from government data analysis group Govini and former DoD chief Robert Work, said it’s time for the U.S. military to decide whether it wants to “lead the coming revolution or fall victim to it.”

The Defense Department’s fiscal 2019 budget request offers a window into where leaders see opportunities for artificial intelligence. Here’s what it shows:


The Air Force, Navy and Army all see possibilities for artificial intelligence in training.

The Air Force wants to spend $87 million in 2019 on their experimentation program, which would put operationalized artificial intelligence, among several other technologies, to the test in war games, simulations, and field experimentation.

The Navy is seeking $13.5 million to capitalize on what they describe as “rapid advances in artificial intelligence and terrain and environment collection.” The service wants to use AI techniques to develop games teach complex warfighting and decision-making skills and “increase training tools for operation in Electronic Warfare (EW) and Cyber contested environments.”

Meanwhile, the Army wants to allocate $6.5 million in 2019 to the Institute of Creative Technologies, their academic research laboratory at the University of Southern California. The ICT seeks “to support Army training and readiness through research into simulation, mixed and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, computer graphics, and learning sciences.” Researchers at the institute are even working on a Human-Virtual Human Interaction project powered by artificial intelligence. The service also wants another $6 million for medical training technologies that would use “artificial intelligence algorithms to aid in target recognition, next generation magnetometers, high resolution simulated three-dimension terrain and weapon orientation to enhance live training technology research.”

Combat Systems

The Navy, in particular, sees AI as a promising tool in the art of combat. The service is requesting $49 million in 2019 for their innovative Rapid Prototype Development program, which “funds a strategic focus on rapid prototyping of innovative combat system technologies and engineering innovations.” One of the primary technologies listed in the program is artificial intelligence, along with directed energy weapons, hypersonics, and machine learning. The Navy also wants to use artificial intelligence computing techniques to improve their submarine combat systems, according to the request.

The Marine Corps has its own version of the Rapid Prototype Development program. Service leaders are requesting $7.1 million for their program, which recently developed an unmanned swarm system that “provides attack capabilities fused with artificial intelligence to enhance situational awareness and decision making.”

Robotics Autonomy

The department is requesting funding for several programs dedicated to utilizing artificial intelligence to improve automated robotics. A $4.6 million program would continue to improve robots’ perception of their environments and their “intelligent control” abilities, which the Army describes as “permitting future systems to autonomously adapt, and alter their behavior to dynamic tactical situations.” Another program, pricing in at $4.2 million, would focus on better automating systems for robots. Finally, a $9.5 million program would be dedicated to “expand the autonomous capabilities, utility, and portability of small robotic systems for military applications, with a focus on enhanced intelligence, biomimetic functionality, and robust mobility, to permit these systems to serve as productive tools for dismounted Soldiers.”

If the idea of killer robots powered by artificial intelligence is as concerning to you as it is to the more than 100 technology CEOs who recently signed an open letter calling on the United Nations to ban such technology, the Army offers a caveat. In their budget, the Army notes that “methods for artificial intelligence assessment will be employed to ensure future unmanned systems can offer transparency in their cognitive processes.”

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