The Department of Defense is looking to build a 21st century military staffed with a cadre of resident data scientists, engineers and artificial intelligence professionals.

Dana Deasy, the DoD’s chief information officer, told a House Armed Services Committee panel Dec. 11 that the department’s philosophy is they’re going to need to build an internal capability inside the military.

This takes the form of the recently established Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), which currently has approximately 30 people assigned to it — a combination of uniformed and civilian personnel, Deasy said.

He added that the plan to help build resident expertise is to bring 10 highly talented individuals from the services into the JAIC and team them with data scientists DoD is recruiting, so when they leave JAIC they can bring knowledge in new areas back to their respective services.

Deasy also discussed a parallel track in which DoD is looking to recruit people through a combination of commercial, academia and think tank contacts, noting that they have “quite a list” of people they’re identifying.

Ultimately, however, he said the department might need something similar to the Cyber Excepted Service — a specialized personnel system designed with certain flexibilities for hiring much-needed cyber professionals — but for data science and AI.

This model will allow DoD to recruit in a way that has additional speed, but comes with hurdles such as handling compensation for employees differently, as well as how to onboard new recruits under such a model.

Is the U.S. behind?

One of the top contentions of many experts in the field is that the United States is either at the cusp of, if not already behind top nations, such as China, in the AI arms race.

One top DoD official explained the United States is still ahead, but the race is getting closer.

“I would say we are not behind. Right now we are actually ahead; however, we are in danger of losing that leadership position,” Lisa Porter, deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, told the House panel.

Porter said the U.S. government has invested in this space for decades, with recent large scale investment coming from the private sector.

Now, China has recognized the importance of this multi-tiered approach, she said, accounting for the tremendous increases in their investments, particularly in academia and the startup community.