DOD trying new approach for Tradewind AI initiative

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The Department of Defense is introducing a new approach for its Tradewind Initiative that it’s using to pursue new artificial intelligence capabilities, FedScoop has learned.

FedScoop confirmed this week that the Pentagon’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (CDAO) recently updated its tradewindai.com website, and is now trying it out as a one-stop-shop to announce new AI-aligned challenge competitions and opportunities supporting DOD components. 

“While this by itself is not a new approach, the creation of time-based events and near real-time awards is a new approach for us,” CDAO spokesperson Kathleen Clark told FedScoop on Friday.

On Aug. 16-17, the CDAO will use an industry day event happening near Quantico, Virginia, hosted by the 5th Special Forces Group, to meet with potential commercial partners about several of its open challenges. During those engagements, according to Clark, the CDAO intends “to make an award determination for pilots in areas such as digital STEM kits for recruiting of future acquisition professionals,” and a Southwest-focused regional pipeline to promote the quick transition of college students from minority institutions to positions at DOD test centers.  

“What makes this approach new is that, instead of back-and-forth papers and written interactions, we will leverage real-time, in-person and virtual interactions to allow both industry and the government to better understand the requirements and the art of the possible,” she said.

The ‘edge of possibility’

In early 2021, the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) and the Army Contracting Command-Rock Island awarded an Other Transaction agreement to Indiana Innovation Institute (IN3) to generate a business process and online environment, called “Tradewind,” that could enable more efficient AI procurement for the U.S. military. Since then, the JAIC has been absorbed into the newly formed Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office — and the Pentagon’s AI procurement work associated with Tradewind is maturing with experimentation playing an expanding role.

Tradewind is — as it was envisioned to be — a continually changing environment, in Clark’s view. It is a prototype initiative, but it’s also more than one single agreement.  

“It is a way for the CDAO to look at new acquisition methods, processes, ideas, or innovations,” she said.

With a sharp, near-term focus on trying new approaches, the office is now experimenting more than before in terms of options around AI purchasing. For instance, officials are exploring how a procurement model that was initially developed to support cyber procurements can be adapted to support XVIII Airborne Corps readiness requirements. 

The office also recently revamped its public-facing portal by launching its new Tradewind website. Clark noted that digital hub had been in Beta mode until Aug. 8. The homepage bills Tradewind as “DOD’s AI Marketplace to find, fund, and accelerate the adoption and transition of AI technologies to solve DOD challenges and problems.”

It now includes links to recruiting and partnership opportunities with DOD components, such as an open post from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency about developing an environment for AI technologies associated with its chemical and biological defense operations.

Clark noted that IN3 “has been and still is the government’s lead partner on Tradewind.” In 2023, that partnership will continue and the CDAO will also work with “many others to perform more sprints, new innovations and then scale them,” she added. Clark confirmed on Saturday that Tradewindai.com is managed by several entities including IN3.

“The entities that facilitate the site do not compete on efforts listed on the site. These are two separate and distinct functions. The government determines challenges and evaluates challenges,” she said.

Compared to the last version, the new site has an adjusted layout to display more pictures and links to other backend databases, so the CDAO can perform additional analyses on interactions with industry and academia around acquisition activities, according to Clark.

“This includes statistics on who is accessing, are they interested, have they submitted a response, has the government reviewed the response, and what is the next step for the government,” she said. “This is all a part of automating our acquisition process and increasing the interactions with industry and understanding what is working and what is not.”

As the CDAO is data- and AI-focused, its acquisitions unit is “taking this concept to the core,” she added — particularly by moving the website from a flat capability to one that connects to data platforms that provide insights on how to improve communication and processes based on industry engagement.

The CDAO’s procurement officials are also pursuing AI-enabled acquisition platforms that can help them write better problem statements and improve their reviews of industry proposals. The automation of acquisition processes to reduce human workload and improve workflows is also of interest.  

“We are just starting to touch the edge of the possible for acquisition, but this shifts DOD’s approach to acquisition from one of risk avoidance to one of agile experimentation and scaling,” Clark said.  

At Tradewind’s inception, JAIC insiders were primarily concentrating on better grasping and interacting with outside companies.

“Now that we have a better understanding of the market we are progressing to agile procurement pilots. This is a natural transition,” Clark said. “Now that we better understand the industrial base and some of the areas that can leverage DOD acquisition innovations, we create sprints to pilot new approaches.”

She likened this approach to software-related sprint cycles that allow teams to try, learn and scale the things that work quickly. 

“During our August 16 and 17 event, we will unveil some of our 2023 initiatives and pilots for acquisition to see what areas industry has the most interest in, as well as partners from Special Operations Command,” Clark added.

Editor’s note: This article was updated with new details about the maintenance of the Tradewind website.

-In this Story-

Acquisition, agile development, artificial intelligence (AI), CDAO, pilots, Tradewind
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