Austin commits to $1.5B for DOD’s Joint AI Center over next 5 years

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the press from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Washington, D.C., Feb. 19, 2021. (DoD Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders).

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Tuesday said he will commit $1.5 billion for the Department of Defense’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center over the next five years.

While Congress ultimately decides what funding the JAIC will get, in recent years, it has shown willingness to appropriate funding to develop it as DOD’s AI “enabling force.” The most recent budget requests have yielded around $200 million annually for the JAIC, a number that would increase to about $300 million per year if Austin’s promised $1.5 billion is authorized by Congress.

“Done responsibly, leadership in AI can boost our future military tech advantage — from data-driven decisions to human-machine teaming. And that could make the Pentagon of the near future dramatically more effective, more agile, and more ready,” Austin said at the National Security Commission on AI conference Tuesday.

Austin said that the department has more than 600 AI projects running, many more than the year prior. The JAIC has been at the center of the DOD’s AI push, at first working on individual projects but now focusing on assisting the DOD’s myriad of AI offices. One of the programs the center continues to focus on is the Joint Common Foundations, an AI development platform that it eventually hopes will be the central tool developers across the department will use to write code, work with data and advance AI projects of their own.

The vision for AI in the DOD revolves around “integrated deterrence,” Austin said. In essence, the idea is to weave AI tools and the concept of operation into everything the DOD does, from logistics to waging war in all domains. It includes the new framework of Joint All-Domain Command and Control, where all sensors from across the domains of battle are integrated and use AI to make sense of data from the battlefield.

“AI and related technologies will give us both an information and an operational edge,” Austin said.

He also acknowledged that in order to achieve this type of integration, new acquisition methods will need to be used to field the rapidly changing technology. “But we know that truly successful adoption of AI isn’t just like, say, procuring a better tank,” he said.

One of the new tools in the DOD’s acquisition toolbox is the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER), which helps get promising tech across the so-called “valley of death” — the struggle for the Pentagon to transition and scale research-and-development efforts, particularly innovative technologies, to use on the battlefield

“In today’s world, in today’s department, innovation cannot be an afterthought. It is the ballgame,” Austin said.

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artificial intelligence (AI), Department of Defense (DOD), Lloyd Austin
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