Advancing AI leadership in the NDAA

R&I – TxPAT *** 

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY 21st District

House Armed Services Committee

C4ISRNET Published OpEd

January 12, 2021


Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly a defining factor in the economic prosperity and military strength among superpowers, and the Department of Defense — like in our past — will serve as the incubator and leader for the development of this technology.


This year’s fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) marks a significant step forward in DOD’s AI leadership and development. In the 2019 NDAA, I introduced legislation to establish the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) that brought together the country’s leading technologists and thinkers in AI to provide Congress with recommendations to improve America’s AI competitiveness. The commission’s work has paid off, and this year, the NDAA authorized 17 NSCAI recommendations, from elevating the director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) to report directly to the deputy secretary of defense, to allowing part-time employment of university professors and students in national laboratories, and authorizing several billion dollars for AI research and development.


In the military domain, AI will help our service members more effectively identify and engage targets, streamline our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, and assist in everyday human operations. However, AI applications are dual-use, and like countless technologies developed by the DOD — the internet and GPS to name just two — AI will be critical for business and commerce throughout the U.S. For instance, AI will be able to conduct predictive maintenance on aircraft and transport vehicles, automate manufacturing processes, improve personal cybersecurity, and assist in the field of health care.


These dual-use capabilities make it imperative for DOD, the private sector and academia to work together on developing and deploying AI systems. Many of the AI authorizations in this year’s NDAA will help establish those critical partnerships between the government and academia and facilitate public and private industry cooperation to develop these systems.


Despite the AI advances in this year’s NDAA, there is more work to be done. Moving forward, we must find ways to enable the construction of robust data sets — the backbone of machine learning and AI — to be shared by government and private industry partners for AI development. Within DOD, continuing to strengthen the JAIC will remain a top priority. The JAIC must balance the need to enable DOD components and branches to deploy their own tools and products, while at the same time keeping sight of the imperative to develop AI solutions to high-profile and cross-cutting challenges like Joint All-Domain Command and Control and health care. Overall, this year’s provisions to elevate the JAIC’s direct report, establish a board of outside advisers, and establish acquisition authority for the JAIC are all critically important steps to strengthen DOD’s AI capabilities and will be built on in future NDAAs.


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