DOD’s AI Strategy Aims to Preserve America’s Strategic Edge

Key Takeaways for Executives

  • The Pentagon has released new details on its AI strategy.
  • A concerted effort is needed to develop and deploy AI-enabled capabilities to preserve America’s strategic military advantage and protect national security, the department says.
  • The AI strategy involves a five-pronged approach, including scaling AI’s impact across DOD and cultivating a world-class AI workforce.

Over the past few years, the Defense Department has helped lead the federal effort to deploy artificial intelligence by developing a departmentwide AI strategy. And earlier this month, DOD shared more details of what that strategy looks like.

According to a fact sheet, AI will transform every industry and is expected to impact everything DOD does, including operations, training, sustainment, force protection, recruiting, health care and other areas.

AI’s potential has not gone unnoticed by other countries.

President Donald Trump said in his 2018 National Defense Strategy and a recent executive order, adversaries like China and Russia are investing heavily in AI for military and other purposes, and the U.S. must counter their efforts.

“The United States, together with its allies and partners, must adopt AI to maintain its strategic position, prevail on future battlefields, and safeguard [a free and open international]order,” according to a summary of DOD’s AI strategy. “We will also seek to develop and use AI technologies in ways that advance security, peace, and stability in the long run. We will lead in the responsible use and development of AI by articulating our vision and guiding principles for using AI in a lawful and ethical manner.”

Five-Pronged Approach

DOD is taking a five-pronged strategic approach to developing and deploying AI:

  • delivering AI-enabled capabilities that address key missions;
  • scaling AI’s impact across DOD through a common foundation that enables decentralized
    development and experimentation;
  • cultivating a leading AI workforce;
  • engaging with commercial, academic, and international allies and partners; and
  • leading in military ethics and AI safety

According to the AI strategy, the stakes are high.

“Failure to adopt AI will result in legacy systems irrelevant to the defense of our people, eroding cohesion among allies and partners, reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living, and growing challenges to societies that have been built upon individual freedoms,” it says.

Joint Artificial Intelligence Center

DOD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center will accelerate the delivery of AI-enabled capabilities, scale the departmentwide impact of AI and synchronize DOD’s AI activities to expand joint force advantages. In particular, JAIC will:

  • rapidly deliver AI-enabled capabilities to address key missions, strengthening current military advantages and enhancing future AI research and development efforts with mission needs, operational outcomes, user feedback, and data;
  • establish a common foundation for scaling AI’s impact across DOD, leading strategic data acquisition and introducing unified data stores, reusable tools, frameworks and standards, and cloud and edge services;
  • facilitate AI planning, policy, governance, ethics, safety, cybersecurity and multilateral coordination; and
  • attract and cultivate a world-class team with expertise on AI capability delivery and create new accelerated learning experiences in AI across DOD at all levels of professional education and training.

Strategy Important, Lacks Detail

Balan Ayyar, CEO of, welcomed DOD’s AI strategy because it provides specific priorities and helps to “stabilize the concerns over these technologies [and]convey an organized and confident approach.”

“I think it serves an important purpose, vision, priorities, intention — now they will have to provide some stories and transparency about how this will work beyond industry days and white papers,” he said.

However, he noted the strategy is short on specifics.

“[It] lacks any specific detail on how this grand strategy will unfold in real terms through the JAIC and then to the Services,” he said. “What’s different about their decentralized execution approach is just not clear, yet.”

Related: Executive Order Brings Sorely Needed Government Support for AI, Industry Exec Says