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Pentagon AI chief responds to USAF software leader who quit in frustration

The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. (Dreamstime/TNS)
October 27, 2021

Weeks after the Air Force’s first chief software officer resigned in frustration, a top military official says Nicholas Chaillan was wrong to assert that China is gaining advantage while the Pentagon moves too slowly to develop software.

“I think that there’s no one that can match the United States military in the amount of tactical innovation, that tactical pre-decision making” use of AI, said Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, who leads the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

Groen did acknowledge that China has a massive advantage in hoarding some types of data, specifically data on Chinese citizens. That isn’t the same thing as having a battlefield advantage, he said.

Groen, however, was not completely unsympathetic to Chaillan’s plight and his impatience with bureaucratic pace of Defense Department acquisition and innovation. Groen called it a cultural problem.

“Inside the department, there is a cultural change that has to occur,” he said at the Cipher Brief conference here. “Cultural change is difficult. It’s hard work. There are folks that are patiently and persistently trying to push the department. You have to deal with frustration. You have to deal with people who don’t understand. There may be areas where vision is lacking; you have to continue to hammer at that. There are thousands of members of the Department of Defense who come to work every day to fight that fight. There are certainly the frustrated few who fight that fight and say, ‘I can’t take it anymore I’ve got to go.'”

Groen said the U.S. military has finally reached a point where it can begin to develop and support faster software development through a joint common foundation—essentially, a development environment for building, testing and sharing AI tools and software across services and within the department. The JAIC has also launched a new AI accelerator, AIDA, to allow services to much more quickly build and fund AI solutions.

Lawmakers have said that next year’s National Defense Authorization Act will also feature more money for emerging technology research with a particular focus on AI.

“It is really important that we harness innovation in ways that are organized effectively.

Let’s create integrated architectures so that we capture the technology. I think we are doing a good job of that. I honestly don’t think we are beholden to anybody here,” said Groen.

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