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Two top Pentagon names are in a pissing match, revealing further Pentagon discord

(Left) Fmr. Air Force Chief Software Officer Nicolas Chaillan (U.S. Air Force photo) | (Right) Army Chief Information Officer for IT Reform Raj Iyer (U.S. Army photo)
October 15, 2021

After former Pentagon software chief Nicolas Chaillan claimed last weekend that the U.S had already fallen behind in the race for artificial intelligence to China and has “kindergarten level” cyber defenses, a top Army IT expert pushed back and said Chaillan’s claim is “absolutely untrue.”

In an interview the Financial Times published Sunday, Chaillan said, “We have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion.”

In a response interview published Wednesday by Breaking Defense, Dr. Raj Iyer, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Information Technology Reform in the Office of the Secretary of the Army, said “It’s absolutely not true.”

While Chaillan claimed part of the reason the U.S. is lagging behind China in the race for AI is that private firms like Google have been reluctant to join the effort, Iyer claimed the Pentagon has “tight integration” with industry and “our coalition partners” and share “trade intelligence information and other things” to aid the AI development effort.

As the Army’s CIO for IT reform, Iyer is the principal advisor on all matters relating to information management and information technology (IM/IT) for the Secretary of the Army.

“I can tell you what the Chinese don’t have that,” Iyer told Breaking Defense. “They’re operating in a vacuum, and they’re relying on nefarious methods and cyberattacks to be able to get to, you know, what they think they know that we have.”

Iyer did admit China excels in terms of determining actual uses for its AI systems but said the U.S. goals for AI are different and, in terms of actual AI technology, the U.S. has the better systems.

“[China does] a really good job of maintaining control people using AI,” Iyer said. “Obviously, we don’t do that in United States, but if you looked at both what we have in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community, across the federal government and our industrial partners, we have the best AI technology.”

Chaillan responded to Iyer’s interview in a Thursday post on his LinkedIn page. He began his post with, “Always interesting to compare the reactions of real leaders like Frank Kendall III versus incompetent ones like Raj Iyer, Ph.D. MBA.”

In his earlier remarks about the military’s IT strategy, Chaillan said while the U.S. outspends China in terms of its defense budget, that money is spent inefficiently and on “redundant and siloed” IT systems. In his Thursday LinkedIn post, Chaillan said Iyer “is the perfect example of the problems I am describing of our Department of Defense.”

“Since his arrival, [Iyer] has stopped tremendous partnerships with the Air Force on Cloud One and pushed his teams to build his own siloed Army Cloud and his own DevSecOps stack despite DoD Platform One being light years ahead,” Chaillan wrote. “His ego led to more waste of tax payer money than I’ve seen before. He even said publicly few months back on LinkedIn when I challenged him that it is healthy to have competition against the Army and Air Force. How about we wake up and realize we must be One Team One Fight and compete against China instead?”

In his LinkedIn post, Chaillan then said he never claimed the U.S. had already lost to China but “we will if we don’t wake up.”