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DoD AI: Using Artificial Intelligence to Improve Military Operations

Shari Ingerman, Appian Public Sector
February 23, 2024

With all the recent discussion about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models (LLMS) like ChatGPT, you may think that AI is a new phenomenon. But in fact, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has been investing in AI for more than 60 years.

Table of Contents

DoD AI implementations.

Important considerations for DoD AI.

Mitigating security concerns of AI at defense agencies.

Building an AI workforce.

Ethical considerations of DoD AI implementation.

AI and process automation.

DoD AI implementations.

The US Department of Defense has invested billions of dollars to integrate artificial intelligence capabilities into its warfighting and non-warfighting operations to maintain America’s strategic position and prevail on future battlefields. Applications of AI at the DoD include:

  • Cybersecurity

  • Surveillance and analyzing intelligence

  • Unmanned vehicles and autonomous weapon systems, such as drones

  • Predicting maintenance needs

  • Providing recommendations to warfighters on the battlefield

  • Simulations and training

  • Vetting security clearances and analyzing personnel health screenings

  • Procurement of goods and services

  • Resolving unmatched financial transactions

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While AI has been around for some time, what is new are recent technological developments like machine learning (ML), big data, and open-source tools, which have led to increased popularity and advancements in AI—including at the DoD. 

Important considerations for DoD AI.

The DoD is committed to continuing to explore and develop AI-enabled capabilities to maintain technological advantages on the battlefield. However, due to the sensitive nature of defense operations, it is vital to address several issues:

  • AI security

  • AI workforce

  • Ethical concerns

Mitigating security concerns of AI at defense agencies.

The integration of AI within defense agencies can introduce significant security challenges.

Data security is a paramount concern, particularly in defense applications where sensitive military and intelligence information is involved. The reliance on large datasets for training AI models poses risks related to data security. 

[ Get the guide, Implementing Private AI, to learn how to safeguard your data and restrict the data set used in AI models. ] 

The protection of large data sets used for training AI models is crucial to prevent unauthorized access, manipulation, or theft. Defense agencies must prioritize secure data storage, implement strong access controls, and encrypt sensitive information across the enterprise to safeguard against potential breaches. Additionally, ensuring the integrity of the data used for training is essential to prevent biases and distortions that could compromise the reliability and fairness of AI-driven decision-making processes.

Adversarial attacks also pose a substantial threat. Malicious actors may exploit vulnerabilities in machine learning models by manipulating input data to mislead the AI system’s decision-making processes. 

In a defense context, adversarial attacks could have severe consequences if exploited to deceive autonomous systems or compromise the integrity of decision-making algorithms, potentially compromising the effectiveness of military operations. Mitigating adversarial risks requires continuous monitoring, robust model validation, and the implementation of defensive mechanisms to enhance the resilience of AI systems against intentional manipulations.

Resilience of DoD AI systems is an important consideration in the face of intentional attacks or attempts to disrupt their operation. Implementing measures to detect and respond to cyber threats is essential to maintaining the functionality and effectiveness of AI-driven defense capabilities.

System vulnerabilities represent a broader challenge, encompassing potential weaknesses in the overall architecture and design of AI systems. As with any technology, AI systems may have exploitable vulnerabilities that malicious actors could target. Thorough security assessments, regular audits, and the implementation of robust cybersecurity measures are imperative to protect AI military applications from unauthorized access, manipulation, or disruption. 

Strengthening the overall security posture of AI applications within defense agencies requires a proactive and vigilant approach to identify and address potential vulnerabilities throughout the development and deployment lifecycle. It is crucial to conduct thorough security assessments and implement robust cybersecurity measures to protect AI systems from unauthorized access, manipulation, or disruption.

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Building an AI workforce.

In keeping with the rest of the government, the US Department of Defense has recognized the strategic importance of cultivating a skilled and capable workforce in the artificial intelligence space. Acknowledging the transformative impact of AI on defense capabilities, the DoD has undertaken initiatives to attract, train, and retain personnel with expertise in AI technologies. This focus on workforce development encompasses various components, including specialized training programs, educational partnerships with academic institutions, and collaborations with industry experts. The goal is to equip military personnel and defense professionals with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively harness artificial intelligence capabilities in areas such as autonomous systems, data analysis, and decision support.

Moreover, the DoD's commitment to building an AI-ready workforce extends beyond traditional military roles, recognizing the interdisciplinary nature of AI applications. Efforts are made to integrate AI expertise across different branches of the military and civilian sectors within the DoD, fostering a collaborative environment where diverse skills contribute to the development and implementation of AI solutions. By investing in the education and training of capable AI resources, the DoD aims to maintain technological superiority, enhance operational efficiency, and address the evolving challenges of modern warfare in an increasingly AI-driven landscape.

Ethical considerations of DoD AI implementation.

Another concern regarding the use of AI in defense organizations is how to protect privacy and human rights. Striking a balance between national security interests and individual rights requires careful consideration of the implications of AI applications, especially for surveillance and data collection. Ethical guidelines should be established to govern the use of AI in lethal autonomous weapons systems, ensuring compliance with international humanitarian laws and minimizing the risk of unintended consequences. 

Ultimately, a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach involving policymakers, ethicists, technologists, and the public is essential to shape responsible AI practices within defense agencies and safeguard ethical principles in the rapidly evolving landscape of technology and national security. Robust oversight mechanisms and regular audits are necessary to monitor AI system performance, identify potential issues, and make necessary adjustments.

AI and process automation.

AI doesn't operate in isolation; it is reliant on data and integration into processes. 

Data serves as the fuel for AI, which excels in interpreting and analyzing data, providing human workers with actionable intelligence. AI relies on machine learning models that demand extensive data sets for training to recognize patterns and correlations. The sustained success and adaptability of AI systems depend on the consistent flow of pertinent data to learn and understand patterns.

The relationship between AI and processes is equally significant. Processes provide the framework for the effective implementation of AI, guiding how tasks are executed, data is handled, and decisions are made. Without a structured and integrated approach, AI might operate in isolation, limiting its potential impact. 

Integrating AI into processes allows for the seamless exchange of information and decision-making between humans and AI. This collaborative approach ensures that AI complements human expertise, providing valuable insights and augmenting decision-making. Processes help in routing decisions back and forth between humans and AI, highlighting the importance of a well-defined workflow in maximizing the value derived from AI technology.

Recognizing the interplay between AI and processes is crucial for realizing the full value of AI in various applications.This integration also enables AI models to continuously learn and adapt to changing situations and ensure their relevance and optimal performance over time.

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