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Congress Pushes Pentagon to Rapidly Modernize and Adopt AI for Future Military Strategy

As Russia intensifies its use of military drones in Ukraine and China incorporates advanced artificial intelligence (AI) into its global military strategies, the Pentagon grapples with keeping up. Congress is pushing for the military to modernize more swiftly via upcoming legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).


Experts widely agree that the US military's future competitiveness hinges on its speed in acquiring and deploying AI and other state-of-the-art technologies. These tools are crucial to enhancing intelligence gathering, operating autonomous weapons, improving surveillance platforms, and advancing robotic vehicles. If not addressed promptly, US military superiority could be undermined.


Yet, bureaucratic procedures for procurement and contracting have slowed the pace of technological adoption, which favors traditional hardware. To tackle this, Senators Mark Warner, Michael Bennet, and Todd Young introduced a bill to assess how the US is performing in critical technologies like AI compared to its competitors.


In addition, the 2024 NDAA, currently under negotiation, includes provisions targeting AI, such as using generative AI in information warfare, introducing new autonomous systems, and preparing for an AI-driven future.


Representative Seth Moulton and Senator Angus King have voiced concerns over the military's slow progress in AI. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense (DOD) has acknowledged the need to evolve, citing the changing nature of warfare and rapid advancement of AI technology.


The Pentagon is investing $1.8 billion in AI research, development, testing, and evaluation this year, and an additional $1.4 billion for a project to consolidate data from all AI-enabled technologies and sensors.


Despite these investments, there are challenges. The rapid evolution of AI, particularly generative AI that mimics human communication, is a concern. To address this, the Senate version of the 2024 NDAA proposes a competition to detect and tag content created by generative AI and urges the Pentagon to develop tools to monitor and evaluate information campaigns.


Another approach to speeding up AI development involves creating a new office dedicated to autonomous systems, as suggested by Representative Rob Wittman. The proposed Joint Autonomy Office would coordinate the development, testing, and deployment of significant autonomy projects across the military branches.


Despite past efforts, the Pentagon has struggled to adapt to the rapid development of digital technology. Current initiatives aim to overcome these challenges, though procurement rules for traditional weapons don't translate well to acquiring new AI-enabled software technologies.


The House and Senate must now reconcile their versions of the NDAA before it can be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

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