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ADA Initiative Provides Clues to DOD’s AI Roadmap with CDAO

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks discusses CDAO’s role in making data-informed decisions and using the ADA initiative to guide AI investments.

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image of Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee Kathleen Hicks reacts to a statement during her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C. Feb. 2, 2021.
Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee Kathleen Hicks reacts to a statement during her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C. Feb. 2, 2021. Photo Credit: DoD photo by EJ Hersom/DVIDS

One year into the Defense Department’s three-year AI and Data Accelerator Initiative (ADA), Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks sees many of the program’s insights impacting the vision of the department’s new Chief Digital and AI Office (CDAO) headed by Craig Martell.

“I’m very pleased with where we are a year in, there’s a lot of enthusiasm with ADA,” Hicks said Wednesday at the 2022 DOD Digital and AI Symposium. “We’ve been seeing common problem solutions where problem sets can come in and tailor problems and get solutions out sooner. The next national evolution is to make sure that we are ahead of the curve, not chasing the curve. ADA is proving its worth and anything that follows it will naturally build on it.”

ADA is just one example of what led to the CDAO to materialize. The office grew from what had already been built around data and AI at DOD, Hicks said.

“We see a lot of natural-use cases, questions that combatant commanders really want help answering, and the ability to apply answers through ADA,” Hicks said.

The initiative revealed AI maturity levels differed by organization throughout DOD.

“Unsurprisingly, there are different maturity levels throughout the department, of course, but also, of course, throughout the combatant commands,” Hicks said. “And so, some had already been further along their own journey on adoption of both AI and data than others. And so, we’re kind of, by necessity, sort of pacing to that.”

DOD also found that many of the problems are common and/or are common solution approaches.

“We have this centralized repository of knowledge and expertise and data and tools and contract vehicles and folks who understand how to use contract vehicles for this purpose, and then these problem sets can come in and we can tailor, if you will, more easily and get solutions out faster. I think that’s what we’ve seen to date,” Hicks said.

Making data-informed decisions from the boardroom to the battlefield will continue to be a top priority for the CDAO. Hicks wants decisions to be based on facts and knowledge.

“Data is another way, an avenue toward better analysis and better fact finding and understanding how to see ourselves and understanding how to see our adversaries and all other facets of a situation,” she said. “Data informs everything, and we’re able to show that promise of what unlocking that can do and then add predictive analysis shows so much potential.”

Innovating around bureaucracy is an area the CDAO plans to address in a meaningful way.

“Leadership is incredibly important,” Hicks said. “How they speak, use their time and hold people accountable. Aligning incentives correctly can be tricky in the department, people have different views of what they think the department should achieve. We will look to [CDAO] Craig Martell to help us on what he thinks about these changes.”

“Find use cases and unlock the potential for decision-makers to show them how they can achieve their military objectives better, smarter and faster with this tool kit,” she added.

Hicks believes the CDAO will only enhance ADA, which she announced last year.

Now that the CDAO has reached full operating capability, Hicks hopes it will carve out a path to AI success across DOD.

“It’s important to applaud the team. We must advance quickly on challenges that the warfighter faces. What we want to do is leverage state-of-the-art capabilities to increase accuracy, speed of decision-making and quality to deliver effects,” Hicks said.

“We need to defend the nation with integrated deterrence, campaigning and building an advantage. We need to access the data out there and we need a system and approach in the department to deliver that and be the go-to place to get after these problems,” she added.

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