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DOD CDAO Top Goals Include Improving User Experience, JADC2

CIO John Sherman and new CDAO Craig Martell reveal priorities for the department’s approach to AI.

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image of John Sherman, CIO, Department of Defense.
Photo Credit: Chad McNeeley, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs/DVIDS

The Defense Department’s new Chief Digital and AI Officer Craig Martell has been on the job for three days. In fact, he doesn’t have his DOD Common Access Card (CAC) yet. But he already has a roadmap for his priorities: improving user experience and aligning new AI products and services with combatant commanders’ mission needs by balancing tactical and strategic initiatives.

“One of the things we talk about is user experience, and that’s something we’re going to be working on,” said DOD CIO John Sherman during a fireside chat with Martell at the DOD Digital & AI Symposium Wednesday. “The ADA (AI and Data Accelerator) initiative, which will be one of your (Martell’s) flagship activities, with [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Kathleen Hicks’ full backing, you’ll be working with combatant commanders to really see what the problems are to unlock their data and help them get ahead of their particular problem sets, which will admittedly vary.”

Sherman said Martell will have a “key” role in implementing the department’s Joint All-Domain Command-and-Control (JADC2) initiative as well and expects Martell’s AI efforts to help the department “get better at zero trust.”

“We need to make sure CDAO has the very best technology to get after those mission sets,” Sherman said.

Improving user experience also drives Martell’s vision for AI across the defense enterprise.

“When we deploy [technologies and capabilities], when we do something like ADA or within Ukraine, how do we make sure the foundation of today will serve us tomorrow?” he said during the fireside chat Wednesday. “The bureaucracy is real. We need to find the right gaps and places where we can leverage value that will drive a cycle of change. A lot of folks believe DOD should be more like industry, some of that is true, but we shouldn’t force a square peg in a round hole. We need to keep the DOD, but make it more efficient.”

Martell’s new office will have a direct impact on JADC2, according to Marine Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, who serves as director for Command, Control, Communications, and Computers / Cyber and CIO for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (J6).

“The speed of warfighting, the decision-makers are inundated with the amount of data,” he said at the symposium Wednesday. “We’re talking about hypersonics, the window of decision-making has shrunk considerably. That’s the gamechanger. There is a thought that JADC2 is only sensor to shooter, when really it’s about decision-making and data.”

The biggest challenge facing JADC2 implementation right now is being able to test operations at the tactical edge.

“If we did these in a garrisoned environment where power is stable, you have a lot of options — clean data centers, big data centers, reliable connections,” Crall said. “In the warfighting environment, it’s different. We’re operating in areas that are very austere where typical data distribution services may not be available at all and then you have an active adversary looking to disrupt the electromagnetic spectrum to further limit that ability. We have to do processing at the edge, what are those critical decisions and calculations and can we do this in a disconnected environment?”

AI capabilities and the new CDAO office’s focus on improving the warfighter’s user experience will help address these questions and concerns to help make JADC2 a reality.

“If this is about decision-making at speed, we ought to divide up our problem at speed,” Crall said about how AI applications can harness data for decision-making much faster than a human. “If you have to make decisions in milliseconds, where is the data? We’ve always had the right data for the right solutions, we just don’t know how to harness it. We should have due diligence to make sure IT solutions have warfighter input. We need to make sure IT storage solutions make sense at the tactical edge and make sure policies don’t get in the way.”

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