Pentagon reveals new details on how it’s spending for ambitious AI overhaul

Pentagon reveals new details on how it’s spending for ambitious AI overhaul

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The Pentagon provided a glimpse inside its artificial intelligence overhaul this week, disclosing new details about the government’s spending for its Replicator program and the capabilities it is looking to create.

The Department of Defense announced it allocated about $500 million in fiscal year 2024 to the Replicator program, which aims to field multiple thousands of all-domain autonomous systems by August 2025.

The first capabilities the Pentagon project will fund with taxpayers’ cash include tech for aerial drones and to counter such drones.

The success or failure of Replicator may depend on the speed with which the Pentagon moves to meet its 2025 deadline.

Defense Innovation Unit Director Doug Beck said Tuesday he is working to get the department to rethink its appetite for risk as it toils to meet its deadline and and build repeatable processes for delivering the drones at the scale desired.

DIU is playing a lead role in implementing the Replicator project, and Mr. Beck told AI companies at a major exposition in Washington that the obstacle to moving fast is the government’s culture.

“It’s not about the tech and it’s not about the money, it’s all about culture,” Mr. Beck said. “We need to get much, much, much, much faster. We got to get better at taking process risk, financial risk, reputational risk … so that we avoid transferring that into very real risk to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardians, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, who have to fight a future war if we have to fight.”

To get Silicon Valley’s risk-taking investors and entrepreneurs to gamble their fortunes alongside the Pentagon, Mr. Beck told the Special Competitive Studies Project’s gathering that the Department of Defense needs to show it can accomplish its task.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said earlier this week the Pentagon is working to prove it.

“We are demonstrating the department’s ability to break down barriers to scaling innovation at speed not just for [all-domain attritable autonomous] systems, but in our ability to develop new capabilities and processes for the department and key stakeholders, including Congress,” Ms. Hicks said in a statement.

While the Pentagon is withholding details about the capabilities Replicator is intended to create in the maritime domain and to counter aerial drones as classified, the department disclosed some information about its progress to field autonomous systems.

The Department of Defense is working with California-based AeroVironment for aerial drones and has received more than 100 applications from companies for work on drones in the maritime domain.

More than 150 exhibitors are attending the Special Competitive Studies Project’s AI Expo for National Competitiveness in Washington this week and are eager to work with government consumers.

The Replicator initiative’s aspirations of producing thousands of autonomous systems are just the beginning of what military experts expect the U.S. to pursue.

Retired Army Gen. Mark A. Milley told the gathering that the coming overhaul of the military would be driven by robotics.

“UAVs is the most common one today, but you’re going to see, within 10 to 15 years, about a third of the U.S. military is going to be robotic,” Gen. Milley said on Tuesday. “Sailorless ships, pilotless aircraft, crewless tanks.”

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