DOD's AI portfolio skews toward research, GAO reports

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A recent watchdog report tallies nearly 700 projects that are mostly in the R&D phase.

The Defense Department’s laser focus on artificial intelligence research and development in recent years has spurred at least 685 projects, ranging from unmanned systems to perfecting target recognition. But the data is incomplete, according to a recent watchdog report. 

The Army boasts approximately 232 AI projects with 23 that have turned into procurement programs and the rest in research and development, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report

The Navy came in second with 215 AI projects, about 39 funded through procurement. Other defense organizations, including combatant commands and DOD components, have about 125 projects but only eight funded via procurement dollars. The Marine Corps and Air Force had the least with 33 and 80 projects, respectively. 

The count, which is derived from an April 2021 report to Congress, doesn’t include classified or those funded through operations and maintenance accounts because DOD doesn’t yet have the ability to drill down to that level of specificity and accurately track AI budgets. 

Congress required the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to produce an initial inventory list of AI projects in 2021. According to the GAO report, JAIC officials said more AI projects could be identified once “they are able to analyze classified as well as operations and maintenance budget documentation, but could not estimate how many,” according to the report. 

That could change as there’s more congressional pressure to track how well AI projects are doing. The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act requires the defense secretary to review potential applications for AI into the department’s platforms, processes, and operations, and create performance objectives and metrics for incorporating the technology. The requirement, which is due 180 days after the law was enacted, also carries an assessment of skill gaps in the military departments and defense organizations.

GAO reported that defense officials are refining their methodology to address limitations and “expects this new system—known as the DOD AI Inventory Portfolio Analytics Tool—to support future iterations of the Joint AI Center’s inventory of AI activities provided to Congress.” 

The GAO recommended DOD “develop a high-level plan or roadmap documenting requirements, activities, and milestones that support the preparation of the department’s AI portfolio inventory and budget data.”

The report comes less than a month after the Pentagon stood up its newly created Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office, which oversees the JAIC and aims to synchronize DOD’s AI efforts, while handpicking which ones to scale and accelerate