Pentagon names new top official for digital and AI

Defense official Radha Plumb, shown here at a 2022 meeting of the Defense Business Board, is set to take over as the Pentagon's top AI official.

Defense official Radha Plumb, shown here at a 2022 meeting of the Defense Business Board, is set to take over as the Pentagon's top AI official. DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando

Radha Plumb, currently deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, will replace Craig Martell as Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer on April 8.

The Pentagon announced on Thursday that Craig Martell — the first head of the department’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office, or CDAO — will be stepping down from his role next month.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Radha Plumb will serve as the next Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer beginning on April 8. No reason was immediately given for Martell’s impending departure.

“Craig and the entire CDAO team had a monumental task of bringing together the diverse talents and cultures of four organizations to advance data, AI and analytics for our national security, and deliver tangible results in a short time,” Austin said. “Dr. Martell and the CDAO team have delivered on those goals and his work will have a lasting impact on how the department approaches every data and AI driven task.”

Martell was appointed to helm the newly-created CDAO in April 2022 after serving as the head of machine learning at rideshare company Lyft. He also previously held machine learning and AI-related roles with LinkedIn and Dropbox and also worked as a computer science professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Since CDAO’s establishment, the office has worked to streamline and expand the Pentagon’s adoption of emerging technologies. Under Martell’s watch, CDAO developed DOD’s data, analytics and AI adoption strategy to help outline the department’s adoption of new digital tools, and also released a responsible AI toolkit to drive the Pentagon’s commitment to ethical uses of AI. The organization also stood up an initiative — known as Task Force Lima — to explore potential uses of generative AI technologies.

CDAO has also played a key role in DOD’s implementation of the combined joint all-domain command and control — or CJADC2 — initiative, which is designed to enhance interoperability across different military domains. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, who oversees CDAO, announced in February that the department had achieved “the minimum viable capability for CJADC2” after she challenged the organization last summer to produce a basic version of the initiative by the end of 2023.

In announcing Plumb’s impending transition to CDAO, Austin praised her ability to build out the nation’s defense industrial base and supply chain capabilities in her current role and said her “technical expertise and strategic acumen will enhance the CDAO's innovative efforts.” 

Plumb has served as deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment since April 2023 and previously served as chief of staff to the deputy secretary of Defense. Like Martell, Plumb also has experience working in the commercial sector, including as the director of research and insights for trust and safety at Google and as the global head of policy analysis at Facebook.