Without JEDI, Pentagon’s Artificial Intelligence Efforts May Be Hindered

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The Pentagon won’t be able to maximize artificial intelligence’s true capabilities without an enterprise cloud solution, something it’s currently trying to contract out.

The Defense Department needs enterprise cloud computing to make the most of its ambitious plans for artificial intelligence, according to Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, who leads the department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

There’s just one problem: The Pentagon doesn’t have those cloud capabilities yet, and its plan to acquire them—through the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract—is tied up in court.

“You cannot get to true impact at scale with AI without an enterprise cloud solution,” Shanahan said Thursday, speaking at an event in Washington, D.C. hosted by Nextgov and Defense One.

“Now, as you know, there’s an ongoing project in the department to get to that enterprise cloud.”

At that, Shanahan stopped and told the audience, “You can say the four letters, I cannot.”

Through the JEDI contract, the Pentagon aims to put a commercial company in charge of hosting and distributing mission-critical workloads and classified data to warfighters around the globe in a single cloud computing environment. That environment would also process large swaths of military and defense data and serve as the computing and analytics workhorse for artificial intelligence applications.

Pentagon officials accepted bids from at least four companies in October—Amazon Web Services, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft—and had expected to award the 10-year, $10 billion contract in April. Yet two bid protests and a lawsuit, filed by Oracle, have put any JEDI award on hold for at least another three months. The Defense Department is currently investigating whether claims by Oracle that an AWS employee who formerly worked for the Pentagon may have improperly impacted the procurement.

For now, it’s clear the Pentagon’s plans to pursue AI-powered weapons will be limited without enterprise cloud computing—the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gun fight with adversaries like China ramping up AI investment at breakneck speed.

“We have so many elements of this that would be far more successful with an enterprise cloud solution than it will be with a hardware stack,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan added that JAIC’s plans to stand up a “foundation” cloud solution are also on hold “pending resolution of the bigger cloud contract.”