Military Embedded Systems

TECHNOLOGY UPDATE: U.S. military trialing AI tools for more than battlefield advantage


June 20, 2024

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Image: Brian Penny/Pixabay

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the military is getting a lot of press these days, and indications are that the buzz around it will only increase.

While AI tools promise to aid deployed troops on the battlefield and in the air, to be sure, they also may find a place on bases, in back-office installations, and performing more mundane – but still critical – military tasks.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) signaled its commitment to AI in all parts of the military in August 2023, when Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks established the Task Force Lima within the Chief Digital and AI Office (CDAO) as a vehicle to help the Pentagon assess, synchronize, and employ generative AI, which is broadly associated with large language models that generate (convincing but not always accurate) text, media, and software code based on human prompts. At the time, Hicks set an 18-month deadline by which the team was expected to produce deliverables plus a workable path forward that would guide the DoD’s approach to using AI.

The mission commander of Task Force Lima, U.S. Navy Captain M. Xavier Lugo, was quoted in a CDAO news release at the time of the task force’s launch that the services and commands are actively seeking to leverage the benefits and manage the risks of generative AI capabilities and LLMs across multiple mission areas, including intelligence, operational planning, programmatic and business processes. “By prioritizing efforts, reducing duplication, and providing enabling AI scaffolding, Task Force Lima will be able to shape the effective and responsible implementation of LLMs [large language models] throughout the DoD.”

During the 18-month run time of the task force – as laid out by Deputy Secretary Hicks at the time of its inception – personnel will test AI on use cases like automating routine tasks and day-to-day activities for DoD personnel. In this way, users can test AI tools on lower-stakes tasks before the DoD goes all in on AI on the battlefield, in the air, and in the cyber domain.

Another AI project is the recent initiative by the Department of the Air Force (DAF), in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), which is currently promoting ways to enable Air Force and Space Force members, civilian employees, and contractors to responsibly experiment with generative AI to perform data-heavy yet not-as-critical tasks.

The Air Force has launched NIPRGPT, an experimental bridge to leverage generative AI on the Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network. According to the June 2024 announcement issued by the Air Force Public Affairs office, NIPRGPT emerged as part of the Dark Saber software platform developed at the AFRL Information Directorate (Rome, New York). Dark Saber is an ecosystem of Air Force and Space Force personnel from across the DAF that brings together innovators and developers and equips them to create next-generation software and operational capabilities deployable to the other users at a rapid pace.

NIPRGPT is a free (to the unit and users) AI chatbot that allows users to have human-like conversations to complete various tasks. The GenAI tool answers user questions and assists with tasks such as correspondence, locating background papers, and coding, all within a secure computing environment.

The experiment, as DAF officials described it in the launch announcement, is a chance to perform lower-stakes (for now) real-world testing, focused on such key metrics as computational efficiency, resource utilization, and security compliance, enabling users and officers to understand GenAI’s practical applications and challenges and ensure that future implementation is effective and efficient. DAF officials noted in the document that the platform includes opportunities for users to provide feedback, which ultimately will help to develop AI-oriented governing policies and enable informed conversations with vendors as the DAF works to integrate these tools into its operations at higher levels.

“Technology is learned by doing,” stated Chandra Donelson, the DAF’s acting chief data and AI officer, in the announcement. “As our warfighters, who are closest to the problems, are learning the technology, we are leveraging their insights to inform future policy, acquisition, and investment decisions.”

“NIPRGPT is a critical bridge to ensure we get the best tools we have into our team’s hands while larger commercial tools are navigating our intense security parameters and other processes,” AFRL chief information officer Alexis Bonnell noted in the DAF intro to the technology. “Changing how we interact with unstructured knowledge is not instant perfection; we each must learn to use the tools, query, and get the best results. NIPRGPT will allow airmen and Guardians to explore and build skills and familiarity as more powerful tools become available.”

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