The Leadership Key to Moving the Department of Defense Towards a Data-Driven Future > US Department of Defense > Defense Department News


In April, the Department of Defense hired a former computer science professor and head of machine learning for Lyft to elevate digital and artificial intelligence strategy development and policy formulation.

As Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer, Craig Martell is responsible for accelerating the adoption of AI data, analytics, digital solutions and capabilities. But moving the federal government’s largest agency toward a data-driven future is a difficult task. Such a task will require a skilled leader and will require many people to believe in the value of what the DOD is trying to achieve, said Under Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks.

“I think leadership is extremely important,” Hicks said. “And how leaders speak, use their time, lead the system, hold people accountable – will be very important here. The Secretary and I are ready to be at the forefront of this, to be part of this change and to help Dr. Martell do the same, with the team and CDAO.”

A key part of leadership is holding people accountable, Hicks said, and that can be a challenge. Unlike private corporations, there are, legally, many different sub-components with different mandates – some of which may not always fully align with what the department is trying to achieve. Additionally, she said, lawmakers may also have different ideas about how the Department of Defense should carry out its mission — they also have a say.

Hicks said tackling what motivates people — incentives — is how the department will pursue its data and AI goals.

“The heart of how you change culture is that you go after the incentives,” Hicks said. “So far, part of our theory is showing, especially combatant commanders or commanders at the operational level… what can’t they be without.”

What this means for the department’s drive toward a data-driven future is to show those most invested in the DOD mission what the department is trying to accomplish, how it will make it easier for them to accomplish their own part of the mission, and how it will save the ministry money in the process.

“More than anything, what we want to do is be able to find those use cases and unlock the potential of decision makers like the secretary, in the field, to the fighter to show them how they can achieve their goals. , their military goals, operational goals on behalf of the United States — better, smarter, faster with… this toolkit,” Hicks said.

Right now, Hicks said, the Department of Defense is not where it needs to be in its data mining and analysis. Part of CADD [chief digital and artificial intelligence officer] mandate will be to change that.

“I sit as COO [chief operating officer] of the DOD, on top of the largest organization in the world,” she said. “And we are under-equipped in terms of the analytical capacity that we tend to bring to issues relating to the scale of our size and the kinds of consequences of the challenges that we face. Data is another way, an avenue, to better analysis, better fact-finding, understanding how to see ourselves, understanding how to see our opponents and all the other facets of a situation.”

From understanding the true costs of sustainment efforts or ongoing logistics to assist Ukraine, Hicks said, effective data analysis is key.

“What if we could really analyze all this data in a fast way – with AI – and even then be predictive?” she says. “It shows so much potential…and then as you get closer to the…sensor to shooter part, you start to see the benefit for data and for AI and CADD [chief digital and artificial intelligence officer] build…as that tech stack tightens and there’s a virtuous feedback cycle, really giving the United States that advantage on the decision-making side, [and the] accuracy/prediction side.”


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