Bridging known gaps with proven technology in the AI arms race

The emergence of AI is transforming the landscape of modern warfare, solidifying its position as a decisive force multiplier. Much like previous examples of force multipliers–nuclear weapons, precision-guided munitions, and electronic warfare–AI capabilities will play a pivotal role in deterrence and dictating the outcomes of military conflicts. With these stakes at the forefront, Mark Brunner, President of Primer Federal, joined Emerj Senior Editor, Matthew DeMello on the AI In Business Podcast and examined three major gaps between the Department of Defense’s (DoD) current AI capabilities and the race for AI-enabled decision superiority with the People’s Republic of China. What follows are the key takeaways from their discussion. 

“The nation that builds and deploys AI capabilities first will seize an extraordinary advantage. They will likely push the lead, possibly irretrievably.”

Mark Brunner, President, Public Sector @ Primer

Closing known gaps: A critical first step in winning the arms race

Brunner and DeMello tackled the critical question of identifying the key disparities between the Department of Defense’s existing AI capabilities and the fierce competition against China. Brunner emphasized the fallacy of relying on a single, groundbreaking leap to secure victory in this race. Often those one-time leap-ahead strategies are brittle and difficult to incorporate as newer technology becomes available. Instead, it’s the incremental changes, when done right, that can lead to exponential and decisive change.

Brunner emphasized the importance of starting with the areas where we have known and proven AI technology to fill the gaps. By doing so, we can free up our highly skilled military personnel for the tasks that require their specialized capabilities. He suggested starting with the following gaps:

  • Situational awareness: During watch turnover on a U.S. Navy warship, or a shift change at an assembly plant, vital information can be lost due to human errors which can have serious ramifications. That’s where AI tools can step in. Brunner explained how AI technology tirelessly extracts, summarizes, and updates mission-critical information 24/7. Because machines never sleep, watch teams and commanders can have a complete operating picture at all times, and therefore make more informed decisions with minimal delay.  
  • Mission planning: Flight preparation for military pilots is a time-consuming task involving extensive flight planning, map analysis, poring over maps, airport requirements, pilot readiness, and more. AI technology revolutionizes this process by automating manual processes and offering precise go/no-go insights. This automation not only saves valuable time for skilled pilots and flight crews but it also enables them to focus on high-value tasks unique to their expertise.
  • Intelligence analysis: In the military intelligence community, analysts are required to meticulously collect and process hundreds of data points while operating in high-stress and fast paced environments. Attention to detail and timeliness are paramount. These data points come in many forms, such as audio, visual, and text which can often be messy and unstructured. Brunner discussed how AI has been able to transform this process by cuing the most important documents and automatically extracting the entities, locations, and topics they care most about. This reduces time to insight from hours to minutes, freeing up people for that next level of analysis.

“We’re not looking to replace the human in the loop, but simply to provide the human operator better information.”

Mark Brunner, President, Public Sector @ Primer

Expanded access required for creating refined, curated solutions

To ensure effective bridging of these known gaps, it’s crucial for the AI solutions to receive input from military operators and other end users. Brunner highlighted that our experience working with the defense industry has revealed a significant obstacle: limited access between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the innovation community. This access challenge prevents the technology sector from iteratively refining solutions that precisely meet mission requirements. If access is established from the outset, these solutions can be developed more efficiently and deployed faster, bypassing years of iteration.

To succeed, Brunner explained how AI companies must be able to engage directly with end users in order to understand their challenges and tailor solutions to their specific needs. By training end users and stakeholders and shaping technology to their needs, AI solutions gain stakeholder buy-in and ensure that the technology meets the requirements of the warfighter.

“Leaders within the DoD—and, candidly, across the government—really should focus on continual improvement and be open to new ideas and approaches rather than seeking that one-time revolutionary breakthrough… that strategy can be fairly brittle because it’s very hard to iterate and incorporate newer technology.”

Mark Brunner, President, Public Sector @ Primer

Future proofing through short term risks

Returning to the initial point, Brunner and DeMello emphasized the significance of adopting a “think small” mentality. It may seem counterintuitive, but the cumulative impact of small changes is substantial, akin to the compounding interest on a savings account. The second order effect of filling known gaps buys back time for the military’s operators to deliver more value-added work – and this can lead to big change.

Brunner underscored the imperative of embracing a “think small” mindset while simultaneously cultivating a willingness to embrace short-term risks to remain in step with the rapid advancements in technology. By daring to undertake short-term risks, we safeguard ourselves from enduring long-term risk and a dangerous future, wherein we find ourselves trailing behind in a global arms race.

At Primer, we think the road to winning the AI arms race starts by filling the known gaps in the military – in areas like situational awareness, mission planning, and streamlining intelligence analysis – with proven AI technology, and then leveraging the cascading benefits to seize irretrievable advantage. 

To learn more about Primer’s work with the defense and intelligence communities, visit