For years leaders in the Defence industry have known that the US Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology lead over China is narrowing. Recent findings from the Atlantic Council confirm that this isn’t due to the lack of innovative AI technology being developed by US tech firms – it’s an innovation adoption problem.
Speed of deployment is the determining factor
Unlike in the US and other western countries, advanced AI technology companies in China have a clear path to government contracts. In the US, this same contract process takes years. If it takes years to get the technology in the hands of warfighters and leaders, then the advantage is gone.
To comprehensively address these known challenges the Atlantic Council launched its final report today by the Commission on Defense Innovation Adoption. In 2022 the Atlantic Council formed a Commission to “take the DoD’s acquisition process, and Congress’ role in that system, out of the Cold War era.” Their objective was to provide recommendations for how Department of Defence (DoD) officials can recalibrate the department’s risk tolerance, realign relevant acquisition and budgetary processes, and make big bets on novel commercial and dual-use technologies critical for the future of US security and defense.
The Commission, which was co-chaired by the 26th Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, discussed specific challenges to DoD innovation adoption and developed ten concrete policy actions for Congress and the Pentagon. President of Primer Federal, Mark Brunner, participated as industry commissioner along with former high-level defense officials, senior experts, and industry executives.
“The current US defense acquisition system was not designed to keep pace with today’s rapid rate of innovation,” – Commission Report.
Getting from commercial to combat faster
The report identified several challenges the DoD faces in adopting defense innovations, including having an outdated research and development model. The commission found that the DoD struggles with adopting commercial technology at a relevant speed. The reliance on traditional prime contractors, who tend to build closed, proprietary solutions impedes integration of innovative technologies to meet the current defense operational and threat requirements. “As a result, the DoD is unable to effectively apply leading technologies to its weapon systems,” according to the report.
The commission also found that the DoD’s industrial base has shrunk by 40 percent in the past decade due in part to the long timelines. This results in a reduction in competitive pressure and a decline in adoption of innovative technologies.
“To better leverage innovation in the commercial sector, Congress should restore at least the traditional ratio of procurement funding to other defense spending, and the DoD should more intentionally engage a much broader innovation base,”
– Commission Report.
To address these challenges, the report recommended that DoD leaders, congressional defense committees, and other executive branch agencies take the following ten high-priority actions to accelerate DoD innovation adoption:
- Introduce a new capability portfolio model that breaks down barriers between the DoD and non-traditional companies seeing collaboration.
- Consolidate program elements to simplify budget submission and allow for greater flexibility in responding to changing warfighter needs.
- Reset reprogramming authorities from the requirement of prior approval to congressional notification.
- Elevate the Defense Innovation Unit to report to the deputy secretary of defense and provide it with adequate resources to help modernize the DoD to align with the twenty-first century industrial base
- Strengthen alignment of capital markets to defense outcomes by broadening programs for capital market-backed companies.
- Incentivize tech companies to do business with the DoD by rebalancing defense budgets and improving online contract opportunities platforms, among other methods.
- Modernize budget documents that focus on concise program overviews.
- Establish a bridge fund for successfully demonstrated technologies to address challenges in scaling.
- Scale the Space Development Agency model which provides a framework for preemptive disruption within the Space Force, focusing on rapidly fielding and scaling modern technologies.
- Modernize the DoD’s requirements system, including designing a new framework that focuses on streamlining the process.
Already six of the ten recommendations have been implemented at least in part by the DoD or congress. The Commission expects that with full implementation, the steps will facilitate the rapid deployment of cutting-edge technology on a large scale, and potentially address near-term deterrence threats for the US.
Primer Technologies. which earlier this year was branded as “Awardable” by the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office’s Tradewinds Solutions Marketplace, stands ready to make its cutting-edge AI products available for DoD procurement. Primer is building decision-ready AI to make the world a safer place. With Primer, analysts, operators, and decision-makers can understand and act on vast amounts of open source and proprietary data in real time to improve productivity and to reduce time to decision.
“Primer is well positioned to quickly transform many of the DoD’s legacy systems, by leveraging LLMs and other advanced AI models at a fraction of the cost, delivering dramatically improved tech to our operators and enormous cost savings to the taxpayers,” President of Primer Federal, Mark Brunner