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Artificial Intelligence: Will Special Operators Lead The Way?

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon’s new artificial intelligence strategy shows how the military is shifting from old-school heavy-metal hardware – tanks, ships, planes – to a world where software makes the difference between victory and defeat.

What SOCOM and DoD’s AI Strategy as a whole are looking for, fundamentally, is AI software that can rapidly process vast amounts of information on everything from threats to targets to logistics, provide recommendations to commanders, and maybe take instant action against split-second threats like hacking and jamming, but leave life-and-death decisions to human beings – who remain, as the strategy says, “our enduring source of strength.” SOCOM Can Lead The Way “The SOF guys are less risk averse than conventional ground forces, so they’re more apt to push the limit,” said Bob Work, former deputy secretary of defense and father of the AI-driven Third Offset Strategy.

“The SOF community is well positioned to lead the way in the digital space, especially with regards to the operationalization and deployment of AI.” The foundation, she said, is SOCOM’s unique combination of urgent operational needs, relative lack of bureaucracy, special acquisition authorities and institutional culture less afraid of risk than the mainstream military.

But more recently and specifically on AI, she said, SOCOM has made “a number of smart, timely, and innovative decisions by senior leaders there, including, perhaps most prominently, the executive decision to bring on board a Chief Data Officer.” Anderson’s assessment echoes a self-confident statement by SOCOM’s own director for science &

We are building a culture that welcomes and rewards appropriate risk-taking to push the art of the possible: rapid learning by failing quickly, early, and on a small scale.” “Execution will prioritize dissolving the traditional sharp division between research and operations…..insights must transition immediately to the research venue, and research must benefit by the immediate involvement of end users in the technology development process.” All of this sounds a lot like what SOCOM has been doing for years.

The JAIC will work closely with individual components [of the Defense Department] to help identify, shape, and accelerate their component-specific AI deployments, called ‘Component Mission Initiatives’ or ‘CMIs.’” Again, the public summary of the strategy never mentions Special Operations by name.

Finally, it’s worth noting that artificial intelligence will probably be essential to create a communications network fast, flexible, and robust enough to coordinate far-flung forces operating across the land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace —

In every one of those multi-domain concepts, there will be an element specifically for SOF, and so we have aspects of our command that are responsible for working in those [as] they’re developed through exercises and wargames.” The Human Element For all this proposed change, one thing stays constant: In both the near term and the long, human beings remain central to the American military’s approach to artificial intelligence, a hybrid of human and machine sometimes likened to the mythical centaur.

And, he told the conference, the only way special operations can succeed, with small teams scattered over vast areas with often erratic communications with each other and their superiors, is trust: “There’s trust between the leaders, there’s trust in what their SOF operators are capable of doing.” “We’re ultimately going to have to develop trust with our machine learning, with our artificial intelligence, and we’re going to have to do that the same way we develop trust with our human operators” and combat gear, Clark continued.

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