Special Operations Strives to Use the Power of Artificial Intelligence


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Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke spoke virtually with Hudson Institute scholars. Clarke noted that Project Maven jump-started the employment of AI. Project Maven was initially executed to automate the processing and exploitation of full-motion video collected by intelligence, instead of relying on humans to sort through all of it.

With AI's ability to shift quickly through terabytes of data to find relevant pieces of intelligence, it allows the human to make faster and better informed decisions, he said. 

AI can also be incredibly effective at monitoring the information environment, he said.

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U.S. Special Forces with 10th Special Forces Group assigned to Special Operations Command Europe rehearse room clearing procedures, Daugavpils, Latvia, Nov. 21, 2020 as part of Exercise Winter Shield 20. Winter Shield is a Latvian-led exercise incorporating U.S. and Latvian conventional and Special Operations Forces.

During a recent visit with a special operations commander in Afghanistan, Clarke noted that the commander said influencing the population in a positive way can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Socom has been using AI for logistics, and the maintenance piece in particular, for more than two years now, he said. It saves money in terms of, for example, predicting engine life or failure on a tank or aircraft. And it allows better use of those assets. 

AI-powered health care can predict injuries or point to treatments to get operators in the fight more quickly, he mentioned.

In the realm of mission command, AI will power the Joint All-Domain Command and Control system, which will allow commanders to better communicate and make decisions, he said. 

While Socom is forging ahead quickly with AI, Clarke mentioned that his organization is also working closely with the military services and organizations like the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, as well as with industry, allies and partners. 

Clarke emphasized that it's important that commanders set the tone and set the conditions to allow innovation and encourage people to come up with great ideas.

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Airman 1st Class Andrew County, a tactical air control party apprentice assigned to the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, marshals an approaching Alaska Army National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter during small unit training, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Nov. 18, 2020.

Humans are more important than the hardware, he said. "It's the talented people that we have to help foster. You've got to invest the human capital into this space." 

Looking to the future, Clarke said he is optimistic that AI will be successfully leveraged by the Defense Department to maintain the lead against peer competitors China and Russia. It will require updating policy and infrastructure, using cloud computing and having the right people who are enabled with the right leadership.

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