Though noticeably light on certain cybersecurity measures, the proposed U.S. defense spending bill for 2022 incorporates many provisions that would mandate new research, pilot programs, oversight and strategies to advance the Pentagon’s adoption of modern and emerging technologies.
The House on Tuesday passed the National Defense Authorization Act conference report, or legislative text that was previously mutually approved by both chambers’ Armed Services Committee leaders. Next, the Senate must pass the legislation, which proposes $768 billion for defense and national security funding.
“This year the defense bill focuses on transforming [the Defense Department] to better deter our adversaries while taking advantage of new, innovative technologies and implementing [a] more cost-effective approach to develop and acquire crucial platforms,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said.
Here’s a rundown of some notable emerging technology-aligned inclusions in the latest version of the more-than-2,000-page NDAA:
DOD has made multiple strategic moves to prioritize AI and machine learning in recent years. Launched in 2018, the department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, or JAIC, is a hub that works to enable the acceleration of AI applications across the United States’ entire defense and military enterprise. This month, the Pentagon announced a plan to hire its first chief digital and AI officer and formally establish a new office under their purview to help integrate and improve disparate data and technology efforts across its massive enterprise. That move is necessary, as the department reportedly lacks a full awareness of all its AI work, or explicit metrics to measure the execution of its pursuits.
And a provision in the NDAA also aims to help DOD change that.
Section 226 of the bill would direct federal officials to assess potential AI applications and produce clear metrics and performance objectives for staff to turn to when deploying them. If passed in the final package, each military department secretary and head of each DOD subcomponent would also need to “conduct a comprehensive review of skill gaps in the fields of software development, software engineering, knowledge management, data science, and [AI],” evaluate what’s needed to fill such gaps, and then create recruiting, training, and talent management performance objectives to do so.
That provision would also require DOD to comprehensively review its heaps of AI investments and integrations. Among other requirements, the bill calls for the creation of clearer paths for AI to be further integrated into administrative functions across the agency, like for human resources, logistics, or health care.
Another section of the legislation would mandate officials to “modify the Joint Common Foundation program conducted by the [JAIC] to ensure that [DOD] components can more easily contract with leading commercial artificial intelligence companies to support the rapid and efficient development and deployment of applications and capabilities.”
The bill would also pave the way for a pilot program steered by the JAIC and others to establish data repositories of DOD datasets relevant to AI software and technology that public and private sector organizations can use to develop enhanced AI and machine learning capabilities. Strong AI and the emerging technologies associated typically rely on massive amounts of rich data. Lawmakers argue that producing such data libraries could help small startups and other existing data companies create AI models and tools that support the department’s present needs.
Among a variety of other mentions of AI, the legislation also includes a requirement for continued briefings related to recommendations made by the National Security Commission on AI.
Quantum Information Science
QIS for short, quantum information science refers to an emerging field that investigates phenomena at the atomic scale, which many experts argue could underpin transformational science, engineering and communication applications in the next decade.
Text of the NDAA includes a clause that would require President Joe Biden to formally establish a Subcommittee on the Economic and Security Implications of QIS, via the National Science and Technology Council.
That subcommittee would be made up of representatives from at least 10 federal agencies including DOD, the Office of Management and Budget, the National Science Foundation, and the Justice, Energy and Commerce Departments, among others. Members would be responsible for assessing and making recommendations on multiple topics, including regarding economic or security implications of government QIS investments and the export of QIS technologies.
Provisions that would support quantum technology application development and the federal workforce are also included in the NDAA.
If passed, the bill would require the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—DOD’s research arm—to implement a program through which it could “identify defense applications for which dual-use quantum technologies provide a clear advantage over competing technologies,” and then work to accelerate the development and deployment of such capabilities.
A separate provision would modify a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps grant program supporting science, technology, engineering and math education to also include quantum information sciences.
Over the past couple years, the Pentagon has been moving aggressively to expand fifth generation wireless capability research and deployment. It has established a 5G strategy and implementation plan, and is prototyping and experimenting at testbed sites across the nation.
References to the next-gen communications technology are sparse in this latest version of the NDAA.
However, the text does include a provision that would mandate the establishment of “a pilot program for the deployment of telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate the availability of fifth-generation wireless telecommunications services on military installations under the jurisdiction of the [Defense] Secretary.”
The various pilots would need to be launched within a year of the bill’s passage.
The legislation also includes mandates that reference emerging technologies and digital capabilities more broadly.
For instance, if the bill is passed, the defense secretary would be required to “develop a digital health strategy of the [DOD] to incorporate new and emerging technologies and methods (including three-dimensional printing, virtual reality, wearable devices, big data and predictive analytics, distributed ledger technologies, and other innovative methods that leverage new or emerging technologies) in the provision of clinical care within the military health system,”—by April 1.
Another provision would direct the Pentagon to “expand the survivability and lethality testing” of weapons systems—including, specifically against non-kinetic threats like electronic warfare and radiation—and develop digital technologies to use against those threats.
Further, the bill would mandate new executive education options to teach senior civilian and military leaders about emerging technologies, an emerging tech acquisition-focused pilot program, and a new national security commission to study emerging biotechnology applications.
If passed, the NDAA would also direct the DOD’s chief information officer and chief data officer to work with others to compile and submit a plan to Congressional committees to “consolidate the information technology systems used to manage data and support the planning, programming, budgeting, and execution process.”
Mariam Baksh contributed to this reporting.