PART I: DEFENDING AMERICA IN THE AI ERA

Chapter 3: AI and Warfare


Following is a summary of Part I, Chapter 3 of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence's final report. Use the below links to access a PDF version of the Chapter, Blueprint for Action, and the Commission's Full Report.

Even with the right artificial intelligence (AI)-ready technology foundations in place, the U.S. military will still be at a battlefield disadvantage if it fails to adopt the right concepts and operations to integrate AI technologies.

An AI-Ready DoD by 2025: Warfighters enabled with baseline digital literacy and access to the digital infrastructure and software required for ubiquitous AI integration in training, exercises, and operations.

A new warfighting paradigm is emerging because of AI.


Advantage will be determined by the amount and quality of a military’s data, the algorithms it develops, the AI-enabled networks it connects, the AI-enabled weapons it fields, and the AI-enabled operating concepts it embraces to create new ways of war.

Today’s Department of Defense (DoD) is trying to execute an AI pivot, but without urgency. Despite pockets of imaginative reform and a few farsighted leaders, DoD remains locked in an Industrial Age mentality in which great-power conflict is seen as a contest of massed forces and monolithic platforms and systems.

“The emerging ubiquity of AI in the commercial realm and the speed of digital transformation punctuate the risk of not pivoting fast enough.”

How AI Will Change Warfare


AI-enabled warfare will not hinge on a single new weapon, technology, or operational concept; rather, it will center on the application and integration of AI-enabled technologies into every facet of warfighting. AI will transform the way war is conducted in every domain from undersea to outer space, as well as in cyberspace and along the electromagnetic spectrum. It will impact strategic decision-making, operational concepts and planning, tactical maneuvers in the field, and back-office support.

AI will make the process of finding and hitting targets of military value faster and more efficient. It will also increase accuracy of target identification and minimize collateral damage. Currently, this process generally involves passing data in a serial fashion from a sensor, through a series of humans, to a platform that can shoot at the target. AI will help automate some of the intermediate stages of the decision process. AI will also create opportunities for more advanced processes that would operate more akin to a web, fusing multiple sensors and platforms to manage complex data flows and transmitting actionable information to human operators and machines across all domains.1

In war, many of the military uses of AI will complement, rather than supplant, the role of humans. AI tools will improve the way service members perceive, understand, decide, adapt, and act in the course of their missions. However, new concepts for military operations will also need to account for the changing ways in which humans will be able to delegate increasingly complex tasks to AI-enabled systems.

In the near term, this will be managed through the military’s principle of “mission command,” which stresses decentralized execution and disciplined initiative by subordinates who follow a commander’s intent. This human-centric approach to fighting should remain the standard for the foreseeable future.

Stronger Together


If the United States wants to fight with AI, it will need allies and partners with AI-enabled militaries and intelligence agencies. Uneven adoption of AI will threaten interoperability and the political cohesion and resiliency of U.S. alliances.2

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The Government Should

Promote AI interoperability and the adoption of critical emerging technologies among allies and partners, including the Five Eyes, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and across the Indo-Pacific.

This should include:

  • Enhancing existing Five Eyes AI-related defense and intelligence efforts.
  • Supporting NATO efforts to accelerate agreements on architectures and standards, develop allied technical expertise, and pursue coalition AI use cases for exercises and wargames.
  • Fostering the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC)’s International AI Partnership for Defense as a critical vehicle to further AI defense and security cooperation.3
  • Creating an Atlantic-Pacific Security Technology Partnership to improve military and intelligence capabilities and interoperability across European and Indo-Pacific allies and partners.

To Achieve a State of Military AI-Readiness by 2025

The Department of Defense Should

Drive organizational reform through top-down leadership.

Senior civilian and military officials should set clear priorities and direction, empower subordinates, and accept higher uncertainty and risk in pursuing new technologies.

Develop innovative operational concepts that integrate new warfighting capabilities with emerging technologies.4

These concepts should strive for seamless interoperability across the military services and across operational domains. The concept developers should work closely with technologists to articulate how the military could fight most effectively in future scenarios, and they should assume that AI-enabled capabilities will be ubiquitous on future battlefields. These concepts can also drive future investments.

By the end of 2021, establish AI and digital readiness performance goals.5

Achieve more substantial integration of AI across DoD.

Define a joint warfighting network architecture by the end of 2021.

The key objective of this joint warfighting network should be a secure, open-standards systems network that supports the integration of AI applications at operational levels and across domains.6 It should be accessible by all of the military services and encompass several elements, including command and control networks; data transport, storage, and secure processing; and weapon system integration.

Invest in priority AI R&D areas that could support future military capabilities.

See below graphic for details.

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Footnotes

1 See Creating Cross-Domain Kill Webs in Real Time, DARPA (Sept. 18, 2020), https://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2020-09-18a. See also AI Fusion: Enabling Distributed Artificial Intelligence to Enhance Multi-Domain Operations & Real-Time Situational Awareness, Carnegie Mellon University (2020), http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~ai-fusion/overview.

2 On military interoperability challenges related to AI, see Erik Lin-Greenberg, Allies and Artificial Intelligence: Obstacles to Operations and Decision-Making, Texas National Security Review (Spring 2020), https://tnsr.org/2020/03/allies-and-artificial-intelligence-obstacles-to-operations-and-decision-making/.

3 The AI Partnership for Defense, launched in September 2020, includes the United States and 12 partner nations: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Israel, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. It seeks to “provide values-based global leadership” on adoption of AI in the defense and security context and align “like-minded nations to promote the responsible use of AI, advance shared interests and best practices on AI ethics implementation, establish frameworks to facilitate cooperation, and coordinate strategic messaging on AI policy.” Joint Statement, AI Partnership for Defense (Sept. 15-16, 2020), https://www.ai.mil/docs/AI_PfD_Joint_ Statement_09_16_20.pdf. The Partnership held its second formal dialogue in January 2021. DoD Joint AI Center Facilitates Second International AI Dialogue for Defense, JAIC (Jan. 27, 2021), https://www.ai.mil/news_01_27_21-dod_joint_ai_center_facilitates_second_international_ai_dialogue_for_defense.html.

4 Notably, the National Defense Strategy emphasizes the need to “evolve innovative operational concepts” and “foster a culture of experimentation and calculated risk-taking.” Tighter coordination between concept writers and technologists would create a more dynamic cycle of technology development and integration. Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, U.S. Department of Defense at 7 (2018), https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf.

5 “Readiness” is a key measure of military effectiveness and remains at the heart of budget, policy, and oversight debates on defense preparedness. In this context, DoD should establish key AI and digital readiness performance objectives to measure and drive Department and service accountability. See G. James Herrera, The Fundamentals of Military Readiness, Congressional Research Service at 2 (Oct. 2, 2020), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R46559.pdf.

6 The network envisioned is well-aligned with ongoing DoD efforts to embrace standards-driven interoperability, system adaptability, and data-sharing. See Memorandum from the Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Army, and Secretary of the Air Force for Service Acquisition Executives and Program Executive Officers, U.S. Department of Defense (Jan. 7, 2019), https://www.dsp.dla.mil/Portals/26/Documents/PolicyAndGuidance/Memo-Modular_Open_Systems_Approach.pdf.