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6th-Gen Military Tech Panel at Potomac Officers Club’s Annual Defense R&D Summit Focused on AI, Machine Learning

The Potomac Officers Club on Wednesday hosted its 8th Annual Defense Research & Development Summit, where government and industry leaders discussed the projects and ideas that are keeping the U.S. military and Pentagon officials at the forefront of modern strategy as well as technological discoveries that prepare for new threats abroad.

After a keynote address by Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Dr. Stefanie Tompkins presented an additional keynote. A panel followed with speeches focused on the pipeline from plan to execution of defense operations, after which came a discussion where participants looked at sixth-generation military technology.

If you missed the productive 6th Generation Military Technology discussion, check out PotomacOfficersClub.com, where you can watch the entire 8th Annual Research & Development Summit and other on-demand events.

Joe Bookard, associate director of requirements and capabilities at Raytheon Technologies’ intelligence and space business, acted as the moderator and began by welcoming panelists and laying down the structure for the afternoon’s chat, promising “high-level themes and trends.”

In his introduction, Capt. Gregory Petrovic, commanding officer of the Navy Research Laboratory, referenced “Project Overmatch” as an indicator of one of the U.S. Navy’s technological strategies to create linkage of sensors and weaponry in a battlefield scenario.

He described the phased introduction of artificial intelligence and machine learning to Navy fleets, saying that it was a multi-step process to reach a “disciplined innovation.”

In addition, Petrovic stated that the branch could not imagine a future where officers enter a battle situation without “R2D2” (as he affectionately put it) right beside them. He enumerated some specific automated technologies that have become prominent, such as the Knifefish autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle.

Petrovic also referenced signature management, stealth and fuel as key in thinking about the 6th generation military technology.

On the subject of where technology was headed as it relates to space, Dr. Lisa Costa – chief technology and innovation officer of the U.S. Space Force and an inductee into Executive Mosaic’s 2022 Wash100 – shared that while some services have the benefit of physical elements to relay information, like natural occurrences, USSF’s Guardians have to rely entirely on digital information and cognitive census. She, therefore, defined sixth-generation technology as “technology that not just carries information but allows for rapid comprehension of information for decision making.”

She added that augmented and virtual reality were key players in moving the space industry toward involvement in the metaverse, “the next gen internet.” She identified the focus for USSF as a digital force would be “architectural resilience and speed,” and mentioned DevSecOps as a potentially key element of the game plan.

Sean Moore, head of the aerospace and defense market for Capgemini’s government solutions unit, shed light on how certain technologies have been slower to aerospace and defense than other industries.

“The emerging technology that traditionally has not been pervasive with the A and D supplier industry…the use of AI and ML streaming, unstructured data and other concepts that are more readily accepted by the Teslas or Space Xs of the world are now being brought to the defense industrial base.”

Moore called this integration of new technologies a “renaissance.”

Dr. Benji Maruyama, a material scientist at Air Force Research Laboratory, echoed Moore’s notes on slower progress, sharing how research in labs is still “very much a hands-on, human-driven process” and said those in the research industry are envious of sectors like manufacturing where artificial intelligence and robotics are more commonplace.

Maruyama predicts that the future of research in labs like his will involve an integration of artificial intelligence and robotics so that more experiments can be completed and at a faster rate.

In pursuing a mission of faster research, he cited a colleague who told him that he had done a dissertation’s worth of research in a week by using automated technology. He said applying Moore’s Law of exponential growth to research speeds, that if the proper technology is implemented, the rate at which research is performed will grow exponentially over time.

Further, in response to Bookard questioning what domain will see the greatest technological leaps, Moore said data, due to the pressing question of how best to share information on the battlefield.

Moore cautioned against the problem of too much data and pointed to new technologies as the gateway to whittling down unuseful and bad data.

On the subject of data, Dr. Costa said that the Unified Data Library (UDL), which provides access to information across classifications, is one of Space Force’s main contributions to the Department of Defense’s AI roadmaps. Costa said the UDL is a “key capability” for their work with Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, the unifying data sharing system that provides a unilateral platform for all military systems and branches.

As a potential response to Moore’s stance on data, Costa spoke about how there is room for both “clean” and “dirty” data, in the sense that even misinformation propagated by an adversary (or “dirty” data) could lend insight into a subject field. She predicts the next generation of AI, ML and the internet will harness both types of data.

When asked about what additional technological challenges the Navy is investigating, Petrovic cited the Flexstar radar system that works to help identify targets without betraying locations of allied forces, which they are developing but require sponsorship to introduce the fleet fully. Due to this, Petrovic said the sustainment and funding of AI are two of the Navy’s tasks.

The roundtable discussed 3D printing and government reference architectures, among other subjects and offered many enlightening observations.

Visit PotomacOfficersClub.com to watch the full 6th Generation Technology Panel and other POC events on-demand. You can also learn more about becoming a Potomac Officers Club member.

POC’s next virtual panel will be from its “Data-Driven 2022 Series: Fostering Resilient, All-of-Nation Pandemic Response” forum on Jan. 25th. The upcoming event will focus on the status quo-breaking efforts needed to address the unprecedented biodefense questions wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As raised by the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, strategies and approaches vary in terms of how best to meet these challenges. The panel will bring together speakers such as Dr. Kevin Bugin; deputy director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research; Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, surgeon general of the Navy and chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, for the Department of the Navy; and Dr. Christian Hassell, senior science adviser and deputy assistant secretary at the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, will lend their thoughts on how policy development, data management and access strategies can be problematized.

Visit PotomacOfficersClub.com to register for the platform’s Data-Driven Series event, Fostering Resilient, All-of-Nation Pandemic Response on Jan. 15.

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