Human-Machine Networks Will Improve Commander Decisions: Work


Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work mapped out the future of conventional deterrence with the Pentagon's vision of a thinking battle command network helping commanders make decisions faster than ever before.

Work told an audience Wednesday at the Air Force Association's 2016 Air, Space & Cyber Conference near Washington, D.C., that the U.S. military must exploit advances in "artificial intelligence and autonomy that will allow the joint force to assemble and operate advanced, joint, collaborative human-machine battle networks of even greater power" to maintain an advantage over competitive adversaries -- a concept known as the Third Offset Strategy.

"We believe strongly that this will help restore the margin of operational superiority and strengthen conventional deterrence," Work said, breaking down the strategy into five areas:

  • Learning machines;
  • Human-machine collaboration, which means using advanced computers and visualization to help humans make faster, better and more relevant decisions;
  • Assisted human operations, which means plugging every pilot, soldier, sailor and Marine into the battle network;
  • Human-machine combat teaming: new ways in which manned and unmanned teams operate; and
  • Networked-enabled autonomous weapons.
All of these efforts would be connected on a "learning, C3I network," Work said.

"We are going to have to go after these [technologies] to fight fire with fire and buy back the time for our humans to make decisions that will allow us to prevail at the tactical and operational level," Work said.

But offset strategies are not just about technology, Work maintains.

"It drives me crazy when people say the Third Offset strategy is about AI and autonomy. Wrong!" he said. "Offset strategies are about technologically enabled operational and organizational constructs that provide the joint force an advantage, primarily at the operational level of war but also the tactical, thereby strengthening conventional deterrence."

The first organizational construct of the strategy is the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operation Center, Work said.

"It is designed to perform battle management and command and control of a space constellation under threat of attack," he said.

"For me, this is an exciting time to be into the party. It is a time of intellectual thought, reflected by the Air Force's operational concept," Work said.

"We need Air Force thinkers to … think in terms of building a joint, learning C3I network that can mesh operations across domains and cross functions, with allies and sometimes across regions," he said.

Work joked, "A lot of people worry about the Terminator and they worry about Skynet," referring to the fictional super intelligent computer network that took over control of the U.S. military and attempted to exterminate the human race in the popular Hollywood action films.

"Look, what this is going to be is a gradual implementation of narrow AI throughout the battlefield," he said.

The Pentagon has to "figure out a vision for a learning C3I network in which all of the narrow AI is contributing to better, faster knowledge and connecting the sensor grid to the effects grid," he said. "Then that is when you will see the major revolutionary step."

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