Each January, the start of a New Year means that the technology giants of the world descend on Las Vegas for the annual International CES – formerly the Consumer Electronics Show. While this year many big names pulled out of what has become the world’s largest trade show, it has increasingly become more than just gizmos and gadgets. It is a show that showcases the latest trends in everything from cybersecurity to self-driving cars. Increasingly in the age of the Internet of Things, our daily life is becoming increasingly high tech.

Just a week before CES, President Joe Biden signed the massive National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2022 (FY22), which approved more than $768 billion in defense spending, $25 billion more than the White House had proposed. One reason was over concerns as to how the Department of Defense (DoD) could modernize and address threats from hypersonic missiles, drone swarms, cyber warfare and stealth aircraft.

As the consumer world has embraced the Internet of Things (IoT), the Pentagon is embracing the Internet of Military Things (IoMT), and the NDAA is crucial to making that happen.

NDAA – An Annual Tradition

The passage of the NDAA has become as much of a tradition as the December holiday season and January’s CES. Unlike with how both the holidays and the trade show could be – and have been – derailed and impacted by the pandemic, the NDAA has become law every year for six decades. For that reason, it is closely monitored by a swath of industry and other interests as it is one of the only major pieces of legislation that becomes law and addresses such a wide range of issues annually.

“The Act provides vital benefits and enhances access to justice for military personnel and their families, and includes critical authorities to support our country’s national defense,” Biden said in a statement after he signed the bill into law.

The NDAA for FY22 included a 2.7% pay increase for military personal, but will also allow the DoD to purchase additional aircraft and warships, while also developing strategies and technology to deal with near peer adversaries – notably Russia and China. It also included $27.8 billion for defense-related activities within the Department of Energy (DoE) and another $378 million for other defense-related activities.

Additionally, it should be noted that the NDAA doesn’t actually authorize spending, and Congress will still need to pass an appropriations bill.

Focus on Technology

Clearly lawmakers have seen the importance of a high-tech military geared towards the challenges of the 21st century, as $117 billion in funding was for new science and technology, while the NDAA also included several much needed measures to support and reform the DoD’s antiquated acquisition process.

This will include the Pentagon’s ability to better leverage technology from the commercial sector, notably when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, as well as cybersecurity. Just last month U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), co-founders of the bipartisan Senate Artificial Intelligence Caucus, announced that two of their bipartisan bills addressing Artificial Intelligence and the U.S. government had been passed as part of the NDAA. The lawmakers said that the bills would strengthen the U.S. government’s AI readiness, support greater investment in AI ethnics and safety research, but also increase the governmental AI transparency.

“When Congress created the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), it was with the expectation that the Commission provide Congress with the ideas to keep the United States as the world’s AI leader. I am pleased to say that the Commission has delivered,” Sen. Portman said via a statement. “I am pleased that these important pieces of legislation have been included in the FY 2022 NDAA so that we can continue to implement the good ideas that the Commission has spent so long developing. Ensuring that AI is trustworthy and transparent and that our warfighters are skilled in the nuances of emerging technology are common sense priorities.”

The first bill, the Artificial Intelligence Capabilities and Transparency (AICT) Act, will implement National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) recommendations. It will increase the federal government’s AI capabilities by improving talent recruitment and enabling agencies to adopt new AI technology, while also addressing the issues of transparency and accountability.

The second bill, the Artificial Intelligence for the Military (AIM) Act, was meant to address the NSCAI’s recommendations related to the Pentagon’s technology workforce, and would require senior military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon to receive training on AI topics and their national security implications.

Protecting Critical Cyber Infrastructure

The NDAA for FY22 will also help ensure that the U.S. military can close the gap with other countries, notably China, when it comes to cybersecurity. Last year in his resignation letter, Nic Chaillan, the United State Air Force’s chief software officer, had warned, “We’re very behind in cyber, to a point that it was very scary when it comes to critical infrastructure and the lack of security.” Chaillan added, “While we wasted time in bureaucracy, our adversaries moved further ahead.”

In addition, a recent report from the National Security Commission on AI also warned that the United States would be incapable of defending itself from threats related to AI technologies, and that the U.S. is far from even being “AI-ready.”

One factor is that during the Cold War in the 1960s, the U.S. federal government funded close to 70% of the nation’s total research and development (R&D) activities, but the percentage has dropped considerably over the past few decades. At the same time, China has set a national priority of better leverage its emerging commercial sector for military technology, which has in turn allowed Beijing to make leaps and bounds in the fields of cyber and AI.

The NDAA now includes provisions that support the U.S. military’s use of commercial – or “off-the-shelf” innovation.

Section 803 of the NDAA will also permanently retain the Commercial Solutions Openings (CSO) program, which was launched as a pilot program in 2017 to acquire “innovative technologies” various competitions as well as peer review of proposals. It had been used by the Air Force and the Defense Innovation Unit, but was set to expire at the end of this Fiscal Year.

In addition, Section 833 will require the DoD to establish a pilot program to develop and implement novel acquisition mechanisms that are related to emerging technology. This will include specific areas such as energy generation and development of space-based assets, and to ultimately accelerate the Pentagon’s procurement and fielding of innovative technologies.

Efforts like this could help ensure that the United States doesn’t continue to lag behind China in these areas of development, and can remain a technology super power.

 

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.