How the Navy is experimenting with AI to make decisions faster

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The U.S. Navy’s SCOUT Experimentation aims to develop automated and emerging technologies into targeted problem areas among warfighters.

The United States Navy is experimenting with a new program to help mitigate and streamline operational governance among its warfighters, emphasizing the integration of automated and artificial intelligence technologies into its standard processes.  

Following an Industry Day on Nov. 22, Navy officials published a special notice soliciting vendors to help conduct research campaigns spearheaded by the Office of Naval Research. The goal of the program, called SCOUT Experimentation, is to dissect operational problems and develop technologies that will both improve warfighters’ capabilities and expedite decision making. 

Some of the technologies Navy researchers anticipate as potential solutions include artificial intelligence and automation, machine learning algorithms specifically for target recognition, natural language processors, sensor fusion capabilities and decision-making aides. 

SCOUT “is problem-driven with warfighter partnership and teamwork to explore, discover, learn and deliver faster decision points,” Daniel Cabel, ONR’s SCOUT lead, told Nextgov.

Beginning in the summer of 2022, the SCOUT campaigns will consist of two experimentation tracks, per Cabel: one working on tech scouting to develop fresh solutions to enterprise problems, and the other to focus on running sprint events in collaboration with naval officials and industry partners to deliver faster decision points.

SCOUT will focus its initial exercises alongside the Navy’s Southern Command, JIATF-South, and work to tackle illegal drug trafficking in the surrounding air and maritime regions. 

Naval officials highlighted four key problem areas within warfighter functions that they are looking for vendors to address, including data synthesis, improving the detection and monitoring of suspect vessels, facilitating multilingual interactions with partnering nations, and efficient logistics support for the JIATF-South team. 

Cabel noted that the nature of SCOUT will ask vendors to be flexible and bring creative technical solutions, with automation as a hallmark feature in the Navy’s new technology. 

“SCOUT is a critical component in what the department of the Navy is doing overall in terms of its Unmanned Campaign,” Jason Stack, ONR technical director, told Nextgov

Stack refers to the Navy’s broader mission to introduce automated technology and systems into the Navy’s warfighting operations. Launched back in March 2021, the Unmanned Campaign is focused on integrating automated technology and AI into the naval force.

He noted that SCOUT compliments the Navy’s ongoing work of unmanned technological development and autonomous intelligence systems to facilitate strategic decision making. 

“Together, it’s a pathfinder to learn alternative ways to rapidly solve operational problems,” Stack said. “Also, as a compliment to the automation and intelligence we’re looking at, a key part is integrating intelligent autonomous systems as trusted members of the naval enterprise.”

He added that the Navy is not looking for “one-size-fits-all” programs and technologies, but scalable solutions that are adaptable across a variety of environments in a small time frame. Ideally, the technical solutions developed for the problems JIATF-South is facing will be able to solve similar issues across the Navy. 

“We want to develop technologies where the capability that is instantiated in the unmanned systems can be adapted and morphed in a matter of months or weeks or even days,” Stack said. 

He reiterated that SCOUT’s mission is to develop incremental testing to learn how to solve operational problems rather than fulfilling solicitation requirements. 

“Meeting requirements is simply a means to an end. But the goal is to rapidly solve operational problems,” Stack said. 

Interested contractors will first need to submit proposals by Jan. 14.

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