According to a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the US Department of Defense (DoD) lacks guidance on acquiring artificial intelligence (AI) tools, neither has it defined concrete plans or produced a timeline to fulfil this challenging process.

AI refers to computer systems designed to replicate a range of human functions and continually get better at their assigned tasks. DoD AI capabilities could be used in various ways, for example in identifying potential threats or targets on the battlefield.

Although the DoD has designated AI a modernisation area and is allocating considerable spending to develop AI capabilities, without department-wide and tailored service-level guidance, the DoD is “missing an opportunity to ensure that it is consistently acquiring AI capabilities in a manner that accounts for the unique challenges associated with AI.”

Private sector acquisition

The GAO obtained information from 13 private sector companies about how they successfully acquire AI capabilities and found several considerations when acquiring this new technology.

Source: GAO analysis of private sector information. Credit: GAO.

Various DoD components and military services have individually developed or plan to develop their own informal AI acquisition resources. Some of these resources reflect key factors identified by private companies for AI acquisition. For example, the DoD’s Chief Digital and AI Officer oversees an AI marketplace known as ‘Tradewind,’ which is designed to expedite the procurement of AI capabilities.

Several Tradewind resources emphasise the need to consider intellectual property and data rights concerns when negotiating contracts for AI capabilities, a key factor identified by the companies GAO interviewed.

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Recommendations on guidance

The GAO provided four recommendations to overcome this issue:

Ensure that the Chief Digital and AI Officer, in conjunction with other DoD acquisition policy offices, prioritise establishing department-wide AI acquisition guidance, including leveraging key private company factors, as appropriate. After DoD issues department-wide AI acquisition guidance, the Secretaries of the Army, Air Force and the Navy should establish service-specific AI acquisition guidance that includes oversight processes and clear goals for these acquisitions, and leverages key private company