AI Enters the Front Lines of National Defense and Security

July 29, 2019

Artificial intelligence is now an essential component of defense and security strategies — from combat systems to operational processes.

When it comes to protecting the nation and its allies, the United States is armed with some of the world’s most sophisticated defense and security systems. Increasingly, artificial intelligence is at the heart of these systems.

For decades, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) has pioneered innovative uses for AI in defense and security, from assessing the readiness of military vehicles to identifying insurgent targets. Today, these efforts have shifted into high gear under a U.S. strategic initiative focused on harnessing AI to advance the security and prosperity of the nation.

As for that initiative, a 2018 DoD summary of the nation’s AI strategy gets right to the point: “We will harness the potential of AI to transform all functions of the Department positively, thereby supporting and protecting U.S. servicemembers, safeguarding U.S. citizens, defending allies and partners, and improving the affordability, effectiveness, and speed of our operations.”[1]

With those goals in mind, the use cases for AI in defense and national security are virtually unlimited. AI can be embedded into weapons and surveillance systems to enhance performance. It can be used to improve target recognition, combat simulation and training, and threat monitoring. It can be used in logistics and transportation systems, to help the military get the right equipment and people to the right places at the right time.

Let’s look at some of the specific use cases for AI in defense and security.

Combat systems

Military systems equipped with AI are capable of handling larger volumes of data and to do so more efficiently than conventional systems. AI also enables advanced computing and decision‑making capabilities that help military commanders improve the control, regulation and actuation of combat systems.

In an example of the importance of AI on the battlefield, the research firm KPMG notes that a defense agency could have just 8–10 minutes to decide whether a missile launch represents a threat, share the findings with allies, and decide what to do in response. It takes AI to rapidly integrate real-time data from satellites and sensors and to present findings immediately to help commanders decide what actions to take.[2]

Video surveillance and image analysis

When it comes to analyzing video and images captured by surveillance systems and aerial vehicles, AI is a huge advantage. For example, algorithms can be trained to recognize terrorist activity evident in streams of video, just as they can be trained to recognize cats in datasets filled with all kinds of images.[3]

“AI applied to perception tasks such as imagery analysis can extract useful information from raw data and equip leaders with increased situational awareness,” the DoD notes in its AI strategy report. “AI can generate and help commanders explore new options so that they can select courses of action that best achieve mission outcomes, minimizing risks to both deployed forces and civilians.”[4]


Cyber-warfare will clearly be one of the battlefields of the future. AI can help military organizations combat the threat of cyber-attacks, which can now be launched from virtually anywhere in the world.

A few examples of the way AI is being deployed in this new digital battlefield:

  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has piloted AI tools for detecting cyber-network intrusions and malicious activities.[5]
  • The DoD has a project under way that will develop an algorithm to detect and deter cyber-attackers whose skills are aimed at DoD information systems.[6]

Predictive maintenance

Keeping equipment battlefield-ready is a huge challenge for national defense agencies. AI can help with this labor-intensive work.

A case in point: The DoD plans to use AI to predict the failure of critical parts, automate diagnostics, and plan maintenance based on data and equipment condition. Similar technology will be used to guide the provisioning of spare parts and optimize inventory levels. The department says these advances will ensure appropriate inventory levels, assist in troubleshooting, and enable more rapidly deployable and adaptable forces at reduced cost.[7]

Service automation

Defense and security agencies increasingly rely on AI-driven applications to automate services, streamline business processes, cut the time spent on repetitive tasks, and reduce the chances for human errors.

For example:

  • In the recruiting process, the U.S. Army uses an AI-driven interactive virtual assistant to answer questions from prospective recruits, check users’ qualifications, and refer prospects to human recruiters. In a report on AI-augmented government, Deloitte says that the interactive virtual assistant does the work of 55 recruiters, with an accuracy rate of more than 94 percent.[8]
  • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency developed a digital tutor for computer skills training. After 16 weeks of training with the tutor, Navy students who had no prior IT experience scored higher in tests of IT knowledge and job-sample troubleshooting than others who received 35 weeks of classroom instruction.[9]

Infrastructure considerations

As AI makes ever-deeper inroads in defense and security applications, machine learning algorithms and technologies continue to develop and increase in scope. All of this puts new demands on the computing infrastructure that powers the AI-driven solutions. At the same time, it creates the need for infrastructure that can be adapted to the unique and changing requirements of defense and security use cases.

In this rapidly growing field, reprogrammable FPGAs give defense and security agencies a new class of IT armaments. With their flexible programming model, FPGAs allow for the continual implementation of the newest algorithms and neural network topologies.

Intel offers these examples of FPGA use cases for defense and security applications that are ideally suited for FPGAs.[10]

  • Radar and sensors — Radar has been a foundational technology area in which the semiconductor industry has played a large role for the last two decades. FPGAs can help system designers meet requirements for high-performance data processing, ultra-wide bandwidth, high dynamic range, and adaptive systems.
  • Electronic warfare — In electronic warfare systems, key drivers for continuous enhancements are electronic counter-counter-measures, stealth technologies, closely interlinked smart sensor networks, and intelligent guided weapons. Systems must be able to rapidly analyze and respond to multiple threats in extremely short timeframes. FPGAs can help meet these challenges.
  • Security — Strong encryption and authentication are keys to ensuring communications and data security at ever increasing data throughput rates. Strong cryptographic algorithms implemented on FPGAs that are secure by design provide the foundation for trusted information assurance systems.

Key takeaways

AI is now an essential technology for military and defense agencies across the wide range of their operations. It’s one of the keys to protecting the safety and security of our Armed Forces, our citizens and our allies. It’s also one of the keys to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations, at both home and abroad.

Ultimately, to be the best at what they do, our defense and security agencies need the real-time insights and intelligent automation that is possible only with AI-driven systems.

To learn more

For a look at leading-edge systems and solutions to power AI applications, including new Ready Solutions for AI – Deep Learning with Intel, visit Learn more about Dell EMC High Performance Computing and AI solutions at


[1] U.S. Department of Defense, “Summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy.”

[2] KPMG, “Artificial intelligence in Defense,” accessed July 15, 2019.

[3] Congressional Research Service, “Artificial Intelligence and National Security,” January 30, 2019.

[4] U.S. Department of Defense, “Summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy.”

[5] Washington Technology, “More signs pointing to AI’s growth in the federal market,” May 15, 2018.

[6] Dell Technologies, “Pentagon Projects Move Military into AI Arena,” April 25, 2019.

[7] U.S. Department of Defense, “Summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy.”

[8] Deloitte, “AI-augmented government,” 2017.

[9] Defense Technical Information Center, “Accelerating Development of Expertise: A Digital Tutor for Navy Technical Training,” November 1, 2014.

[10] Intel, Military, Aerospace, and Government website, accessed July 17, 2019.



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