Craig Martell, who heads the Pentagon’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (CDAO), is focusing hard on his office’s two top priorities – setting the Joint-All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) imperative on the right path, and normalizing data as a product across the Defense Department (DoD).

The CDAO achieved full operational capacity within DoD just one year ago, and maintains responsibility for acceleration of the agency’s adoption of data, analytics, and AI to generate decision advantage.

“I’ll be in this for one term [of] duty – remains to be seen how many years that is but say three or four years – and so when I leave after that tour of duty, what’s going to make me feel like I achieved something,” Martell questioned during AFCEA’s TechNet Cyber conference on May 3. “I’m obviously not going to solve it all in three years, or four years.”

Martell said one way he thinks he will be successful is if his office has “set JADC2 to on the right path.”

“JADC2 is not a product. JADC2 is not a destination. It’s not a collection of tools. It is simply a way that we need to do business,” he said. “And as a way to do business, it needs the appropriate infrastructure to allow data to flow in the right places.”

“If I can set the building of that infrastructure to allow the data to flow back and forth, and up and down, more importantly, correctly – like get that infrastructure started – I think that that’s going to be a win,” Martell said.

He continued, adding, “It won’t ever be a completed journey.”

The JADC2 strategy is one that looks to link all the United States military domains to allow for seamless data sharing among mission spaces. The initiative also aims to connect the sensors, shooters, and command nodes of each of the six branches of the military in a mesh network.

The recently awarded $9 billion Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability contract is meant to serve as the backbone for the Pentagon’s JADC2 initiative – also known as the connect-everything-everywhere campaign.

Martell said that the other big initiative the CDAO has keyed in on is “setting the department on the path to data as a product.” This will take a mind shift, he said, and is currently one of the organization’s largest barriers.

“We’re doing that in a few ways. One is through JADC2. If you think about a major part of JADC2, it’s figuring out what data is needed by certain commanders at certain times,” Martell stated. “To figure out what data is needed and then figure out how to access that data, means I get to push from the top-down that that data is available in high quality. So, I’m going to use JADC2 … as a marketing project to actually force quality data.”

He continued, adding, “The other one is we’re building out a whole bunch of business health metrics. So, within the department … they’re going to be held accountable to the health of their business using data.”

“That’s also another top-down push to try to get a data right,” Martell explained. “We’ve picked strategically … two really important projects that are going to be top-down marketing projects to help us get data right.”

The CDAO was stood up inside the DoD last February by integrating the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Defense Digital Services, and the Chief Data Officer. It achieved full operating capability in June 2022. Martell noted that this integration of three different offices into one caused an “emotional” change that was necessary, but one that his office is still working through now.

While one part of the CDAO’s job is to focus on AI, Martell said that data and analytics are critical layers that AI sits on top of in the DoD’s hierarchy of needs.

“The vast majority of demand I’ve heard for AI is simply solved by clean data and a dashboard,” he explained. “People just want to know where their people are. People want to know what their logistics situation is. People want to know how many tanks there are, and where, and what’s their state of readiness.”

“That’s not AI. I mean, we call it AI now because we call everything AI now, but that’s just quality data with a good dashboard and clear-cut metrics,” Martell said. “The effort that we’re going to expend is mostly going to be on quality data, and helping people set good metrics and build good dashboards to allow them to figure out where their things are.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.