Nominee for Army chief of staff sees ‘fierce’ war for AI talent

The service is keen on leveraging artificial intelligence and cyber capabilities for a variety of mission sets.
Army Futures Command's Software Factory operations taking place on March 22, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (U.S. Army Photo by Mr. Luke J. Allen)

The Army’s recruiting and retention challenges extend beyond the traditional combat specialties as it faces stiff competition to attract AI know-how, the nominee to be the service’s next chief of staff told lawmakers in comments released Wednesday.

The Defense Department is keen on leveraging artificial intelligence and cyber capabilities developed by industry and academia for a variety of mission sets. However, the armed forces are also looking to beef up their own workforces in these areas. The Army, for example, has set up a Software Factory in Austin, Texas, to hone soldiers’ coding skills.

“In my view, the Army’s most significant challenge is gaining access to technological innovations outside of the traditional defense industrial base. The Army needs to be able to tap private sector innovation from firms that may be reluctant to engage with the Army’s complex acquisition system. [But] the Army also needs the ability to recruit and retain scientists and engineers in areas such as Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning and Biotechnology where competition for talent from the private sector is fierce,” Gen. Randy George said in written responses to senators’ advance policy questions ahead of his confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Based on accession and readiness priorities, the Army offers financial incentives to lure and keep talent for critical military occupational specialties. That includes accession bonuses up to $50,000, student loan repayment up to $65,000, and retention bonuses up to $81,000, he noted.


However, tech companies have deep pockets and can pay top-dollar to workers with high-demand skills, which makes it more difficult for the DOD to recruit them.

Competing with the private sector for talent in areas like cyber will be “an enduring challenge,” George told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The service aims to use its special authorities — including the Cyber Excepted Service (CES), which enables expedited recruiting and provides greater flexibility for retaining civilians — to address shortfalls, he noted.

The Army is also looking for opportunities to expand professional military education initiatives to boost “STEM cognizance and cyber fluency,” he said.

The service is expected to contribute to the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control warfighting construct, which entails leveraging technologies like AI to automate data flows to better connect the armed forces’ many sensors, shooters and networks and enable better decision-making.


“The Army recently changed its operational concept from ‘unified land operations’ to ‘multi-domain operations.’ If confirmed, I will continue to reinforce the integration of all the domains — including cyber — into our professional military education to ensure that leaders stay ahead of emerging technology like AI and big data,” George told lawmakers.

The Army is forging ahead with its ambitious modernization agenda to develop and field new capabilities, and George was asked about the pros and cons of having active-duty military personnel trained and working as software coders, scientists, engineers and other technical specialists across the Army’s research, development and acquisition enterprise.

“No one knows or understands the technologies our Soldiers need on the battlefield better than Soldiers themselves. Military acquisition professionals play a critical role every day in our Army’s focus on modernization. The Army must not only have Soldiers as part of the research, development and testing process, but also need those Soldiers to be experts and experienced in those fields. Soldiers who have both served in operational units and have the requisite skills, such as scientists, coders or engineers, bring a unique perspective that I think is hard to find; they add value to the countless, complex decisions that need to be made in the evolution of a successful program,” he responded in written remarks.

However, “the challenge is providing these Soldiers ample time in operational units, while also dedicating time for necessary military schooling, civilian education and professional military education in order to remain competitive. If confirmed, I will work to ensure the Army has the requisite military talent in the right acquisition positions to support the Army of 2040 and beyond,” he added.

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