As foreign adversaries begin to close the gap in the cyberspace race with the United States, the chief information officer (CIO) at the Air Force explained that the nation needs to be prepared for information to be front and center on the battlefield during any future war.

“Most nations want to avoid the attrition that comes from a kinetic fight in favor of a more quiet cyber war,” CIO Lauren Knausenberger said during The Mitchell Institute’s Aerospace Nation Podcast that aired on Nov. 30. “It definitely is an interesting environment that we live in.”

During the discussion, Knausenberger highlighted a few of the smaller achievements the military has made that have had positive effects on customer experience, cybersecurity, and governance.

The “macro” challenges, she said, reflect some of the same obstacles the Department of Defense (DoD) faced 20 years ago: acquisition reform, IT modernization, and scale.

But the biggest challenge of them all, she said, is the race to beat China and Russia in the information warfare space.

“Who can invest smartly and execute really well,” the CIO said. “It is a race to see who can gain that decision advantage, that cognitive advantage.”

“We have to get it right. We know it, we are investing … and we are working very hard toward it,” the CIO said.

Knausenberger emphasized that the whole intelligence community is on the same page regarding information warfare and the race to beat foreign adversaries. At the service branch level, the Air Force needs to be able to securely move data from anywhere to anywhere, she said.

Leveraging emerging technologies that already exist, like artificial intelligence (AI), also will be the key to unlocking cyber capabilities that will advance U.S. battlefield capabilities, she said.

The Federal government can’t do this without industry partners, though.

“We’re at the table, but industry is helping to drive [development]. And that’s exactly how it should be,” Knausenberger said. “I see a convergence where people are realizing we do have to work together – there is enough revenue for us to all make, there is enough mission benefit for us, and we have to do this for our country.”

One area of AI use within the Air Force that Knausenberger made sure to highlight involves the department’s mission for humanitarian aid.

Knausenberger’s team leverages the technology through natural disaster predictive models to understand where to drop lifesaving supplies to victims. They also utilize AI to differentiate between a human and debris floating in the water after a shipwreck, and they use drones to optimize rescue response after a hurricane.

However, it’s imperative that the tech works quickly to save as many lives as possible.

“We have to automate more – that’s a first step,” she began, “If we try to do everything today manually, leveraging the same processes that we always have, we’re not going to have the speed that we need.”

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