News | Oct. 20, 2021

US, UK research labs collaborate on autonomy, artificial intelligence

By Bryan Ripple Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

The Air Force Research Laboratory, in partnership with United Kingdom’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), have demonstrated for the first time the ability for the U.S. and the U.K. to jointly develop, select, train and deploy state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms in support of the armed forces of each of the two nations.

This research is designed to support adjacent, collaborating U.S. and U.K. brigades with enduring wide-area situational awareness, which aims to improve decision-making, increase operational tempo, reduce risk to life and reduce manpower burden.

The in-person, virtual demonstration was hosted jointly at AFRL’s Information Directorate in Rome and Dstl at its site near Salisbury, U.K., Oct. 18. The demonstration highlighted integrated AI technologies across the two nations, showcasing the ability to share data and algorithms through a common development and deployment platform to enable the rapid selection, testing and deployment of AI capabilities. The event was made possible by a U.K. and U.S. partnership agreement concerning autonomy and AI collaboration established in December 2020.

It was the first of a rotational series of events to be hosted by the joint and international signatories of the Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence Collaboration (AAIC) Partnership Agreement. The event was attended in-person by leadership participants from both the U.S. and the U.K., and virtually by participants from all services and the United States Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSDR&E).

The AAIC Partnership Agreement effort is led by the United States Department of the Air Force, with AFRL as the lead agency for the Air Force, in partnership with OUSDR&E, the U.S. Navy and Army, and the U.K.’s Dstl.

“We are dedicated to getting robotics and autonomous systems capability into the hands of the warfighters,” said Dr. Robert W. Sadowski, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. “Advances in robotics and autonomy will make our formations more capable and mission-ready while providing protection to our warfighters through unprecedented stand-off while enabling enhanced lethality on the battlefield.”

The four-year partnership agreement includes objectives to accelerate joint U.K./U.S. development and sharing of AI technology and capabilities, with the agreement spanning from foundational research in test verification and validation to AI algorithm research and development, to joint experiments advancing Joint All Domain Command and Control capabilities of both nations.

“The event demonstrated how the U.K. and U.S. can integrate AI technology to create the first end-to-end machine learning research, development and deployment ecosystem enabling rapid data sharing, algorithm development, evaluation and deployment. AI will play a critical role in accelerating decision making to meet the pace and scale of the future battlespace,” said Dr. Lee M. Seversky, AFRL lead for the demonstration and the U.S. Project Agreement.

During the demonstration, the simulated scenario focused on how the U.K. and U.S. can cooperate and share AI capabilities to support the “close” fight where both countries operate in adjacent areas and can share data, AI algorithms, and capability tightly during mission execution.

The demonstration brought together key technologies from the U.K. in the form of Model Cards, which are able to present to a commander the ability to quickly understand, explore and select appropriate machine-learning models from many to deploy in mission, and U.S. streamlined machine learning which is a government owned, extensible, open platform to quickly build machine learning workflows, train and evaluate machine learning models, and deploy them regardless of the source or machine learning software stack use — taking advantage of the best of breed machine learning technology spanning commercial, academia and government.

Dstl’s Todd Robinson heads up the UK element to the project, and said, “This collaboration with AFRL & the U.S. services is crucial to drive the very latest AI technology into military operations and innovative research in both nations. The demonstration is just the first step toward our ambition of deploying novel AI that can learn in the field into an experimental trial environment, something that hasn’t been done before and is only possible due to this collaboration.”

The demonstration successfully showed the integration of 15 state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms, 12 U.K. and U.S. datasets, five automated machine learning workflows for training and retraining models based on mission needs, and the ability to deploy the models as a service to target end users and platforms.

This is the first of a series of joint technical and operation experiments planned under the four-year partnership agreement.