The DOD Taps AI to Monitor Washington D.C.’s Airspace, and AARO Gets a New Website

Image Credit: Air Force Senior Airman Perry Aston

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… in recent days, the Pentagon announced that it will soon employ artificial intelligence (AI) to help monitor the airspace over the nation’s capital. In our analysis this week, we’ll be looking at 1) what we currently know about the DOD’s new AI system for monitoring the airspace over Washington D.C., 2) the technology that will be used, how it works, and the company behind it, and 3) how the Deputy Secretary of Defence is ramping up other efforts by the DOD to collect and resolve information about aerial phenomena.

Quote of the Week

“We will harness the potential of AI to create a force fit for our time. ”

– Mark T. Esper

Latest News: This week, in reporting from The Debrief, NASA has tasked Boeing and Northrop Grumman to develop an aircraft capable of Mach 4 travel. In other news related to aviation, incident reports describing recent U.S. pilot UFO sightings in controlled airspace are conveying the serious concerns aviators have about potential collisions with unknown objects. As always, you’ll find links to all our latest stories at the end of this newsletter.

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But right now, it’s time to shift our attention over to the DOD’s recent announcement about its plans to use AI. to monitor the airspace over Washington D.C., as well as what we know about the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office’s new web presence.

AI Will Be Used to Defend the Nation’s Capital

Artificial intelligence will soon be employed to monitor the skies over the nation’s capital, according to an announcement made by the Department of Defense earlier this week.

The new AI-powered airspace monitoring system, first to be implemented to monitor the skies over Washington DC, will likely be enabled over other sensitive areas in the future to “scale across other Defense Department and U.S. government installations​​ and systems​.”

The news follows an announcement earlier this year that the DoD would be launching a new Generative AI Task Force under the direction of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks, an effort aimed at helping the DoD manage its “commitment to harnessing the power of artificial intelligence in a responsible and strategic manner.”

According to a release issued earlier this week by the Pentagon, the newly upgraded system will employ visual recognition, identification and warning capabilities to deliver as much as ten times the performance capability of the 9/11-era system previously in use, according to a statement provided by Air Force Lt. Col. Kurtis Engelson.

Engelson calls the new AI system “a cutting-edge surveillance, identification and tracking system that monitors and defends the controlled airspace around Washington, D.C., part of the National Capital Region​-​Integrated Air Defense System.”

Enhanced Aerial Monitoring with AI

Prior to the implementation of the new monitoring system, a $100 million contract was awarded to Teleidoscope, a Los Angeles-based computer vision company “with the goal of providing the best in class, general purpose object tracking solution.”

At the heart of the technology Teleidoscope produces is what it calls its Relocalizable Adaptive Discriminative (RAD) Tracker, an innovative system capable of auto-calibration on individual objects rather than relying on a traditional system where specified thresholds are applied in a fixed implementation. This allows Teleidoscope’s RAD to self-correct its orientation whenever its tracking lock on an object becomes unstable.

The California-based team at Teleidoscope demonstrates upgraded electro-optical/infrared cameras with enhanced capabilities to improve airspace awareness (Credit: Defense Innovation Unit).

“Many autonomous systems (e.g., drones) rely on correct status reporting to determine if they need to perform more computationally expensive recovery tasks such as detection,” reads a blog post on the company’s website. “If the tracker fails [too] often (high threshold), resources are wasted and if it doesn’t detect true failures (low threshold), drifting occurs.” In essence, this means that an autonomous tracking system may not be able to detect if there is anything wrong.

“This of course makes the task of balancing a tracker very difficult,” wrote Matt Rabinovitch, the company’s founder.

With its ability to self-correct its orientation, RAD can track objects and recover when necessary, “even in situations where there is very little scene detail.”

The U.S. Air Force provided initial funding for the prototype system implementing Teleidoscope’s AI technology. Orders are now in progress, Engelson said in a statement, and fielding is expected to begin later this year.

Engelson said the system will utilize advancements in AI and augmented reality in surveillance camera systems “that assist air battle managers with their ability to identify flying objects within NCR airspace.” The system will also rely on a Laser Visual Warning System that utilizes eye-safe lasers as a “rapid means of contacting pilots when radio attempts have failed” when operating over the capital region.

The new AI-monitoring system offers an unprecedented level of advance warning and protection over the nation’s capital, and it represents just one of the recent areas where the Pentagon is ramping up its efforts to monitor activities in our skies.

Kathleen Hicks Takes Charge Over the DOD’s Efforts to Resolve UAP

On Thursday, it was learned that U.S. deputy secretary of defense Kathleen Hicks has recently taken a more active role in the Pentagon’s efforts to resolve national security challenges stemming from unidentified aerial and other anomalous phenomena, collectively referred to as UAP.

Writing for Defense Scoop, it was reported by Brandi Vincent that in a series of conversations, Hicks said the Pentagon needs to be able to understand and resolve what UAP are, as well as why and how they “exhibit behaviors not readily understood by our sensors or observers to ensure they are not a threat to our homeland.”

Hicks has reportedly now scheduled weekly briefings with Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), and other officials involved in its operations, after a meeting earlier this year aimed at speeding along the development of a website that will provide information to the public on AARO’s activities, as well as a formal reporting mechanism that will collect reports involving UAP encounters.

On Thursday shortly before noon Eastern Time, AARO’s new website officially launched, showcasing a sparse introductory set of features that included a statement from Kirkpatrick, as well as the office’s mission statement and other general information.

“Since its establishment in July 2022, AARO has taken important steps to improve data collection, standardize reporting requirements, and mitigate the potential threats to safety and security posed by UAP,” Kirkpatrick’s statement reads. “We look forward to using this site to regularly update the public about AARO’s work and findings, and to provide a mechanism for UAP reporting.”

Kathleen Hicks
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks (Public Domain).

Although Hicks has recently taken a more active role in the development of AARO’s operations, the establishment of the office was the result of a memorandum she authored last year, following its mandated creation as outlined in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Hicks had previously directed the establishment of an official UAP investigative office within the DOD that, for a short time, was known as the Airborne Object Identification Management and Synchronization Group, or AOIMSG.

Although the long-awaited AARO website is now operational, the formal reporting system is still undergoing security review and will likely be launched sometime in October, at which time it will begin operation with its initial collection of UAP reports only drawing from current and past U.S. government personnel.

After getting off to a slow start, it is promising to see AARO is beginning to make some progress… and that members of senior DOD leadership like Hicks are taking an active role in efforts to resolve threats not just in America’s skies, but in all domains where national security challenges may arise.

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] thedebrief [dot] org, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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