WASHINGTON — U.S. Northern Command has asked Congress for an additional $29.8 million to buy information technology equipment and to optimize infrastructure for artificial intelligence and machine learning at its joint operations center with the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The upgrades would buttress efforts to ingest, process and aggregate data across the Department of Defense’s cloud-computing environment and share intel with forces across all domains, also known as the “information dominance enabling capability,” according to a fiscal year 2023 unfunded priority list obtained by Defense News.

Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of NORTHCOM and NORAD, told lawmakers March 24 that “advanced capabilities” like AI will help give the U.S. an advantage over complex competitors.

“Incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into existing capabilities will allow users to pull needed information from existing data sets and share that data with leaders at all levels to expand their decision space and options necessary to achieve desirable outcomes,” VanHerck said in testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Combatant commands and other leaders send wish lists to the Hill annually. The tradition highlights items that did not make it into the budget request but would be useful should money be available.

Artificial intelligence is an area of growing importance at the Defense Department. Its 2018 AI strategy described the tech as world-altering, poised “to change the character of the future battlefield and the pace of threats we must face.”

The latest NORTHCOM and NORAD wish list also included funding requests for a cruise missile defense homeland kill chain demonstration, $50.87 million, and upgrades to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, $49.3 million.

Another ask from the pair — $5.05 million to digitize Alaska Long Range Radar sites — also involves the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning and the modernization of systems.

“As I testified last year, the technology already exists to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to collect and rapidly distribute information gathered from sensors around the globe,” VanHerck said last month. “We will always need expert human analysts in the loop, but I need the ability to tap into that technology to dramatically speed the delivery of information to leaders at all levels who need it.”

Nearly $24 billion of Defense Department unfunded priorities were identified in fiscal year 2022. Combatant commands accounted for a sliver, 10%, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its NNSA — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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