WASHINGTON — Red Cell Partners, a venture capital firm focused on national security, said it launched DEFCON AI, a software company backed by prominent former Pentagon officials that uses artificial intelligence to improve defense logistics planning.

The company aims to create simulation models that run through and pinpoint different options for providing supplies and logistical support in the event of a national security situation to those in the decision-making room.

“If we can build that, then we can give planners a substantially different tool set to use for operational level planning and in its best incarnation, that set of tools also becomes available as decision support tools for the command and control units in the network,” said retired Air Force General Paul Selva, who serves as the company’s chief strategy officer, in an interview with C4ISRNET.

Selva served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015-2019 and prior to that as commander of U.S. Transportation Command.

DEFCON AI wants to use AI to comb through data on available options while also manipulating variables in a “simulation fabric” that replicates the real world in hypothetical environments, he said. The platform could then compare situations tested in the fake environment against existing real-world historical data on mobility and logistics operations.

After making a technical proposal to the Air Force, the company received a grant for over a million dollars to produce the software within 20 months, beginning July 2022.

“Fast-tracking innovative technologies is more important than ever in this new era of great power competition,” said former U.S. Secretary of Defense and DEFCON AI board member Mark Esper, in a statement. “If the U.S. military is going to modernize and maintain its overmatch against China and Russia in the years ahead, then there needs to be a much different and better relationship between the Pentagon and the most innovative sectors of our economy.”

When a major event with national security implications occurs, such as an airlift or a hurricane, organizing logistics is similar to controlling different cogs in a machine. The order in which tasks are completed plays a large role in the success of an operation and each part impacts the other moving pieces.

During Hurricane Katrina, for example, responding defense officials focused on establishing infrastructure over other priorities such as search and rescue or housing because the disaster destroyed nearby airfields. Without the runways, needed commodities including water, food and medical supplies struggled to reach the city.

The sequencing of actions during these types of events takes time because people need to go through data and look for relationships that work. DEFCON’s anticipated tool, Selva said, uses AI to complete the sorting while still giving end users the ability to test options via the platform’s “simulation fabric.”

“Our belief is AI alone doesn’t actually solve the problems that we’re being asked to solve,” he said. “It can’t be a black box that says just go do X.”

The idea for the company emerged after a client inquiry as to whether such a logistics simulation tool was available on the market, Selva said, adding that the only simulation product that came to mind was multi-player video games.

While much of the company’s oversight and management comes from the national security world, its technical talent pool draws from those who have worked in the software or gaming sectors.

Although the grant period is limited, Selva said DEFCON AI is planning to “move as fast as we can without breaking things.”

Catherine Buchaniec is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where she covers artificial intelligence, cyber warfare and uncrewed technologies.

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