May 5, 2024

John McHale

editorial director

military embedded systems

Photo: Shield AI's MQ-35 VBAT

Tampa, Florida. Shield AI engineers are working to transform the way the U.S. military and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) leverage artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. In an interview I conducted with Brandon Tseng, co-founder and president of Shield AI, on SOF Week Show Daily, he and I discussed why he is the best customer for USSOCOM to deal with as it implements new technology. We talked about this. That technology will be showcased by his Shield AI at an upcoming event. In Tampa, he will discuss SOF Week and how AI pilots enable small groups of combatants to command the same combat power as a carrier strike group. Brandon also shared his experiences as a U.S. Navy SEAL. Edited excerpts follow below.

SOF Week Daily Show: What is your role at Shield AI and your experience in the defense industry?

Tseng: My name is Brandon Tseng.I'm the president and co-founder of Shield AI [San Diego]. I spent the first seven years of my career in the Navy. I started as a surface warfare officer, a ship engineer officer, and I was a mechanical engineer. Upon leaving the United States Naval Academy, I immediately headed to the USS Pearl Harbor, LSD 252, which was stationed in the Persian Gulf. He then earned his Surface Warfare Officer pin and then transferred to the Naval Special Warfare community. I then became a Navy SEAL and deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to the Pacific with SEAL Team 7, and in the Pacific with SEAL Team 5 as an acquisition commander.

SOF Week Daily Show: Why is the special operations community important to Shield AI?

Tseng: because They are important to all militaries.SOCOM [United States Special Operations Command] He was always at the tip of the spear. They were early adopters of technology. They focus on solving problems in the fastest, most expedient, and most efficient way possible.

So when it comes to introducing new technology or new products, it's really hard to find a better customer than SOCOM. There is a tolerance for risk. Some failure is acceptable. There is a desire to move quickly to deliver capabilities to the warfighter, and to get user feedback from the product development cycle so that we can make the product better and better.

That's why SOCOM is a great customer for Shield AI. Because it's hard to point to other services that try to work closely with companies through product iteration cycles. Regardless of product requirements, we have had great success with our quadcopter product development cycle, collaborating with SOCOM operators to create the best possible product.

We are also working with SOCOM customers on the MQ-35 VBAT. [vertical takeoff and landing uncrewed aerial system]Products, and Hive Mind [autonomous artificial intelligence pilot] In the same way. [See image at top of article]

SOF Week Daily Show: What technology will you be showcasing at this week's event?

Tseng: At SOF Week, we will be exhibiting the MQ-35 VBAT. We will exhibit ViDAR [EO/IR AI system] This is a recent acquisition by our company from a company called Sentient Vision Systems. We also introduce Hivemind or VBAT teaming. Hivemind becomes the AI ​​pilot and enables VBAT teams.

SOF Week Daily Show: What's the biggest difference when working with SOCOM as opposed to other branches of the military? Has procurement been faster? Increase direct input from operators/end users? Anything else?

Tseng: It's proximity in terms of product iterations in the development cycle. What it comes to mind is access to operators. It is a true team effort of industry and government to provide capabilities to warfighters. That's what's great about SOCOM. Some places only talk about it. At SOCOM, we work directly with carriers to best understand their needs and best build the technology and capabilities they need. This goes far beyond formal program requirements. Just because you meet the program's requirements doesn't mean you have a better product. When an operator says it's a great product, it's a great product. That only comes when you work closely with your customer base, and that's where his SOCOM truly shines.

SOF Week Daily Show: Over the years, operators have told me that they often don't get to see the cutting-edge technology in the field that you see at trade shows like SOF Week. Is that changing as the military adapts commercial technologies more quickly?

Tseng: Given my experience with technology in the field, we were offering the following: [us]. Probably the most advanced technology we had was the SATCOM radio. The weapon was also equipped with excellent optics. We had great radios to communicate with the aircraft. And we had a great information product that was generated from satellite imagery and a large amount of information collection.

Looking back, I never cared that I didn't have the skills. As a combatant, you are given equipment and trained to fight with that equipment and use it very effectively. I remember when I was handed my first cell phone in 2014. “This is ATAK,” I was told. [an app called the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK)]. I would like you to track Blue Force/Red Force. My gut reaction was that he had two years left to become a good platoon commander. I am very good at tracking Blue Force/Red Force using laminated maps and erasable Sharpie markers. That's how I do it, and I can do it incredibly quickly, and that's what worked for me during a combat deployment to Afghanistan. I'm not going to take the time to learn how to use his ATAK. Because it took him two years to become a good platoon leader to me, and this would inhibit his ability to be a good platoon leader.

It wasn't necessarily a typical way of thinking, but it wasn't atypical from the perspective of combatants on the ground. Technology needs to be deployed and leveraged in meaningful ways.

YAfter some time, I remember when I returned to the SEAL team. [we did] When we were testing quadcopters, I asked them, “Hey, do you guys use ATAK?”and [they were] It's like, “Oh my god, everyone's using it, and it would be crazy if you didn't use it.”

But I think this generation of young SEALs grew up in the age of technology and are adapting to it faster than my generation. I think of my 3-year-old daughter and wonder how quickly she can adapt and master new technology.

There is also an adoption curve. Integrating new technology and training operators takes time. You also need to have realistic expectations. The technology is vastly improved and cutting edge, but it's not like what we see in Captain America. movie. However, technology is advancing faster than ever.

SOF Week Daily Show: How do you think AI will impact military special operations forces five or 10 years from now?

Tseng: AI pilot, self-driving technology applied to drones.These may be UAVs [uncrewed aerial vehicles]U.G.V. [uncrewed ground vehicles], you say it. It doesn't matter what area they operate in. This is something I often talk about with my international customers: There's no reason why a SEAL platoon or a Ranger unit can't have the same combat power as a carrier strike. group. With AI, there's no reason why her 16 men can't have the same combat power as her 5,000-man carrier strike group, which includes 200 aircraft, short- and long-range missiles, destroyers, and more.

I think this is really important for people to understand the implications of AI pilots. Thanks to the AI ​​that pilots, directs, and operates these assets, they can be optimally effective on the battlefield, allowing one person to effectively command munitions roaming around 300,000 aircraft. The time will soon come.

It's a fundamentally big paradigm shift. SOCOM has the lowest budget of the services. There is no reason why these resources associated with AI and autonomy cannot be leveraged in sophisticated ways for maximum impact.

But that's the same thing I'm telling you internationally [users]: If you're British or German with a $50 billion defense budget, there's no reason for that – if you effectively allocate resources around AI pilots and autonomy – the same as an army with a $900 billion budget. You can't have influence. That's the power of AI and autonomy. It is a steroid power multiplier.

SOF Week Daily Show: Could you please elaborate on how that small group can have the same privileges as the carrier group?

Tseng: There are several aspects to this. One is that when commanding these aircraft, there's no reason why an E6 special operator can't command as many assets as a four-star general would normally command, and perhaps with perfect effectiveness. That's the power of AI.

Then it becomes a production issue. We now have super-intelligent aircraft, super-intelligent drones, and loitering weapons, and we are no longer limited by force size in terms of personnel. It is only limited by production capacity.

In other words, it can have the same combat power as a 5,000-man carrier strike do it the right way [with AI] And one person can command all that mass, all that firepower, in the same way that a fleet admiral does an aircraft carrier strike group.

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