Warfighters are “absolutely” waiting for the enterprise cloud so they can gain real-time data access and other tools, the Defense Department’s chief information officer told reporters in a media roundtable at the Pentagon.

“This is an imperative to what they need each and every day to defend and execute their missions,” Dana Deasy said.

“The warfighter needed the enterprise cloud yesterday,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. “Dominance in [artificial intelligence] is not a question of software engineering, but instead, it’s a result of combining capabilities at multiple levels. For AI across DOD, enterprise cloud is existential.”

Shanahan said without enterprise cloud, there is no AI at scale. AI remains a series of small-scale, stovepiped projects. An enterprise cloud platform will provide on-demand compute capabilities and data at scale, and substantial network advantages at all classification levels, Shanahan noted.

“Enterprise cloud allows AI cycle speeds that can be measured in updates across an entire enterprise in hours, as opposed to in months, six months or maybe even a year,” Shanahan told reporters.

The top AI companies are first and foremost cloud-data-based, data-centric organizations with a continuous development culture where integrating, managing and analyzing data at scale is the lifeblood of the organization, the JAIC director said.

“That’s where we want to be and need to be an enterprise-cloud solution,” he added.

“Local military equipment that is connected to the JEDI cloud hardware, could still operate and be used to execute missions in a degraded, disrupted or denied environment, extending enterprise cloud, in other words, all the way out to the tactical edge,” Shanahan said.

“It is also about joint, all-domain warfighting,” Shanahan said. “Taking advantage of emerging technologies to develop new operating concepts for a kind of warfare will look completely different than what we’ve experienced for the past 20 years.”

In this future high-end environment, DOD envisions a world of algorithmic warfare and autonomy in which competitive advantage goes to the side that understands how to harness 5G, AI, enterprise cloud in quantum into a viable, operational model.

“This digital modernization is a warfighting imperative,” Shanahan said. “It’s one that will be fueled by enterprise cloud solutions.”