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Mar 22, 2022

Welcome to Tradewind: A New Model for AI Delivery in the DoD by Will Roberts

Trade winds, blowing predictably across our northern and southern hemispheres, have enabled travel and commerce for centuries. Merchants established trade routes to utilize these winds, in order to achieve successful delivery of goods in the most optimal amount of time.

Successful delivery of goods is a difficult endeavor when the “goods” are AI capabilities, the “delivery” involves knowledge and expertise in software acquisition, and when the “destinations” are Department of Defense (DoD) missions. The DoD acquisition processes, regulations, and culture pose certain difficulties to rapid procurement and delivery. The contracting process can delay or even prevent ships from beginning their voyage in relevant time (to continue the analogy). Even when the Department capitalizes on the many methods to achieve rapid and competitive contracting (and there are quite a few of these methods), voyages often fail to arrive at their destination. Prototypes are not delivered to the end users, or the delivered technology fails because the contracts do not measure performance based on value to end users. As a result, end users do not adopt these delivered technologies into their programs and missions.

The Tradewind contracting vehicle focuses on the “AI Journey” for our Government partners. The journey begins when our Government partner enters our Tradewind Portal and submits an “AI Needs Form.” This will explain the requirement, the mission, and the need for a narrow AI capability to fill a mission gap or enhance efficiency. It asks early questions on topics such as data, intellectual property (IP), ethics, and schedule. The Tradewind team will then use this information to charter the course for rapid procurement: setting the milestones, preparing the announcement, and connecting with some of the best IP, ethics, and agile contracting experts across the Department. The team will also select the most appropriate contract type, whether that is an Other Transaction Agreement, Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contract, or another technology transition vehicle. The ultimate goal is to achieve rapid procurement (30-90 days) and successful delivery (using modern software acquisition strategies).

Tradewind also focuses on opportunities for industry and academia to provide the AI solutions to DoD missions. These are the traders: the inventors of capabilities and commercial technologies that will modernize the DoD workforce. Tradewind solicitations are called “announcements.” These are traders’ opportunities to submit proposals through a fair and competitive process. The award process is designed for speed, but the Tradewind team works to ensure that speed does not trump fairness or equal opportunity. Special attention goes to ensuring non-traditional commercial companies have equal opportunity to offer their goods.

Opportunities to create lasting relationships with the DoD, and to truly deliver and adopt their critical AI technologies for defense missions and programs. Opportunities to collaborate among academia, government, and industry for whole-of-nation coordination to solve our most difficult technological challenges. And finally, opportunities for individual companies to make profits and make a difference.

In our early months of implementation, there have been successes, but also a few delivery delays and near shipwrecks. This is not easy. And we humbly thank our early adopter partners in the DoD for being willing to help us build this great endeavor. But the good news is that setbacks become lessons learned for current and future AI voyages. Our analysis of past projects has led us to ask: what were the stovepipes in the procurement process? How did we communicate with industry? Were we being transparent? Was this an easy process for all offerors responding to our announcements? Where can automation streamline the process? We have taken the answers and fine-tuned the process. Each voyage gets better, more efficient. It’s a growing process, with a team committed to its success.

Tradewind strives to provide the forceful winds that deliver the AI cargo to the final destination. Let’s work together to build this environment and enjoy the fruits of AI for the defense of our nation.

About Will Roberts:

Mr. William (Will) Roe Roberts is currently head of Acquisitions for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), Office of the Department of Defense. Will is responsible for ensuring that acquisition pathways and methodologies are centered on the JAIC mission of providing AI capabilities to the warfighter and DoD workforce.   Previously, Will was a Contracting Officer (CO) for the  Office of the Secretary of the Air Force (SAF), and worked Acquisition policy for the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) where he provided expertise on service acquisition policy for DoDEA. Will became a member of the ABA and Florida Bar as of 2011, receiving his law degree from Stetson University College of Law.