Pentagon eager to resolve JEDI contract as China develops military cloud system

Aerial of the Pentagon, the Department of Defense headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington DC, with I-395 freeway on the left, and the Air Force Memorial up middle.

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WASHINGTON — While the Pentagon’s long-awaited colossal cloud-computing deal has sparked fierce competition between tech giants Amazon and Microsoft, the Defense Department is keeping a keen eye on China‘s own cloud efforts.

The Chinese are racing to develop their own military cloud computing system, and Pentagon officials are eager to get moving.

“We don’t want to waste any more time moving forward because we know our potential adversaries are doing it at their own speed,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan said during a closed-door media round table Friday at the Pentagon.

“Whether it’s Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, SenseTime, they’re all coming up with their own cloud solutions and don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make them 1,000 feet tall, they’re going to have their own cloud interoperability challenges,” he added, “but the level of investment and the number of people they’re putting at the problem, they’re moving at a very rapid pace and what I can’t afford to do is slow down anymore.”

Shanahan, the three-star in charge of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, also explained how the U.S. military’s pursuit of an enterprise cloud will support AI and the future of warfare.

“If I am a warfighter, I want as much data as you could possibly give me, let me use my sort of algorithms to sort through it as fast as machine speeds, let the machines do that but the humans think, the cognitive piece of this. It’s really hard for me to do that without an enterprise cloud solution,” Shanahan explained.

“Any combatant command in the world would be better connected with an enterprise cloud solution. The idea of putting that together so different fleets can communicate, different air forces, Air Force communicates with fleets, communicates with divisions. Yes, all made better by the ability to have an enterprise cloud solution,” he added.

Dana Deasy, the Pentagon’s chief information officer, framed the issue as a need to get everyone on the same page.

“We don’t have an enterprise approach,” Deasy said alongside Shanahan. “We have a bunch of siloed solutions we built. We have lots of vendors we’re using for cloud solutions, but we’ve never stepped back and created a holistic solution and that is causing challenges out in the field.”

The cloud contract known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, could be worth up to $10 billion for services rendered over as many as 10 years. The lucrative contract, originally slated for September 2018, will not be awarded until Secretary of Defense Mark Esper completes a series of thorough reviews of the technology.

“We’ve got to get this right, so we are not going to rush to a decision. We are going to spend whatever time the evaluation team needs to spend to make sure we are picking the best technical solution at the right price with the right criteria,” Deasy said, adding that the timeline for awarding the contract will go past the end of August.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced that Esper would review the JEDI deal after President Donald Trump said that he had received complaints from companies about the process. Trump said in July that companies conveyed that the specifications of the contract favored Amazon, according to Bloomberg.

Read more: Trump says he’s looking into a Pentagon cloud contract

“I never had something where more people are complaining,” Trump said last month at the White House. “Some of the greatest companies in the world are complaining about it,” he added, naming Microsoft, Oracle and IBM.

At this point, the deal could go to either Amazon or Microsoft as they were the only two proposals that met the Pentagon’s requirements. The JEDI deal could cement them even more in the cloud-computing arena.

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