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Former Pentagon official 'not surprised' by Chinese launch, says US is running out of time in AI race

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The former chief software officer for the U.S. Air Force was “not surprised” by China’s nuclear-capable rocket launch and warned that the U.S. “is running out of time” to catch up in the artificial intelligence race against China. 

“AI is so important to what’s coming next in terms of innovation, but also in terms of weapons, quite honestly,” Nicolas Chaillan told Fox News in an interview. 

China’s expanding artificial intelligence and tech capabilities are “an existential threat to our kids and all our friendly nations’ kids as well,” he added.

Chaillan served as the chief software officer in the Air Force for three years before announcing his resignation last month, criticizing the Pentagon’s low prioritization of technological innovation on his way out.

China in August test-launched two hypersonic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the Financial Times reported. Such projectiles can fly at more than five times the speed of sound – slower than a ballistic missile, but are harder to track and stop.

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The Long March-2F Y13 rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft and three astronauts in China's second crewed mission to build its own space station, launches at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China October 16, 2021.

The Long March-2F Y13 rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft and three astronauts in China’s second crewed mission to build its own space station, launches at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China October 16, 2021.
(REUTERS)

The development reportedly surprised U.S. intelligence officials, though the missile missed its target by about two dozen miles.

But Chaillan said he was not surprised by the Chinese military’s advancement and suggested U.S. military leadership may have more information than it lets on. 

“When you look at the launch – that shows the importance of artificial intelligence,” he told Fox News. “These missiles are able to move and have a different velocity and be harder to track and to target.”

“The better way and probably the only way to succeed at defending ourselves against these kind of attacks will be through artificial intelligence capabilities,” Chaillan continued.

Chaillan posted a scathing letter on LinkedIn last month when first announcing his resignation. He criticized the Defense Department’s lack of agility and accountability.

“While we wasted time in bureaucracy, our adversaries moved further ahead,” he wrote.

Growth in the AI sector is exponential due to its compounding nature, the former Air Force tech officer told Fox News. As China continues to accelerate its development, U.S. agencies stuck behind bureaucratic red tape move at a much slower pace, unable to keep up.

He also said the Pentagon is so accustomed to leading on the world’s stage that officials “get complacent,” allowing others, like China, to surpass them.

Astronauts Ye Guangfu, Zhai Zhigang and Wang Yaping wave during a ceremony ahead of the launch of the Long March-2F Y13 rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft and them in China's second crewed mission to build its own space station, at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China,  October 15, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Astronauts Ye Guangfu, Zhai Zhigang and Wang Yaping wave during a ceremony ahead of the launch of the Long March-2F Y13 rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft and them in China’s second crewed mission to build its own space station, at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China,  October 15, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

He noted that the military wastes taxpayer money on soon-to-be outdated hardware and doesn’t invest enough in cybersecurity, tech or AI training. 

A number of U.S. departments have been subject to hacks and ransomware attacks in recent years.

In April 2020, the departments of the Treasury, Homeland Security, State and Defense were compromised in the SolarWinds cyberattack, which gave hackers remote access to spy on the staff’s digital activities for months. The cyberattack on the major software company infected more than 18,000 customers with undetected malware. 

Army Chief Information Officer Raj Iyer dismissed Chaillan’s assessment that the U.S. was losing the technology war against China, saying “it’s absolutely not true.” 

“If you looked at both what we have in the Department of Defense and intelligence community, across the federal government and our industrial partners, we have the best AI technology,” Iyer said during the Association of the U.S. Army 2021 Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Chaillan responded to the Army CIO’s statement: “Anyone in the department knows that is just not true.”

“You see leaders not only fail to lead, but now sharing misinformation across industry just to make people feel better about themselves and make us look stronger than we are,” Chaillan continued. “We’re just compounding the problem.”

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BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 1, 2019: DF-17 Dongfeng medium-range ballistic missiles equipped with a DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, involved in a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's Republic. Zoya Rusinova/TASS (Photo by Zoya RusinovaTASS via Getty Images)

BEIJING, CHINA – OCTOBER 1, 2019: DF-17 Dongfeng medium-range ballistic missiles equipped with a DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, involved in a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Republic. Zoya Rusinova/TASS (Photo by Zoya RusinovaTASS via Getty Images)
(Photo by Zoya RusinovaTASS via Getty Images)

While the former senior cybersecurity official acknowleded that the private sector’s AI technology is at the forefront of innovation, he said the problem is the lack of government adoption of commercial technologies and the lack of partnerships between the two.

“China is able to use all the data coming from the commercial companies into their military capabilities because they mandate companies to work with them,” said Chaillan. “We don’t have the luxury, but we also don’t need to.”

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He recommended the government stop overclassifying information so leaders in the U.S. tech industry better understand the threat China poses. 

“It’s very important we stop letting both the media and quite honestly the politicians divide us,” Chaillan said. “We need to be united. We need to be one team, one fight against China. That’s the real enemy.”

“We need to stop having Congress asking us to write reports,” he continued. “We need agile, tangible outcomes with very fast turnarounds, and we need to do it now.”

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