This article was published on July 7, 2021

US cancels crucial $10B military AI project because Trump is a baby

This is a major setback for the Pentagon

US cancels crucial $10B military AI project because Trump is a baby

The Pentagon yesterday announced it was scuttling its long-doomed “Project JEDI,” a cloud-services AI contract that was awarded to Microsoft in 2019.

Up front: Project JEDI is a big deal. The US military needs a reliable cloud-service platform from which to operate its massive AI infrastructure. Unfortunately the project was mishandled from the very beginning.

Now, two years later, the Pentagon’s calling for a reboot:

Today, the Department of Defense (DoD) canceled the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud solicitation and initiated contract termination procedures. The Department has determined that, due to evolving requirements, increased cloud conversancy, and industry advances, the JEDI Cloud contract no longer meets its needs.

Evolving requirements?

Acting DOD chief information officer John Sherman is quoted in the press release as saying the Pentagon’s scrapping the project because “evolution of the cloud ecosystem within DoD, and changes in user requirements to leverage multiple cloud environments to execute mission” have necessitated an overhaul.

But the Pentagon was clearly aware of the problem with a single-provider cloud solution from the onset of the contract.

IBM and Oracle both gave official statements citing the folly of the single-cloud provider. Oracle went on to sue the government and IBM protested JEDI at inception, giving the following statement on its own blog:

IBM knows what it takes to build a world-class cloud. No business in the world would build a cloud the way JEDI would and then lock in to it for a decade. JEDI turns its back on the preferences of Congress and the administration, is a bad use of taxpayer dollars and was written with just one company in mind. America’s warfighters deserve better.

That “one company in mind” was Amazon. But Trump had other plans.

When Microsoft then became the sole awardee of the $10B contract, it set off alarms in the tech community. Amazon filed a lawsuit alleging the Pentagon was forbidden from issuing it the contract due to Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest.

Notably, Oracle’s lawsuit was dismissed after a government watchdog organization said the Pentagon’s single-provider solution had been thoroughly looked into and met all the nation’s requirements.

Per the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in November of 2018:

GAO’s decision concludes that the Defense Department’s decision to pursue a single-award approach to obtain these cloud services is consistent with applicable statutes (and regulations) because the agency reasonably determined that a single-award approach is in the government’s best interests for various reasons, including national security concerns, as the statute allows.

And that makes it particularly silly for the Pentagon’s acting IT boss to go on the record now claiming the US has only recently come to understand that a multi-provider cloud solution is necessary for Project JEDI.

Bottom line: The Pentagon’s covering its own ass. Donald Trump’s conflicts of interests, in this particular case, have set the nation’s defensive capabilities and AI programs back by years.

Whether we like it or not, we’re in a global AI arms race. And the US is doing a great job of shooting itself in the foot so China can catch up.

There’s no telling how many millions of dollars the US has spent in court defending its ill-advised and completely inexplicable decision to restrict a $10B cloud-service project to a single-provider.

We do know that phase one of Project JEDI was schedule to be completed in April – a deadline that’s long passed.

Now, after all the delays, the Pentagon (sans Donald Trump’s interference) will finally move forward with Project JEDI as a multi-provider cloud solution, apparently starting the bidding process all over.

And there’s only one rational explanation for all of it: Trump’s soft-shelled, crybaby egotism.

When it was announced the project would be awarded to a single-provider, most experts and pundits were certain Amazon would win the contract. This obviously didn’t sit well with former president Trump.

The former president, during the period of time in which bidding for JEDI was still open, often conflated Amazon and the Washington Post due to both companies being owned by rival billionaire Jeff Bezos.

A screenshot of news stories about Trump's attacks on Amazon and the Washington Post.
These are all from the period during which Project JEDI was originally being deliberated.

It came as no shock then when Trump issued a formal administrative directive to the Pentagon demanding military leadership reconsider awarding the contract to Amazon – something that, to the best of our knowledge, is unprecedented.

While many experts are concerned over the Pentagon’s pivot to an AI-powered military, Project JEDI is more than just a weapons platform.

The development of cloud-based AI platforms is crucial to the nation’s defense whether the newspapers are being nice to the sitting president or not.

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.

Also tagged with