Winner of NSIN challenge developed artificial intelligence to speed and scale military operations

The National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) AI for Command Challenge, presented in partnership with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), concluded with a single winner taking the $100,000 grand prize for the artificial intelligence (AI) solution. The winning team, Gradient J, developed a series of intelligent machine learning techniques to handle multiple amounts of actions for digital wargames while exploring novel improvement methods.

“Gradient J’s approach rose above the competition through its architectural fundamentals, novelty, and the substantial progress made in the given time,” said Jeffery Hudack, AFRL. “The team’s agents completed multiple scenarios with competent results, and Gradient J laid out a path forward for continued research that is clear and actionable.”

The five finalists selected in the competition tested Matrix Games’ Command: Modern Operations as a platform for in-depth digital wargames with automated adjudication. Through a memorandum of understanding opportunity, all finalists may each be eligible for a $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award supporting their future proposals.

“This competition demonstrated that recent advancements in AI have shattered expectations on how effectively machines can learn and plan large-scale and complex military operations,” said Jacob Wisenbaker, NSIN program manager. “The majority of wargames are still done manually and are time-consuming to complete as decisions take hours to analyze, and this challenge confirmed the hypothesis of an alternative path.”

To solve this problem for complex military operations, AFRL challenged the teams to unleash a new generation of AI that has the speed and scale for new opportunities in analytics, wargaming, and warfighter training. Through the open challenge teams developed competent AI players for new learning methods on the commercial game Command: Modern Operations that could operate with limited or no training data, and without time and cost constraints.

In support of the AFVentures Technology Focus Areas, the AI for Command Challenge specifically sought to foster innovations in the world for AI for better defense solutions.

Teams scored points based on their solution’s capability against human-designed opponents, speed, and effectiveness over different challenge scenarios.

About NSIN

The National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) is a program of the U.S. Department of Defense that collaborates with major universities and the venture community to develop solutions that drive national security innovation. We operate three portfolios of programs and services: National Service, Collaboration, and Acceleration. Together, these portfolios form a pipeline of activities and solutions that accelerate the pace of defense innovation.

About AFRL

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit