A Different Kind of Defense: How Lockheed Martin Uses AI to Fight Wildfires

Photo of a wildfire on the horizon, which Lockheed Martin is working to combat with using AI.

By Brad Davis 

National security has always been a top priority for Lockheed Martin, as the world’s largest defense contractor by revenue. However, while the company primarily focuses on the military sector, they have recently begun shifting their attention toward combatting a different threat to America’s security: wildfires.

Wildfires continue to grow in size, intensity, and frequency around the world. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 2022 saw over 66,000 wildfires occur in the US, which razed a total of 7.5 million acres of land. These fires endanger not only the flora and fauna of a region, but also pose significant danger to individuals, claiming countless homes and lives in their wake.

As a result, Lockheed Martin and computing industry giant NVIDIA are collaborating with the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control to employ artificial intelligence and machine learning for predicting and simulating wildfires.

Using AI to analyze data from existing space, air, and ground sensors and reports from on-site personnel, the Firefighting Intelligence program will reduce the time to map fires from hours down to as little as 15 minutes. The system even incorporates lightning detection capabilities to more accurately predict when and where fires could potentially start as a result of storms. This saves firefighting crews precious time and resources and allows them to anticipate wildfire behavior, rather than simply respond to it.

Speaking on the program’s relevance to Lockheed’s defense expertise, Dan Lordan, senior manager for AI integration, said in a recent Denver Post article, “The scenario that wildland fire operators and commanders work in is very similar to that of the organizations and folks who defend our homeland and allies. It’s a dynamic environment across multiple activities and responsibilities.”

Among those working on the program is senior visual communicator and former wildland firefighter Benjamin Dinsmore, who has seen firsthand the devastation and destruction caused by wildfires.

“I have friends who are still risking their lives daily as firefighters and first responders,” Dinsmore wrote in an essay for Lockheed’s website. “They respond to incidents and fires that are chaotic, complex, and sometimes deadly. They go into harm’s way to save lives and livelihoods.”

Calling his assignment to the Firefighting Intelligence program “a serendipitous moment,” Dinsmore believes that it will “[bring] to life a technology that will have a tremendous impact on our environment and communities.”

The program is part of a larger vision for the future of the company, spearheaded by CEO and Chairman James D. Taiclet, dubbed “21st Century Security.” It prioritizes researching and developing innovative technologies, particularly in the areas of microelectronics and 5G communications, as well as partnering with private companies in the tech industry. The goal is to improve Joint All-Domain Operations (JADO) by integrating disparate global defense platforms and systems, allowing for secure, real-time communications across multiple domains.

While the program is still in its earliest stages, it represents a bold step toward more connected, more agile, and more efficient defense operations, both on the modern battlefield and right in our own backyards.

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