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NEWS | Aug. 25, 2023

NSWCDD interns compete in Modeling and Simulation Toolbox Summer Hackathon

By Taft Coghill Jr., NSWCDD Corporate Communications

With a large number of interns and recent hires at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) this year, Hackathon creators Gary Pepper and Joshua Shiben of the Warfare Analysis and Digital Modeling Department were busy coming up with events to engage the new faces.

Pepper and Shiben hosted four Modeling and Simulation Toolbox (MAST) hackathons this year after holding one in 2021 and three in 2022. More than 100 new hires and interns engaged in the events this year.

“The benefit of the MAST hackathons is the ability for the entire NSWCDD community to be exposed to the modeling and simulation world,” said Pepper who is an analyst in the Force Analysis and Strategic Studies Branch. “One of MAST’s strengths is its ease of use. Participants discover that you don’t always need to be a programmer to be able to do modeling and simulation.”

The recent Summer Hackathon for interns began on July 19 with boot camp for the participants.

During boot camp, 25 interns situated in NSWCDD’s Innovation Lab were introduced to behavior-based modeling and simulation for warfare analysis and participated in tutorials about creating models and simulations in the MAST.

“We use MAST because it’s sort of a sandbox that they can play around in,” said Shiben, an analyst in the Force Analysis and Strategic Systems Branch. “I hope they glean a little of what we do in our branch and in particular in the system of systems’ holistic approach to modeling scenarios.”

The boot camp was the first step before the daylong Hackathon began. The purpose of the Hackathon is to provide workforce development for the interns, expose them to work outside their functional unit, introduce them to modeling and simulation concepts, foster teamwork and collaboration through war gaming and to familiarize them with MAST.

One of the desired outcomes is an improved ability to rapidly learn and apply new modeling techniques for warfare applications.

A total of six teams, comprised of three to six interns, worked together to overcome challenges using their newly acquired modeling and simulation skills.

The particular assignment for this Hackathon was to escort and defend commercial convoys as well as find, fix, target and execute U-boats in a simulation of The Battle of the Atlantic during World War II.

“This is the hardest part for the interns because they’re jumping in the deep end a little bit,” Shiben said. “But they also get a little bit of an understanding of the full kill chain and how the design process works.”

Shiben and Pepper started hackathons to allow participants the opportunity to enhance their knowledge of surface warfare capabilities and to build a professional network with other NSWCDD interns and new hires.

Shiben said participants bring a lot of positive energy to the experience.

“They’re eager to learn and they’re always eager to win,” Shiben said. “They’re competitive. Once they start seeing scores and team rankings, they really get into it.”

The team names at the Summer Hackathon for interns were Construction Noises, Drain Breads, Team HEDGE, KERNZ, Insider Threat and Canada Giraffes. KERNZ earned the title after winning a tiebreaker with Drain Breads.

Tristan Anderson, a third-year student at Virginia Tech pursuing a doctorate in physics, said the Hackathon simulated a variety of threats to ships and should prove beneficial to his career.

“To be successful, we had to neutralize the bad actors and protect the good guys,” said Anderson, who interned in the Integrated Engagement Systems Department. “The Hackathon was about paying attention to the little details and finding a strategy to exploit the threat’s weaknesses. I like to think it was a lesson or dress rehearsal for what is standing in the way between me and my dreams.”