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NEWS | Feb. 3, 2022

NSWC Crane, Oregon State University, IU collaborate on machine learning research project

By Audrey C. Deiser, NSWC Crane Corporate Communications

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) is collaborating on a Naval Engineering Education Consortium (NEEC) funded project with students from Indiana University (IU) and Oregon State University (OSU).

“This program offers a great opportunity to recruit students and faculty to work on Crane projects and give insights on research we’re doing,” said Tyler Fitzsimmons, an engineer at NSWC Crane. “Without being directly involved in our projects, it can be difficult to understand Crane and Navy problems from the outside. Through these two to three year NEEC efforts, it allows us to work with students that would be good fit for NSWC Crane programs.”

NEEC was created by Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and is executed by the Warfare Centers. Its purpose is to develop and attract talented new professionals into the broad technical fields associated with current and future U.S. Navy ships and submarines by partnering with universities conducting cutting-edge research in areas of interest to the Navy. In 2020, the program awarded more than 50 grants to U.S. universities, bringing professors and students together with scientists and engineers at each of the 10 Warfare Center Divisions to explore solutions to the Navy’s most pressing technological challenges.

Fitzsimmons and students from IU and OSU have been working on the project since 2018. The basis of the effort is to understand the effects of adversarial learning through artificial intelligence and machine learning, using a visualization approach. Fitzsimmons said the goal is to take something that is usually theoretical and mathematical into something visual and easy to understand.

“For example, an enemy could try to manipulate your algorithm and make it do something bad. Instead of classifying cats and dogs, they make it only identify dogs, or change the algorithm to make it less effective. The goal of our project is not only to understand that process, but also make it visual so end users can look at the algorithm and see that someone is trying to manipulate it.  We also want to have a way to defend against it.”

Fitzsimmons said the key piece of the process is to create trust in the algorithms.

“If we can detect and defend, then our end users can trust these algorithms that they might have seen as a black box. The visualization part if this project enables trust because it will let end users known when someone is manipulating it. The indicator could be something simple, like a blinking light.”

A black box is a problem, concept, or piece of equipment that it is not known how it was made, how it works, or how to repair it.

Jarrod Hollis, a student at OSU, is part of the team working on the project. His PhD work is funded through the program.

“Working on this project has helped keep what I’ve learned in perspective. Since there are direct applications from my courses, it keeps the concepts locked in my head. It goes back and forth – using university learning on project, and then applying project learning to my coursework.”

Hollis said having regular meetings with the Crane scientists and engineers is helpful for guiding the project.

“We get feedback from Tyler and Dr. Robert [Templeman], and the questions they ask when we present our work help guide the direction we’re going,” said Hollis. “We’re academic researchers, so we’re interested in the topic for the sake of the topic – they frame it in a way that is practically applicable. It’s a perspective we wouldn’t easily get without this program.”

Fitzsimmons said he has been impressed with the students, and would definitely apply for NEEC funding again when he has another applicable research question.

“Both IU and Oregon State have done an excellent job of producing novel research and been very engaged. They have met all the milestones and have been great at coming up with solutions outside of the box. It has been mutually beneficial for Crane and universities.”

About NSWC Crane

NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today's Warfighter.

Join Our Team! NAVSEA employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce - from students and entry level employees to experienced professionals and individuals with disabilities. We support today's sophisticated Navy and Marine Corps ships, aircraft, weapon systems and computer systems. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, IT and cyber specialists, as well as trade and other support professionals to ensure the U.S. Navy can protect and defend America. Please contact NSWC Crane Human Resources at