DAHLGREN, Va. –
At the start of a cold Thursday in January, a group of more than 20 scientists and engineers from Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) filed into the Innovation Lab, or iLab, for a day of learning and executing new skills. The NSWCDD innovators participated in the iLab’s second Modeling and Simulation Toolbox (MAST) Hackathon Jan. 27.
“MAST is a tool that allows an analyst to create models by piecing together components to create whatever they want to make, whether it is a littoral combat ship, helicopter, sailor or platoon. They use building pieces to do that,” explained MAST Senior Software Architect Clinton Winfrey. “After parameterizing a platform, analysts add the weaponry, sensors, missile launchers, etc. that belong with that system. Analysts can create representations of capabilities that exist today or those that have yet to be developed.”
While the Dahlgren-created model supports analysis efforts, current naval warfighters receive exposure to the toolbox, which is currently in use with Valiant Shield exercises out in the Pacific, through wargaming exercises and research done at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
“It’s a powerful instrument that can answer a lot of tough questions in a simple way. That’s the goal: to give people a capability that they don’t have already,” said Winfrey. “With a tool like MAST, analysts can answer ‘what if?’ questions and better understand what might occur in a situation that can’t easily be tested live.”
At the beginning of the event, participants engaged in a boot-camp to quickly learn the model, followed by implementing their newly-learned skills in three increasingly challenging scenarios.
“These hackathons are beneficial because they expose the workforce to a potential tool that is readily available and provide some hands-on experience,” said NSWCDD Force Analyst Josh Shiben. “We use MAST directly to derive some of the requirements for the future Navy’s needs. MAST is a really flexible tool. You don’t have to be a component programmer to use it – I’m not! It’s definitely useful in that regard.”
Seven teams of three participated in the events with each employee coming from a different program or project background, creating a space for unique perspectives on the scenarios to thrive.
“I like the interconnectivity of it all [the hackathon],” said David Barnes, a scientist from NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity. “If everyone on my home team was here working on these scenarios, we would get different results.”
During each of the three scenarios, members of the Warfare Analysis and Digital Modeling Department walked around the room to assist teams and review the scenario’s results. For each scenario, teams were scored based on how effective their solution was to the problem, with respect to casualties and cost effectiveness.
“The three exercises are the same scenario with increasing difficulty. After every round, we score them on how well they did based on how many ships they got across the finish line,” said Shiben. “The better they do and the cheaper they do it for, the higher the score. It’s more like a track meet – they’re not trying to kill each other, they’re trying to run faster.”
Ultimately, the team from the Electromagnetic and Sensor Systems Department outperformed the other teams, winning coveted bragging rights. Despite only one official ‘winner,’ each participant left with another tool in their toolboxes – the MAST model itself.
“All of the participants downloaded MAST. They can take back the lessons they have learned during the hackathon and go into the model and develop their own scenarios or apply them to scenarios for their department,” said iLab Director Tamara Stuart.
Other areas of MAST that were not explored during the hackathon, such as its applications in other weapon realms, are available to the technical departments.