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NEWS | Aug. 5, 2022

NSWC Dahlgren Division Summer Interns Battle for Supremacy of the Seas During Hackathon

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

It’s World War II and U.S. Navy convoys are sailing dangerous waters on a mission to deliver troops and equipment to the battlefronts across the Atlantic. U-boats lurk like great white sharks just below the choppy surface. Suddenly, the terrifying wake of a torpedo speeds towards the convoy. A supply ship is struck portside as the convoy’s destroyers rush to engage the enemy sub. Depth charges explode sending giant plumes of seawater skyward.

As the battles play out, Naval Surface Warfare Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) summer interns watch the action unfold on their computer screens. The battles were simulated using the Modeling and Simulation Toolbox (MAST) platform during the Wargaming Hackathon on July 12.  Over 40 interns from across all seven of Dahlgren’s technical departments gathered at NSWCDD’s Innovation Lab (iLab) to compete.

The event started with a morning boot camp that gave the participants a crash course in behavior-based modeling and simulation for warfare analysis including tutorials on creating models and scenarios using MAST. For some of the interns, the Hackathon marked the first time trying their hand at computer programming. However, the most important skill required for the event was problem solving.

For iLab Director Tamara Stuart, the Hackathon offers a special opportunity for the interns. “The intent of the event is to expose our interns to one of the Navy and surface warfare center capabilities we have here at Dahlgren in a fun, collaborative environment,” she said. “It also gives them the ability to network with other interns they haven’t met yet, especially those who work for the same departments.”

Representing NSWCDD departments as teams, the interns worked together to build destroyers in MAST using predefined templates to protect their convoys. Their objectives included outfitting their ships with the necessary safety and weapons systems needed for the mission in a cost-effective manner. The teams were given the opportunity to test and refine their strategies before the competition phase.

The competition in the afternoon featured three separate rounds. After the first round, the artificial intelligence-based (AI) enemy subs became progressively more aggressive and responsive to each teams’ tactics. A team’s score is determined by the level of success of their destroyers’ ability to protect the convoy. Points were deducted from each team’s overall score based on battle damage suffered and the financial costs of those losses.

Force and Mission Analyst Gary Pepper served as one of the NSWCDD MAST experts who provided technical help and advice to the individual teams. Pepper has been impressed with the variety in winning solutions developed during each of the three Hackathons held so far. “Every winning solution is completely different and that helps us improve the behavior of the enemy AI for future competition,” he stated. “We love seeing the diversity of ideas and the fact that they’re all valid solutions.”

For Integrated Engagement Systems Department intern Will Anderson, the Hackathon presented a decidedly unique opportunity to view the Navy from another angle. The Naval Academy midshipman is entering his senior year and is majoring in mechanical engineering. “The Hackathon has given me an interesting perspective on how our systems are developed. That’s background I can refer to when I eventually use these same technologies once I’m a fleet officer,” Anderson said. “After seeing all of these amazing minds working to make our Navy better, I know I’ll have confidence in the equipment and systems I’ll be working with.” After receiving his commission, Anderson has his sights set on a career as a Navy aviator.

Throughout the Hackathon, very few points separated each of the teams. In the end, the interns from the Weapons Control and Integration Department stood victorious barely edging out the second place team. Virginia Commonwealth University electrical engineering student Megan Wallace attributes her team’s success to their trial and error approach. “It was great having the opportunity to collaborate with other interns in an exercise that involved creating strategies and solutions to problems. While we worked as a team, we also worked on different aspects individually or in smaller groups to test our ideas and then provide input to the rest of the group. We started off small with only one destroyer protecting our convoy in the first round and then asked ourselves how we can better approach the next round. Did we use enough ammunition? What happens if we increase our fire rate in the next round?”

Stuart sees several benefits for NSWCDD from the Hackathons. “With summer interns it helps with recruitment, retention and exposure to our different technical capabilities. For everyone, it’s about making the iLab an open and accessible environment to give people the opportunity to step away from their technical work in their home organization to learn about new tools and technologies available to them. Hopefully, that leads to faster development and deployment of new technologies to the fleet.”