Software developers, a sales manager and a security solutions architect from WWT snag first place title at US Navy Hack the Machine competition

On September 21, 2018, a group of WWT software and quality assurance engineers, a security solutions architect and our Navy sales manager traveled to Seattle to compete in the Naval Sea Systems Command: Hack the Machine competition.

The overall event included three separate contests: Maritime Capture the Flag: A Cyber Security Challenge, Data Science & The Seven Seas: A Data Analytics Challenge, and Hack for the Ocean: A DevOps Challenge.

The WWT team competed in the Hack for the Ocean Challenge, which challenged teams to develop applications to be deployed on the Agile Core System (ACS). The ACS is part of the US Navy Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services (CANES), with a goal to “consolidate and modernize shipboard, submarine and shore-based command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) network systems to increase capability and affordability across the fleet.”

The Navy wanted to leverage industry and academia to put CANES to the test, while fostering and building a community of practice for maritime software solutions. The goal of the Hack for the Ocean Challenge was to spur creative thinking around how the Navy develops and deploys software solutions to solve some of their biggest challenges.

Developing Solutions for First Responders

The task presented to the team was to put ourselves in the position of the first responders after Hurricane Katrina. The focus was to build container-based applications that are self-healing, resilient and respond to network and data restrictions.

Our team chose to create front-end applications to enable federal, state and local decision makers to pair civilian needs with the right resources and capabilities. We also developed a civilian support request website, which can offer a more customized support system to victims of natural disaster.

The WWT team focused on two technical areas:

  • Integrating government off the shelf (GOTS) systems such as the WWT-developed Mobile Field Kit (MFK) and Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK)
  • Exploring the capabilities and limitations of the ACS network to enable the Navy and its partners to identify gaps and realize the potential capabilities of the system

WWT at Hack the Machine 2

We accomplished these goals by executing the following technical achievements:

  • Developed services that ingested real-world datasets from Hurricane Katrina being replayed throughout ACS
  • Performed normalization techniques, analytics and aggregation on this data and then published our enhanced datasets back into ACS
  • Integrated additional data sets into ACS such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather data
  • Used Docker and Red Hat OpenShift to deploy our solutions to the ACS’s CI/CD pipeline
  • Deployed GOTS software in the ACS such as Team Awareness Kit (TAK) Server
  • Created an ACS and MFK integration service which allowed us to showcase the MFK’s capabilities as a platform by visualizing the Hurricane Katrina data

Software Community Creates Maritime Solutions

A main goal of this event was to foster a maritime software community for the Navy. Therefore, an additional focus of the WWT team was on collaboration with the other contestants and teams.

During the hackathon, a key piece of the ACS infrastructure crashed and could not be easily fixed by the event’s ACS engineers. This service was integral to one of our competitor’s data pipelines and left them dead in the water. The team provided them the source code and location of our data pipeline service within ACS as well as created documentation on how to use it. This allowed that team to successfully continue developing their application.

Event Takeaways

We also provided our key takeaways as a deliverable to the Navy and its partners. This will allow them to enhance the capabilities of the ACS and CANES system and tap its full potential to enhance the mission of the warfighter. A few of our takeaways include a list of pain points encountered during development and our suggestions for services or features that could be implemented in ACS, as well as different ways to improve the challenge overall.

The WWT team displayed incredible professionalism and dedication by being the first ones in the door and last ones out each day of the competition, as well as working into the early hours of the morning in the hotel conference room.

This dedication enabled us to demonstrate our software development expertise to the Navy and its partners, resulting in a first-place finish.

Judges noted our DevOps proficiency, our willingness to collaborate and our creativity and ability to integrate multiple GOTS systems with the ACS system. One judge commented on our solution, saying: “This is why we are here. Integrating GOTS systems into CANES is what the Navy wants to see.”

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