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19 Nov 21. DoD identifies companies to bid on its new cloud effort. The Department of Defense Friday issued solicitations to Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft and Oracle to bid on its next major cloud initiative, the replacement for the controversial Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract. After a years long battle, the Pentagon scrapped the JEDI cloud contract, which would have been worth up to $10 billion over a decade. That was intended to be a single vendor effort, initially awarded to Microsoft.
Amazon, which lost to Microsoft, filed suit in court alleging in part that then-President Donald Trump interfered with the decision because of his public feud with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Instead, DoD has now opted for a multicloud environment through its new effort, known as the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC).
“You must have multicloud really to be as successful as you can be, to go with the best fit for your mission need given the varying capabilities that each of the [cloud service providers] bring to the fight in their given area,” then-acting Chief Information Officer John Sherman told reporters in July. He is now the nominee to serve in that role.
The newly announced solicitations are not quite contracts and more like requests for proposals. A DoD spokesperson said the department plans to award contracts in the third quarter of fiscal 2022.
The Friday DoD announcement noted the department anticipates awarding IDIQ contracts to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, but intends to also award to all cloud service providers that demonstrate they can meet the requirements.
The Pentagon said it only solicited four companies because market research indicated only a limited number of organizations can meet the requirements.
“Currently, the Department is aware of only five U.S.-based hyperscale [cloud service providers],” the notice said, without identifying the fifth. “Furthermore, only two of those hyperscale CSPs ― AWS and Microsoft ― appear to be capable of meeting all of the DoD’s requirements at this time, including providing cloud services at all levels of national security classification.”
According to the notice, DoD is also seeking information from additional sources to inform its acquisition strategy.
All the IDIQ contracts, through which task orders will be placed, are intended to be for a three-year base period of performance with two one-year option periods, the notice said.
DoD is still evaluating a contract ceiling for the JWCC, but projects it to be in the multibillion dollar range.
“At a high level, the JWCC requirements include providing capability and parity of service at all three classification levels, integrated cross domain solutions, global availability of tactical edge environments and enhanced cybersecurity controls,” Danielle Metz, DoD Deputy Chief Information Officer for the Information Enterprise, said.
A cloud environment is necessary for the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control concept, which seeks to more seamlessly connect sensor information to shooters for faster decision-making.
During the JEDI delay, officials decried the legal fights, arguing troops urgently needed this critical capability. (Source: Defense News)
18 Nov 21. Defense Innovation Unit Publishes ‘Responsible AI Guidelines.’ The Defense Innovation Unit released its initial “Responsible AI Guidelines” document Nov. 15, with intent to operationalize the Defense Department’s ethical principles of artificial intelligence into its commercial prototyping and acquisition efforts.
“DIU’s RAI guidelines provide a step-by-step framework for AI companies, DOD stakeholders and program managers that can help to ensure that AI programs are built with the principles of fairness, accountability and transparency at each step in the development cycle of an AI system,” Jared Dunnmon, PhD, technical director of the artificial intelligence/machine learning portfolio at DIU said.
The DIU team has spent the last 18 months working with researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, and speaking with industry partners, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, academia and government officials, and testing these guidelines in order to solicit helpful feedback, Dunnmon said. They are intended specifically for use on DIU programs.
The aim of the guidelines, he said is to:
- Accelerate programs from the outset by clarifying end goals, alignment of expectations, and acknowledgment of risks and trade-offs.
- Increase confidence that AI systems are developed, tested, and vetted with the highest standards of fairness, accountability and transparency.
- Support changes in the way AI technologies are evaluated, selected, prototyped and adopted in order to avoid potential bad outcomes.
- Elicit questions and conversations that are crucial for AI project success.
The guidelines provide examples of how responsible AI considerations can be put into practice in real-world programs, in an effort to create a user-friendly and more easily understood document that expedites the process, Dunnmon said.
“Users want so they can trust and verify that their tools protect American interests without compromising our collective values,” John Stockton, co-founder of Quantifind, a software technology company, that provided DIU feedback on the guidelines during their prototype project said. “These guidelines show promise for actually accelerating technology adoption, as it helps identify and get ahead of potentially show-stopping issues. We’ve found that leaning into this effort has also served us well outside of government, by strengthening internal controls and producing transparency and patterns of trust that can also be leveraged with all users, both public and private.”
To view the guidelines, visit: https://www.diu.mil/responsible-ai-guidelines. (Source: US DoD)
18 Nov 21. UK and US defence conduct Cyber Management Review. Commander UK Strategic Command and Commander US Cyber Command met to discuss combined cyber capabilities. On 9 November 2021, UK and US representatives met face to face for the first time in 2 years for a headquarters-level forum to discuss combined cyberspace campaigns and capabilities, called the Cyber Management Review. The Cyber Management Review is a collaborative forum between the leadership of UK Strategic Command, GCHQ, and the US National Security Agency, US Cyber Command. It is supported by ongoing interactions across multiple levels of the organisations, and provides guidance for future military and intelligence efforts in the cyber domain.
This close collaboration enables both nations to develop world-class cyber capabilities while ensuring the different organisations can work seamlessly together by using technology, insights, and activities to support shared objectives in cyberspace.
The Cyber Management Review is one way in which the UK and US can leverage and enable partnerships to generate shared insights, improve collective defence, and impose common costs for malicious cyber activity undermining the international rules-based order.
The 2021 Cyber Management Review provides the following statement, reaffirming the joint commitment to a bi-lateral relationship in cyberspace, and a shared focus to address new and emerging threats in an era of strategic competition:
As like-minded allies for two centuries, the United Kingdom and the United States share a close and enduring relationship. Our two nations today face strategic threats in an interconnected, digital world that seek to undermine our shared principles, norms, and values. We agree that strategic engagement in cyberspace is crucial to defending our way of life, by addressing these evolving threats with a full range of capabilities. To carry this out, we will continue to adapt, innovate, partner and succeed against evolving threats in cyberspace.
We will achieve this by planning enduring combined cyberspace operations that enable a collective defence and deterrence, and impose consequences on our common adversaries who conduct malicious cyber activity. As democratic cyber nations, the UK and US are committed to doing so in a responsible way in line with international law and norms, setting the example for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
17 Nov 21. Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) was recently awarded an expanded scope of work contract that further enables Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) with the development of a satellite communications (SATCOM)-enabled Freedom Radio. Northrop Grumman’s Freedom Radios provide open architecture, platform agnostic, cyber-secure solutions to support a wide range of integrated communications and networking mission functions across domains.
“Through this AFRL contract, we will be able to mature an open architecture, SATCOM-enabled Freedom Radio solution designed to help create a truly interconnected JADC2 network architecture across air, land, sea and space,” said Jenna Paukstis, vice president, communications solutions, Northrop Grumman. “Our SATCOM-enabled Freedom Radio will allow warfighters to quickly gather and share information from space assets to help them make more informed decisions via an interconnected JADC2 network.”
This new contract expands the scope of a December 2019 Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) award. The purpose of the contract is to demonstrate a SATCOM-enabled networking radio in a relevant mission environment designed to provide secure and resilient mission data that can be shared from space to multiple receiving platforms in near-real time. This enables warfighters to quickly analyze information, enhance situational awareness and help the DoD realize its vision for an interconnected, JADC2 network.
The foundation of the SATCOM-enabled Freedom Radio is designed using Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Communications, Navigation and Identification (ICNI) system and market-leading Software Development Kit as a method of implementing new, open architecture capabilities onto the company’s series of Software Defined Radios. These advancements are designed to accelerate and rapidly deploy new capabilities, including third-party industry solutions.
Northrop Grumman is planning to conduct a proof-of-concept demonstration for its SATCOM-enabled Freedom Radio later this year. This demonstration will be blending third-party vendor technologies into Northrop Grumman’s core open architectures to support the rapid capability investments made by the DoD to support JADC2 efforts. This collaboration supports Northrop Grumman’s effort to create new advanced networking technologies that benefit the warfighter and all branches of the U.S. military.
Northrop Grumman’s broad portfolio of Freedom Radios are currently used on a number of platforms to help warfighters across multiple branches of the military easily communicate and securely share actionable information across air, land, sea and space.
16 Nov 21. Google wants a place on the next big DOD cloud contract. Google wants to be a part of the next big Defense Department cloud contract.
Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, wrote in a blog post Nov. 11 that it should be considered alongside Microsoft and Amazon to compete for the Defense Department’s major cloud program meant to replace the scuttled JEDI program. We know very little about the specifics of the [request for proposal] because it has not yet been issued and Google has not yet been invited to bid. Most of our information is based on what we know of the JEDI proposal as well as what we have learned as part of the JWCC market research process,” Kurian wrote. “However, if we are invited to be part of the JWCC contract, we will absolutely bid.”
DOD announced the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) as a replacement of the controversial Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract in July. Unlike JEDI, JWCC is intended to be a multi-cloud, multi-vendor award that will select from a pre-approved group of companies. The Defense Department has already identified Microsoft and Amazon as potentially capable of fulfilling the requirement. JWCC is slated to fully stand up by 2025 and orchestrated by the Defense Infrastructure Agency.
The Defense Department is wrapping up market research on JWCC, with a request for proposals in the offing.
Kurian noted that when DOD first announced JEDI, Google wasn’t ready — but it is now and can meet the technical and security requirements for several government classifications levels despite not knowing the specifics of the JWCC contract.
“When the JEDI RFP was issued, Google Cloud was not in a position to bid” because of “various classification levels and other technical requirements necessary to compete,” Kurian wrote, adding that the single award structure of JEDI meant that “there would be certain projects the DOD would pursue that were incompatible with Google’s AI Principles.”
According to Kurian, those security issues are no longer a hurdle, and since JWCC is proposed as a multi-vendor contract, Google would not be required to bid on task orders that ran counter to its AI principles.
The post also addresses the past protests, when employees at Google and Microsoft protested against the company’s partnership with DOD regarding the potential weaponization of AI.
“We understand that not every Googler will agree with this decision, but we believe Google Cloud should seek to serve the government where it is capable of doing so and the work aligns with our AI principles and company values,” Kurian wrote. “The JWCC framework will offer up many opportunities for Google to help the men and women in our armed services to ensure their success and safety, and we look forward to doing so just as Google has been doing for many years.” (Source: Defense Systems)
15 Nov 21. US Army lab cuts down risk-reduction timeline ahead of Project Convergence. A year-old lab is cutting down the time it takes to perform risk-reducing tests on technologies headed to major military exercises. The U.S. Army’s Joint Systems Integration Laboratory, created in October 2020, is the next iteration of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center’s efforts to perform lab-based risk reduction on communications and technical gear before it goes out to the field for training. Typically, the Army wants to ensure such systems work from a technical perspective before soldiers use them. The communications exercise risk-reduction leading up to a major Army exercise last year, Project Convergence 20, took six weeks. Now the lab is able to fulfil that same need for this year’s Project Convergence in 10 days.
“We were able to cut back on a heck of a lot of time, travel and work that went on out in the dirt down there,” Kimberly Moeltner, JSIL lead, told C4SIRNET in a Nov. 2 interview. “That’s where you see the bang for the buck.”
The 20,000-square-foot facility is able to trim the timeline because it can replicate operational environments. For example, officials said, if a radio needs to be tweaked, someone needs to physically drive onto the range, which is both time-consuming and difficult because of ongoing live-fire exercises. Instead, the lab can replicate distances and, to some degree, threats to provide a baseline prior to fielding tech. That helps the service understand how systems of systems integrate with each other over various networks — a complex task.
The systems won’t always work in the field exactly as they did in the lab, but the JSIL’s modeling and simulation cuts down on tweaks needed during an exercise.
“If we can do it here, it doesn’t mean it will work right off the bat out in a real operational scenario, but it does mean that we know in the controlled environment these are the pieces that did work, and so it’s got to be something else that lets us target where those challenges may be,” said Joseph Welch, director of the C5ISR Center. “It’s a very larger area, and there’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong [while] understanding what your baseline looks like. The JSIL is able to do all of that so that we know when these systems start performing out there, if they’ve got issues or challenges, we know what the baseline looks like and we also have this capability that’s back here that’s able to troubleshoot in parallel to make [Project Convergence] as successful as we can.”
Moreover, experts can remotely participate with the lab, which widens the pool of those able to contribute to JSIL’s efforts.
Another difference between previous risk-reduction efforts and JSIL’s current approach is the inclusion of joint partners. As the Defense Department charts toward its new operating concept — Joint All-Domain Command and Control — the armed services will need to coordinate more on systems. Ahead of this year’s Project Convergence, there were 13 external organizations, including joint partners, that joined the lab’s efforts. That complemented the actual exercise, which saw a significant increase in joint participation.
Welch said there were representatives from all the services at the communications exercises ahead of Project Convergence, and he found it interesting to see how all the systems behaved in real life.
Next year, officials hope to bring in coalition partners.
Looking at the smaller picture
Officials also said JSIL can help smaller and informal communications exercises more frequently to improve the fidelity of systems.
It could also be leveraged by joint partners in conjunction with their labs or by companies to improve systems and help transition programs from the research and development community.
Additionally, given all the data the facility provides, officials said they are working with the Army’s testing community to reuse some of that data to feed into developmental tests for programs.
“You want to learn as much as you can before you have to get out in the operational environment where it’s costly and it can be very complex to understand the variables because the dynamics of that environment, understand as much as you can in the lab,” Welch said. “I would foresee the JSIL being utilized potentially reaching developmental test objectives.”
Combined with the C5ISR Center’s DevSecOps effort, dubbed Orion Forge, the lab could also support operations rather than just operational exercises.
“You could envision where we’ve got a product that’s deployed, it’s been fielded, it’s managed by a [project or program manager] and there’s some real-time feedback because of a situation that wasn’t anticipated where we need to bring this in or we need to make this change to the software,” Welch said. “The Orion Forge implementation — it provides the environment for that to be received, built and then redeployed very rapidly to be able to adjust those needs quickly.” (Source: Defense News)
16 Nov 21. DST Group calls for C2 EoIs. DST Group is calling for Expressions of Interest (EoI) from academic partners wanting to explore the efficacy of an organisations Command and Control (C2) sociotechnical system. Submissions close 1 December.
The principal focus will be on the integration of C2 of operations in the physical environment with effects in the information environment. In doing so, this EOI seeks to inform the critical C2 challenges, including:
- How to implement Defence end-to-end joint all domain C2 organisational change, to achieve multi-domain operations posturing the ADF to deliver synchronised effects, and;
- How to optimise Defence’s C2 approach to operate in contested, congested and denied environments while withstanding operational shocks.
This research is being conducted under the aegis of the Agile Command and Control STaR Shot program to transform how military capabilities are synthesised into a more effective and resilient force. For further information go to the DST Group web site: https://www.dst.defence.gov.au/partner-with-us/opportunities/eoi-call-c2-sociotechnical-experimentation-collaboration(Source: Rumour Control)
15 Nov 21. ThinKom’s Aero Satellite Terminal Selected by Leidos for Special Mission Aircraft. ThinKom Solutions, Inc. (ThinKom) has delivered its ThinAir® Ka2517 phased-array antenna system to Leidos for installation on its new high-accuracy electronic intelligence aircraft for the U.S. Army. Leidos designed and developed the demonstrator Special Mission Aircraft (LSMA) using a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) Bombardier Challenger 650 jet. The aircraft has been modified to carry a sophisticated suite of electronics enabling extended electronic sensing deep into the threat environment to deliver long-range precision surveillance while remaining outside the range of hostile air defense systems. It has the speed and endurance to get quickly to a hot spot and remain on station for long periods of time.
The ThinKom Ka2517 low-profile Ka-band aero satellite antenna system, which is being integrated with a U.S. military-compliant modem, provides real-time, reliable and resilient broadband transmission to and from the aircraft in flight. The phased-array antenna has the agility to interoperate seamlessly with satellites in geostationary (GEO) and non-geostationary (NGSO) orbits, ensuring worldwide connectivity. The low-profile radome minimizes in-flight drag, resulting in lower fuel consumption and longer time on station, without refueling.
The Ka2517 is based on ThinKom’s field-proven patented VICTS (Variable Inclination Continuous Transverse Stub) phased-array technology. VICTS antennas have an unparalleled record of reliability with installations on over 1,600 commercial aircraft with over 24 m hours of accrued flight time and a mean-time-between-failure (MTBF) in excess of 100,000 hours. Ka2517 antennas have been providing continuous service on other U.S. government aircraft since 2018.
“ThinKom’s VICTS antennas meet or exceed the performance requirements for the LSMA airborne missions,” said Bill Milroy, Chairman and CTO of ThinKom. “The open architecture system provides robust, reliable and resilient command, control and communications capabilities, operating across multiple satellites and constellations and using multiple waveforms, including those enabling specialized crypto capabilities. The antennas have extremely well-behaved sidelobes and pattern characteristics that support robust Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) and Low Probability of Detection (LPD).”
“The satellite antenna on the LSMA platform is an important enabling technology,” said Leidos Vice President for Airborne Solutions Matthew Pfrommer. “We selected the ThinKom Ka2517 design because of its proven reliability, ensuring uninterrupted, high-bandwidth, mission-critical connectivity under the most extreme conditions.”
The LMSA, outfitted with the ThinKom phased array, will undergo in-flight testing in early 2022.
15 Nov 21. Defence organisations concerned over inability to support growing number of disconnected operations. New research shows over half of respondents (54.5%) need better support for missions taking place in disconnected scenarios; many have concerns that software infrastructure is not keeping pace. IFS, the global cloud enterprise applications company, has today shared research revealing that military operators and defence in-service support providers consider disconnected operations a priority to effectively assist missions that take place with minimal or no information system connectivity.
In a recent poll* of military forces, in-service support providers and defence manufacturers, over two thirds agreed that the ability to operate in a disconnected, intermittent, and limited bandwidth (DIL) operational environment is essential to military operations.
When asked what aspect of disconnected operations require the most improvement, 54.5% of respondents highlighted the need to maintain a single version of truth and keeping an asset’s status in sync. This was followed by keeping consistent connectivity between a main operating base (MOB) and distributed forward operating bases (FOBs) at 23%.
Yet the findings exposed a stark gap between the need to perform mission-critical operations in “dark-mode” and the ability of existing software to facilitate asset information in disconnected settings. Around one fifth of the respondents believe their current software infrastructure is incapable of aggregating, consolidating and storing data in a disconnected setting, while also providing physical and software-based hardening against attack.
Respondents identified the three main driving forces behind the growth in disconnected operations. Unplanned connectivity interruptions ranked highest, cited by 41% of respondents, followed by planned instances of disconnected operations as part of the normal day-to-day business, and a shift to a more distributed operational model (both at 23%).
“These findings show that disconnected operations is a nascent and growing field that is gaining more attention from all types of defence organisations—from military operators through to in-service support providers and manufacturers themselves,” said Matt Medley, IFS Defence Manufacturing Industry Director. “Re-syncing information such as engineering and maintenance data, technical records and more may sound simple, but this is a very difficult task to manage from a data architecture perspective. Supporting software must prove it is up the challenge to mitigate any outage and keep a single picture of the truth between operating bases during mission-critical disconnected operations.”
Are you ready to experience the state of being disconnected?
To learn more about the emerging trend of distributed operations and listen to the full webinar, please visit our webpage https://disconnected.ifs.com/. The IFS Disconnected Operations page offers a unique experience that only works when the user is disconnected from the internet—mimicking the experience of a military operator facing a disconnected operations scenario.
15 Nov 21. Zephyr High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) achieves connectivity in trial conducted by Airbus and NTT DOCOMO.
- The companies demonstrated the feasibility of providing communication services from the stratosphere to smartphones
- Data transmissions across various speeds up to a distance of 140km were successfully demonstrated.
Airbus and NTT DOCOMO, INC. have demonstrated the ability to use its solar-powered Zephyr High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) to deliver future wireless broadband connectivity. The trial took place in the United States in August, when the Zephyr S aircraft undertook approx. 18-day stratospheric flights to test various capabilities.
Carrying an onboard radio transmitter, the Zephyr S provided an agile datalink during a stratospheric flight to simulate future direct-to-device connectivity. Test data was captured at different altitudes and at different times of day and night, focusing on assessing how connectivity is affected in the stratosphere by factors including weather conditions, different elevation angles and aircraft flight patterns.
Tests included various bandwidths to simulate direct-to-device service from the HAPS to end users using low, nominal and high throughput. The demonstration confirmed the viability and versatility of the 2GHz spectrum for HAPS-based services and also the use of a narrow (450MHz) band to provide connectivity in a range of up to 140km.
The measurement and analysis of the propagation of radio waves transmitted from Zephyr demonstrated the feasibility of stratospheric communications to devices such as smartphones. Based on the results of this experiment, Airbus and NTT DOCOMO aims to provide communication services to mountainous areas, remote islands, and maritime areas where radio waves are difficult to reach.
“DOCOMO believes that HAPS will be a promising solution for coverage expansion in 5G evolution and 6G,” said Takehiro Nakamura, General Manager of DOCOMO’s 6G-IOWN Promotion Department. “In this measurement experiment, we were able to demonstrate the effectiveness of HAPS, especially for direct communication to smartphones, through long-term propagation measurements using actual HAPS equipment. Based on these results, we would like to further study the practical application of HAPS in 5G evolution and 6G with Airbus.”
As part of efforts to further advance 5G and prepare for 6G, “coverage expansion” to expand communication networks to any location, including air and sea, is being studied worldwide. To achieve this, non-terrestrial network (NTN) technology is expected to be used. In addition to coverage of the air and sea, stratospheric HAPS networking will be useful for disaster preparedness and many industrial use cases, for example, to increase communication capacity in densely populated areas such as event venues, and remotely controlling heavy equipment at construction sites.
The test data will be used to inform future LTE direct-to-device services that are expected to be provided via the Airbus Zephyr HAPS solution.
“Bns of people across the world suffer from poor or no connectivity. These tests show us the viability of the stratosphere to bridge this divide and provide direct to device connectivity via Zephyr without the need for base stations or extra infrastructure,” Stephane Ginoux, Head of North Asia region for Airbus and President of Airbus Japan K.K.
The trial involved a radio propagation experiment from the stratosphere at an altitude of approximately 20 kilometers to a receiving antenna on the ground. Tests involved a direct connection between the radio equipment on board a Zephyr S HAPS aircraft flying in the stratosphere and the ground antenna under conditions of ever-changing altitude and day/night time.
The trial tested the stability of the connection between the Zephyr S HAPS and the ground antenna and how it was affected by factors such as weather conditions, differences in reception distance, and the flight pattern of the HAPS aircraft. As a result, under three specific scenarios: clear, rainy and cloudy conditions, and in a multitude of flight patterns, data transmissions across various speeds were successfully demonstrated, up to a distance of 140km.
12 Nov 21. ‘Blue Angels for geeks’: Inside the US Navy’s plan to ‘hack’ its own unmanned strategy. In an exclusive interview, the officer in charge of the Navy’s research and development enterprise said he wants the upcoming Hack the Machine event to result in real demonstrations for Navy leadership by next year. The US Navy next week plans to challenge hundreds of outsiders to a series of tests to see if, and how, they can evade, break, or even take over the service’s unmanned systems. If it goes well, the service will walk away with its methods ransacked and a whole lot of homework for the admirals to do about shoring up its unmanned strategy before it’s called on to face a real adversary.
“There is no admiral in the fleet today who’s going to go fight with unmanned systems, even in concert with manned platforms, until it is proven to them that they can be effective,” Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, chief of naval research and head of the Office of Naval Research, told Breaking Defense in an exclusive Nov. 9 interview. “One of the things ONR has done throughout its history is proven to senior leadership that new technologies can be used in militarily relevant ways to create effects and that is part of what we’re doing.”
That’s where next week’s competition comes in. Branded as “HACKtheMACHINE: Unmanned,” the Nov. 16 event will bring in a variety of groups not usually found in Pentagon Rolodexes to troubleshoot military problems — from vulnerabilities in autonomous navigation software to methods for accelerating acquisition — with cash rewards for the top competitors.
It’s not just senior leadership and fleet commanders who need to see the validation for which Selby’s hoping. For the past several years, the Navy in both public and private has argued the value of unmanned systems to lawmakers who are skeptical of the rapid pace the Pentagon is proposing and are fiercely protective of the funding — and by extension constituent jobs — that labor from building traditional warships bring.
The Defense Department has hosted these competitions before, but Selby and Fathom5, the company helping ONR produce the event, said every challenge this year is directly linked to a program executive officer behind it who is ready to put the best solutions to use as quickly as possible.
That’s in part to guard against what Fathom5 chief executive Zachary Staples called the kind of “innovation theater” that’s plagued past Pentagon attempts to bring in outsiders.
“You get people to come out for their first engagement with DOD and then nothing happens with it… That person probably isn’t going to collaborate with the Navy or the Marine Corps again,” said Staples, a 20-year Navy veteran who started organizing Hack the Machine events while still in uniform.
Although the event’s name may imply a focus on cybersecurity, Selby said that is a misconception. Rather, the challenges are about presenting militarily interesting problems in a way the public can understand and troubleshoot.
This year’s competition has three “tracks,” or challenges, all backed by specific admirals: Rear Adm. Seiko Okano at PEO Integrated Weapons Systems, Rear Adm. Casey Moton at PEO Unmanned and Small Combatants, and Rear Adm. Kurt Rothenhaus at PEO C4I, as well as John Armantrout, a program manager for cybersecurity.
One track was inspired by Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem 21, an exercise held earlier this year focused on bringing different kinds of unmanned systems together in the same battlespace. That exercise demonstrated that a variety of problems arise when different types of unmanned vehicles attempt to communicate with one another, Staples said.
This track “is going to go after a couple of problems in this space,” he said. “It’s a bug bounty program on autopilot. Every unmanned system has an autopilot [software] and the Navy needs to understand the classes of vulnerabilities in autopilots in general.”
Commonly used by technology companies, “bug bounty” programs involve organizations offering cash rewards to anyone who can identify potentially problematic code in their software. For the Navy’s purposes, this could mean a backdoor vulnerability that a hostile actor would use to send new commands to a drone executing a mission or issues in autonomous navigation software that may cause vessels to collide.
Another track centers on modeling and simulation to accelerate the acquisition process. Contestants will be given a set of mission goals and then build a simulation of a wide-area search scenario, acting as both a rogue actor seeking to avoid detection and as the Navy trying to find them. The end goal is to use modeling and simulation to help the Navy determine what capabilities it needs to pursue for a given scenario.
Staples and Selby said this track may have direct implications for US Southern Command which is routinely tasked with interdicting illegal narcotic smugglers. ONR is planning an event next summer focused on how unmanned systems may be able to help SOUTHCOM with its interdiction mission. The groups and solutions that perform the best in this track could be used in ONR’s upcoming exercise.
“The modeling and simulation practices for defining the operational requirements in [this track] are going to directly impact how PEO IWS works,” Staples said. “There’s direct linkages out of every track to take innovation into action, and that’s really what matters.”
The last track deals with the infrastructure for artificial intelligence and machine learning. Staples said that if the Navy is going to use those two technologies effectively in its unmanned systems, then the service will need to be able to work with and share large datasets with researchers at scale to better refine its capabilities.
From a meeting with Silicon Valley-types to a new task force
Happening in the background of all the Navy’s unmanned initiatives is the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday’s service-wide unmanned task force, an overarching effort to ensure the service’s actions and goals for unmanned systems are in sync.
Asked about how next week’s event will feed into Gilday’s panel, Selby related a short anecdote about the task force’s creation. The rear admiral said in April, his office at ONR sponsored a meeting with “a number of innovative folks” in Silicon Valley as well as Navy personnel from the requirements offices, including Michael Stewart, now one of the unmanned panel’s leaders.
Following that meeting, Selby’s team worked with Stewart’s office as well as the Navy acquisition executive to begin developing what is now the Unmanned Task Force. Selby’s team was also heavily involved in developing the unmanned campaign plan, the document published by Gilday last year that lays out the service’s goals for unmanned platform acquisition.
“All these things have been kind of sequenced to kind of show a natural progression between the campaign strategy, the [science and technology] plan, and then the task force stand-up, this Hack the Machine [event] and this [unmanned exercise] that we’re talking about doing early next year to show what can be done and how you can do things differently and still achieve militarily relevant effects,” Selby said.
Staples said he jokes with Selby that he views Hack the Machine as analogous to naval aviation’s famous flight demonstration team, which was created to boost recruitment.
“What does the Blue Angels for geeks look like?” he said. “What do we do to attract geeks who want to help their country, but they don’t see their path in?” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
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