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CHIPS Articles: Developing Navy Data Science Leaders

Developing Navy Data Science Leaders
By Diane Owens, SSC Atlantic Public Affairs - July-September 2018
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic’s mission to provide information warfare capabilities to warfighters relies heavily on actionable data. Every day, U.S. Sailors generate, capture and aggregate incredible amounts of information from a massive number of sources both afloat and ashore from around the world. Data comes from sensors on aircraft, ships, submarines and unmanned vehicles, or originates from records, radios or cyber networks.

Data sources include structured data that typically resides in a fixed field within a record or file. This includes data contained in relational databases and spreadsheets, and can include information warfare, enterprise information systems, and readiness information and also unstructured data from images, social media, video and text.

Today, most of the data generated by the departments of the Defense and Navy is reviewed by analysts who view hours of video footage, endless pages of text, and search countless digital devices for that golden nugget of actionable intelligence.

To complete the cycle, results must then be transmitted securely to warfighters in a format that makes sense so they can make quicker, better informed decisions. This allows commanders to assess and act on intelligence with confidence.

To this end, a pressing need exists for innovative capabilities to automate and filter data, increase the speed and accuracy of the data review process, and enhance the reliability of data interpretation and analysis.

SSC Atlantic’s ultimate goal is to ensure America’s warfighting advantage. This goal is augmented by the cross-cutting technology it develops to quickly and reliably aggregate, filter and analyze data using artificial intelligence algorithms to discover and communicate meaningful data to the right decision maker at the right time.

Becoming a Navy Data Science Leader

In 2012, SSC Atlantic leaders, recognizing the significance of data science to warfighting, formulated a career path for developing Navy data science leaders — data analysts and scientists — with expert knowledge in electronic sensors, the internet of things technology, data fusion, analytics, machine and deep learning, and artificial intelligence.

“The United States’ key military advantage is the amazing situational awareness service members are able to provide fellow warfighters leveraging sensors as old as humanity to those bordering on science fiction,” said SSC Atlantic Commanding Officer Capt. Scott Heller. “The amount of data these sensors provide today outstrips our ability to understand it and act fast enough to make a difference in combat. As the ocean of data continues to explode, the only way to keep pace is to automate the complex process of understanding it. SSC Atlantic’s data science teams are bringing advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and human interface skills to the table that are America’s best shot at remaining competitive over the next 100 years.”

To harness the power of data, SSC Atlantic builds data scientists, cultivating employees who have the interest and intellect to lead in this fast-growing field. These individuals complete internal and external training courses, are mentored by experienced professionals, and participate in rotations to other agencies to gain expertise in various data sets, and to collaborate with other data scientists within and outside the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) enterprise.

This plan leverages seasoned employees’ knowledge of Navy missions, systems, operations and issues — a skill not often available in new hires.

In addition to investing in workforce development, SSC Atlantic is making science and technology (S&T) investments.

In 2015, Dr. Lucas Overbey was awarded Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) 219 funding to create and lead the SSC Atlantic Analytics Research Center to establish an accredited S&T Center of Excellence for naval data science. Then as a follow-on, SSC Atlantic created the Data Science and Analytics (DS&A) initiative in 2017, led by Senior Scientific Technical Manager Robert Keisler, which builds on the groundwork of an existing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance group.

The DS&A models chart career paths for data engineers, data scientists and artificial intelligence engineers. The plans specify educational and experience requirements that must be met to advance from entry level to expert, and assist employees in building knowledge, skills and abilities in this critical area of engineering expertise.

Collaboration across the DON and DoD

SSC Atlantic data scientists have assisted a diverse set of organizations across a wide spectrum of challenges from warfare to health care and safety. Projects and partnering organizations are explained in the following paragraphs.

DON Support

The Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN(RDA) Fleet Engagement Team selected SSC Atlantic as the lead for the Big Data Analytics Fleet Engagement Team – one of 10. The Fleet Engagement Team pairs uniformed operational personnel with engineers and scientists for gap analysis to determine big data capabilities and technology needs that will help shape future Navy Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) investment decisions.

SSC Atlantic data scientists work with the Digital Warfare Office within the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare (N2N6). The DWO stood up in 2016 and is leading the Navy efforts to better utilize the vast amounts of data it produces to further advance its competitive advantage across all mission areas. The DWO’s Digital Factory project allows military members to share operational problems with data scientists who work to develop potential solutions.

Through the DWO, SSC Atlantic employees are working with the Naval Safety Center to generate more accurate forecasts of F/A-18 Hornet aircraft accidents, injuries and mechanical failures. Machine learning algorithms analyze an aggregate data set that includes data from previous flights, maintenance, readiness and pilot health. Results include a computer model that will accurately predict the risk of an incident combined with recommendations to lower risk.

For the Marine Corps, the Expeditionary Intelligence Technology Improvement, Innovation and Quick Reaction Capability Integrated Product Team (IPT) was formed to focus on data science and quick reaction capability needs within the intelligence community. Members from SSC Atlantic’s S&T group focus on long-term data science innovations to transition them to the battlespace and warfighters.

The IPT is providing management for intelligence systems supporting risk reduction efforts associated with the future integration of technology into the Distributed Common Ground/-Surface System -Marine Corps (DCGS-MC) program of record.

SSC Atlantic is transitioning MetaGNOME, a tool that identifies acronyms and their abbreviations, named entities, geolocations, phone numbers and email addresses, and other text-based features, to DCGS-MC by integrating an open source natural language processing tool that provides identification and tagging of named entities such as people, places and organizations. Transition is scheduled for fiscal year 2019.

For the Palantir Configuration Control Board, the IPT is assisting the Marine Corps’ intelligence community to provide intelligence analysts, operators and commanders with an advanced analytics capability. Palantir serves as a bridging solution until a viable advanced analytics capability is competed.

SSC Atlantic data scientists are developing small-scale, representative integrated data aggregation and analytics capabilities to add to the framework of the advanced analytics technology solution system for which the Marine Corps is currently contracting.

The team uses open source components and customized advanced analytics to develop analytics capabilities for Marine operational forces that incorporate machine learning and natural language processing. Capabilities being developed include a generalized recommender, a query builder, and a natural language pipeline to identify and extract military acronyms/abbreviations, named entities, geolocations and temporal features.

The generalized recommender suggests products to users with a technique similar to Pandora or Amazon. It has the ability to mesh many types of information to provide a discrete recommendation based on previous content users have accessed. The query builder allows system users to input natural language searches, which are translated into advanced Boolean search strings that include synonyms and various spellings for important terms. This eliminates the need to provide users with advanced training and increases the opportunity for data discovery.

SSC Atlantic scientists and engineers are contributing to the Office of Naval Research Future Naval Capabilities (FNC) providing Navy intelligence staffs a set of advanced data analytics to leverage under-exploited data. This effort aims to improve operational intelligence capabilities within the Navy’s Battlespace Awareness and Information Operations Program Office (PMW 120) Distributed Common Ground System-Navy Increment 2 program of record. Transition of these technologies, both ashore and afloat in the FNC’s Data Focused-Naval Tactical Cloud and Tactical Cloud Reference Implementation, will enable decisive decision-making in the battlespace.

The Data Focused-Naval Tactical Cloud leverages proven technologies, such as Apache Hadoop, Storm and Spark, and simplifies parallel and distributed computing by making it possible to store and process large volumes of data while data streaming and while data is at rest. Applied in the Lambda architecture — a data-processing architecture designed to handle massive amounts of data by taking advantage of — both batch and stream-processing methods — these technologies solve the challenges of big data and analytic processing.

DoD Support

Members of SSC Atlantic’s Medical Information Delivery IPT are providing solutions that support the Clinical Enterprise Intelligence Program for the Enterprise Intelligence and Data Solutions Program Management Office within the Defense Health Agency. DHA operates the DoD’s Medical Health System. Team members provide tools, data and processes to further the goal of getting the right health information to the right customers at the right time — in the right format.

Military member health information is collected and aggregated in near real-time from many sources. SSC Atlantic employees store the data and audit it under strict quality control guidelines. They also warehouse and audit Department of Veterans Affairs and DoD health care data, making it possible to aggregate and analyze in one place — for the first time ever — a collection of health care records of service members from enlistment through death.

The most visible tool, CarePoint, is used by 34,000 health care providers across the services and the military health system. This powerful tool, developed by SSC Atlantic, provides business intelligence and analysis in myriad ways. High-level military officers can access information, for example, on the prevalence of various diseases (e.g., diabetes or depression) among military members by city and state, to pinpoint the location with the highest incidence of an illness to detect trends ? and to form assistance and prevention plans.

Additionally, SSC Atlantic is reducing and consolidating the number of health care data repositories, retiring legacy systems and migrating data into a single repository.

SSC Atlantic personnel also help DHA find ways to improve data governance and data management to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Sharing Knowledge

SSC Atlantic employees are sharing data science knowledge in the military and private sector, within the local community and farther afield. In March 2017, SSC Atlantic organized a Data Analytics Special Session at the American Mathematical Society’s Spring Southeastern Meeting at the College of Charleston. This past February, personnel shared experience at the Naval Applications of Machine Learning Workshop sponsored by SSC Pacific.

In late 2018, SSC Atlantic is happy to host a Data Science and Analytics Workshop on behalf of the Naval Research and Development Establishment (NR&DE). The workshop’s goal is to assemble top Navy scientists to share knowledge, roadmap future data science and analytics research and development efforts and establish a Navywide data science community of interest.

SSC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (C4ISR), cyber and information technology (IT) capabilities. For more information, visit

Additional editing by CHIPS Magazine.

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