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Henry M. Robert

About the Kyiv Hackathon

“Ukraine-NATO cooperation in the IT sector should help us to create effective and unique automatic control systems,” deputy chief of General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Rodion TYMOSHENKO believes
5 June, 2018 - 11:36

There is probably no industry today whose development and successful existence do not involve high technology professionals, programmers, software engineers, and generally creatively thinking people who can solve problems and achieve objectives at the level of models and algorithms. Similarly, the defense and security sectors need innovative solutions, non-standard approaches and ideas that have to do with automation, inter-departmental communication, modeling of situations, in particular crisis ones, and the formation of cases with ready-made operational responses to threats or risks. On July 23-27, the UnitCity Innovation Park in Kyiv will host the first Ukrainian Defense Hackathon innovative event. It is aimed at improving the interaction between security agencies in the context of developing software products to address current defense and security issues.

Similar defense-themed hackathons are held by NATO member countries. Representatives of the Ukrainian defense department have twice participated in this IT competition. The Ukrainian Armed Forces team even won the TIDE Hackathon 2018 programming competition in the Italian city of Genoa. Of course, this is an extremely useful development. This is because such events allow one to have something like an audit of national capabilities or those of a specific sector (for example, the armed forces, civil defense, police, etc.) concerning the ability to quickly and efficiently find software solutions for specific tasks or situations, as well as for the control system at its various levels. The ability to find the right answers critically determines the time needed and volumes of resources that have to be invested in the process of finding a solution. The solution, even if perfect, is no longer needed when we have failed to cope with the task or when, figuratively speaking, the enemy is already in our trenches. That is, we need teams that literally predict reality and can spatially imagine it and build models of interaction between all elements of this reality. It is extremely difficult, but very much doable. It is no coincidence that the objectives of the Strategic Defense Bulletin of Ukraine and its general course towards the implementation of the North Atlantic Alliance’s standards include some very specific positions that we vitally need to achieve. In particular, and this is confirmed by real fighting experience, it is high time for creating a single integrated system of control, communications, intelligence, and surveillance.

It is worth noting that, especially in the context of the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) or in the context of other joint actions, such a system should help to carry out its tasks more effectively using various components of the security and defense sector of Ukraine. It is clear that the Hackathon-2018 in Kyiv will not offer us any ready-made solutions, but it can be a prolog for the formation of an active community of like-minded people, capable of long-time and large-scale creative effort that would generate real change. According to the organizers of the event, it is a tool for personal and professional development of participants who are to get used to thinking in the categories of “problem – solution” rather than “question – answer.”

Therefore, Ukraine’s decision to hold a hackathon should only be welcomed as we hope for the successful development of this initiative in the future. Indeed, faster testing of the IT sector’s military segment’s new designs will determine both our assured security for many years and the fulfillment of tasks that have to do with repelling enemy aggression and restoring Ukrainian sovereignty over all the territories seized by Muscovy. It is likely that in the event of us successfully holding this year’s forum, which will involve NATO experts, a full-scale NATO Hackathon will take place precisely in Ukraine, with the alliance’s leading players participating.

What is the Ukrainian Defense Hackathon? Who will compete there, and with what purpose in mind? – I asked deputy chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Major-General Rodion TYMOSHENKO.

“There is an experience and knowledge exchange project within the NATO Command, Control, and Communications Trust Fund. In order to intensify the fund’s activities, we plan to hold a national competition of programming professionals this year, called the Ukrainian Defense Hackathon 2018,” Tymoshenko explained. “It is a competition of IT professionals who are well-versed in challenging defense issues. Teams of the National Guard, the State Emergency Service, the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces, military academies and other institutions have all been invited to participate. I believe that the Kyiv Hackathon’s mission is, first of all, to create conditions for the effective interaction of talented young people and professional experts from Ukraine and NATO in order to form innovative and technological solutions in the context of implementing the network concept for future NATO military missions. Also, one can work out there some architectural solutions and software for the security and defense sector of Ukraine. The most urgent task today is to create a single integrated control and intelligence system. Such competitions, which are common in the Alliance, also offer a platform for IT professionals to share experiences and undergo training. The essence of the Hackathon is to find the best solution in three task directions: modeling, coding, and combined problems. The range of tasks is wide. In particular, they include bulk analysis of large data sets, aspects of interagency interaction, communication between individual structural units, and protection of such interaction. Operational deployment of joint networks is another one. In short, these tasks are similar to practical challenges that IT professionals can solve.

“In the process of preparing for the Ukrainian Defense Hackathon, we rely on the positive experience of the Alliance and, in particular, the NATO Command, Control, and Communications Trust Fund, and are grateful to its leadership for providing advice and guidance and sending experts to give us an unbiased assessment of the results of the competition.”

What is the expected practical result of the competition?

“The hackathon is not a competition for the sake of competition. It is aimed at solving the existing problems. Yes, NATO, including its Situation Center in Brussels, has got innovative experience, but we will not benefit from blindly copying it. We have dozens, and perhaps hundreds of peculiarities, which must always be taken into account even while complying with the Alliance’s standards. Therefore, Ukraine-NATO cooperation in the IT sector should help us to create effective and unique automatic control systems, which will still be compatible with their NATO counterparts. And to do that, we need specialists who need to be recruited and motivated. It is also important already today that the JFO-involved units of different departments (that are effectively partners) understand each other and effectively interact.”

What do you mean?

“Each of these departments has its own automated system, and probably more than one of them. We, meanwhile, need a reliable and working unifier or integrator, no matter how you call it, to enable them to interact. At the Hackathon, and this is one of its goals, we will be able to see people who will join the effort to create such a joint system and other projects. Of course, we will not solve everything at once, but we can definitely generate a certain pool of ideas or elements.

“During the Hackathon, NATO experts and IT professionals will deliver lectures for its participants, including ones dealing with the practices (cases) of the use of innovative technologies in the defense sector, both around the world and in Ukraine.”

By Hennadii KARPIUK, military journalist
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