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DLA News Archive

News | June 26, 2024

DLA’s inaugural Hackathon showcases potential tech solutions to logistics challenges

By Melissa Bohan, DLA Information Operations

Acquiring, piloting, testing and scaling artificial intelligence to revolutionize logistics operations is the goal of the Defense Logistics Agency’s inaugural Hackathon, DLA’s director told attendees during the June 24 event at the U.S. Army Museum.

“We are in a decisive decade, a transformative era, and the two areas relative to today’s discussion are: one, the rapid pace of technological change, and two, the increasing complexity of the business environment as a result of those changes,” Army Lt. Gen. Mark Simerly said.

The event – named Hackathon in recognition of its intent to “hack” away at some of DLA’s most important issues – gave vendors the chance to demonstrate how their AI and machine learning capabilities can provide new capabilities and innovative solutions to DLA’s daily operations and challenges.

DLA Chief Information Officer Adarryl Roberts said DLA’s research and development team is working to create an end-to-end process for procuring and sustaining AI, generative AI and ML technologies in future use-cases affecting different areas of DLA.

“We need to be more engaged with the industry early and not wait until we have a perfect requirement to ask them to deliver. We have very unique cases in the Department of Defense, which industry doesn't deal with in terms of complexity,” he continued.

Simerly told attendees the character of warfighting has changed and past methods of delivering capabilities will be insufficient. DLA must adapt to counter contested logistics challenges in air, ground, sea, space and cyber domains, he said.

“As we develop a vision for digital change within the agency, we can't develop a strategy and then develop the digital strategy in sequence,” the director added. “They have to be interoperable or synchronized in terms of their development.”

He pointed to three focus areas where AI can provide significant benefits: supply chain risk management, human capital and talent management, and cybersecurity.

Roberts acknowledged that AI is not just about technology. The agency also needs to think about aspects such as cybersecurity, data integrity, and data security and its methodologies in using large language models.

Simerly echoed comments about the need for data when discussing the ‘people’ aspect of his four-pronged framework for DLA’s transformation, which also includes precision, posture and partnerships.

“We need people who are smart data leaders who apply data effectively, ask the right questions, and help to develop and influence the right tools so we can approach and apply decision making at a pace that's more rapid than our adversaries. We call that decision advantage,” he said.

DLA prepared for the Hackathon by releasing in March a broad agency announcement inviting vendors to provide a white paper on their capabilities. DLA then asked for technical and cost proposals for papers it accepted.

A DLA team of experts in research and development, AI, and cybersecurity reviewed 46 submissions based on criteria including overall scientific and technical merit, feasibility, viability, desirability, and experience and performance in AI.

Submissions were further scaled down to 17 entries and then to 12, said DLA R&D Deputy Director Martina Johnson.

Based on those assessments, DLA selected six vendors to present proposals at the Hackathon to approximately 50 leaders representing DLA, the DOD Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and George Mason University. Companies had 45 minutes each to outline their technical and functional capabilities through a formal briefing, conduct a live interactive simulation, and answer questions.

Navy Capt. Xavier Lugo, DOD CDAO’s AI initiative and capability delivery chief, asked the vendors questions to further understand their methodologies and processes.

“The great thing about this event is that the solutions they discussed were all use-case centric workflows that will provide effective solutions for our warfighters,” he said. “It’s no longer about chatbots or foundational models, but how to use established technologies in very unique logistics problem sets.”

The technical evaluation team will now re-review information presented from vendors’ white papers, technical and cost proposals, and in-person demonstrations to select up to three companies as winners. Contract awards are expected later this summer.