A sailor aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2008.

A sailor aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2008. U.S. Navy / Petty Officer 2nd Class James Evans

Navy leaders want more code-loving sailors at sea

One wants to take ad hoc data science efforts and fold them into a formal training cycle.

Sailors who tinker with data sets at sea: know that Capt. Bryan Braswell sees you—and wants to formally fold data science into information warfare training. 

Sailors often develop these skills outside of a service mandate or directive like “every carrier strike group must have five Python coders,” said Braswell, the commander of the Naval Information Warfighting Development Center.

Braswell calls the concept “data science at sea,” which is what happens when sailors take their tech skills and “do something really great with the systems, the networks and tools that the Navy has already fielded and given them. So they find a new way to maybe take a data set and do something new with it.”

There’s room to formalize ongoing “bootstrap” data science efforts by bringing in proficient sailors, training them, and making the discipline a formal part of the training cycle, Braswell said Wednesday at the WEST 2024 naval IT conference. 

“As it stands today, we watch what's happening, we learn from what's happening, we try to tell the story…so that others may benefit from it, but I think we have to go deeper than that,” he said.

The goal is to harness bright spots of innovation and make it the standard—which can save time, money, and make operators more efficient. 

“I think we would all agree that that's a good thing. But then: how do we then take that and then extend that to other strike groups or [amphibious ready groups] or units or staffs?” he said. 

“I have some small articulation to do about requirements,” he said. “But in the interim, I would like for every carrier strike group or every ARG or every ship to realize the power of what one sailor did over here with this capability that he's already provided.”

Over time, Braswell believes more sailors will become comfortable branching out with their skills while at sea. But spreading it is still a challenge. 

“I'm sharing very nascent thoughts with you about where I want to go,” he said, adding that other Navy warfighting development centers are already thinking about the issue. “Some of my WDC counterparts are doing this with their mission systems already…but it’s very early thoughts.”

It’s a thought shared with other Navy information warfare leaders, particularly when it comes to software development. 

Rear Adm. Doug Small, who leads Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, said the Navy needs more software—and in-house developers.

“We need more software. I need more people working in software factories, working and developing containerized software,” Small said Wednesday at the conference.

Small said those development environments must be on par with operational environments. 

“I have to make sure that I have a parity and depth so that my developers are working on the exact systems that my operators are maintaining,” he said. “We're definitely working across the Navy to get after this. But we have to have different development environments, because they have to be at parity with the operational environment.”