This week, the Department of the Navy is hosting a virtual hackathon event: HACKtheMACHINE, which includes $95,000 of prize money for winning teams. It is being conducted virtually via the Navy’s NavalX facility in Alexandria, VA and is being powered by the Austin, TX-based Fathom 5 and Booz Allen.

The virtual event is designed to foster engagement between the Navy and the private and public sectors to find solutions towards tackling the Navy’s toughest challenges.

“HACKtheMACHINE is an opportunity to test your skills against the best in the world and problem solve for the Navy while helping to bolster our national security and defense systems,” explained Rear Admiral Jason Lloyd, NAVSEA’s chief engineer and deputy commander for Ship Design, Integration, Naval Engineering and Logistics.

“It’s our responsibility to keep the Navy’s ships and systems secure from attacks from malicious actors, and events like this help keep us abreast of the level and scope of threats we’re facing,” added Adm. Lloyd. “This broad community truly helps enhance our combat power and meet our national defense missions.”

Rage for the Machine

The United States military has regularly employed “hackathon” type events in recent years to help discover exploits and to plug holes in critical systems. These events rely on “white hat” hackers to find those exploits, but the Navy’s event differs in that it isn’t just about software networks and true “hackers.”

In addition, the Navy has had to move to a virtual environment due to the pandemic.

“HACKtheMACHINE crowd sources solutions to real problems and gives diverse teams an opportunity to contribute to the US Navy’s critical missions,” explained Zac Staples, founder and CEO of Fathom 5.

“This year is different because we’re able to reach around the globe virtually and bring our allies and partners in to compete alongside experienced and inexperienced hackers, data scientists, and 3D printing manufacturers,” Staples told ClearanceJobs.

Three Tracks at HACKtheMachine

HACKtheMACHINE is led by NAVSEA with participation from Navy Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Navy Cyber Warfare Development Group (NCWDG) and the U.S. Navy Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (PEO C4I).

This year’s event features three unique tracks.

Track 1: Maritime Cyber will allow competitors to compete against world-class hackers in an effort to breach the Grace Maritime Cyber Testbed. It is a capture-the-flag style event played virtually on a full bridge navigation suite and fly-by-wire propulsion system

Track 2: Data Science will have contestants create algorithms that support the analysis and modeling of games derived from the COVID-19 crisis. Ideas generated during the competition could directly impact preparations for future global health emergencies and pave the way for artificial intelligence and machine learning tools that enable better decision-making.

Track 3: Heavy Metal doesn’t involve music, but rather it will involve competitors developing methods to utilize metallic 3D printing. At the Navy’s discretion, the government may even award a procurement contract to the winners as there is not a ready supplier that can provide metallic 3D printing capabilities to replicate critical components that may fail while a vessel is on its deployment.

Over the course of four days, attendees will also have the opportunity to hear from five U.S. Navy Admirals who will share insight into and analysis of the proceedings and discuss the important impact the event has on our nation’s defense systems.

“As a technology prize competition, we will award $95,000 in prize money this year over all three tracks and are excited to have a $1M contract opportunity exclusively for Track 3 – metallic 3D printed parts,” said Staples.

Heavy Metal Thunder

Unlike software-only hackathons, this year’s metallic 3D printing challenge also stands out. It is the first of its kind to use 3D printing in such an event.

“This year’s Track 3, Heavy Metal, is building on previous advanced manufacturing tracks at HACKtheMACHINE and offering competitors the opportunity to produce a metallic 3D printed part,” said Staple.

“Not only will competitors be asked to convert a 2D drawing into a 3D technical data package, but they will also mail the part for testing and evaluation,” he added. “It is a hybrid virtual and physical challenge that allows Heavy Metal to tap into a wider and more diverse base of advanced manufacturing in this country and beyond. This challenge is tied to a real need of the U.S. Navy and at the conclusion of Heavy Metal, they may award a contract up to $1M to the winner.”

To be placed on a team, competitors must register by midnight on March 22, and for those not quite ready to compete this year, Staple said dates for the next HACKtheMACHINE will be announced in June, 2021. “It is our goal to host the event in person and we look forward to bringing new challenges in all three tracks.”


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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at