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CENTCOM’s ‘Sandtrap’ hackathon targets drones amid Middle East barrage

More than a dozen coders handpicked from across the U.S. Department of Defense spent a week chipping away at data and software challenges associated with swatting down drones in the Greater Middle East, Central Command said.

The effort, dubbed Sandtrap, produced prototypes that improved the speed and accuracy of unmanned aerial system countermeasures, according to a Feb. 9 announcement from CENTCOM, the Pentagon’s combatant command whose area of responsibility includes Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Downing a drone or other aerial threat requires spotting, classifying, tracking and targeting it in a process that is increasingly digital.

The U.S. military has in recent months faced a barrage of drone and missile attacks, including in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. A one-way drone strike at the Tower 22 installation, near the al-Tanf garrison and Syrian border, killed three soldiers in January. Iranian-supplied militants were blamed.

Schuyler Moore, the chief technology officer at CENTCOM, in a statement said the command is committed to “leveraging every talented individual, technical solution and innovative process available” to advance counter-drone efforts.

“The Sandtrap hackathon combined all three: exceptional coders, brilliant software prototypes, and a repeatable process that can give us creative solutions in the future,” she added. Moore previously served as the chief strategy officer for Task Force 59, an outfit designed to quickly fold artificial intelligence and uncrewed systems into Navy operations.

Additional events similar to Sandtrap are expected going forward. Hackathons are organized to bring together specialists — developers, data scientists, software engineers and others — who then quickly improve upon existing programs or build novel ones.

Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM, in a statement said the Sandtrap endeavor brought “new and creative solutions to the table.” Future hackathons, he added, “will drive better solutions to critical missions and advance data-centric warfighting for the command.”

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.