RCN programmers help Canadian Industry win big

Atlantic Region News / February 7, 2018

A small Navy software development group in Halifax is causing a big splash with NATO.

Halifax-based programmers with the Royal Canadian Navy wrote ship tracking software that has helped Canadian industry win NATO contracts worth millions of Euros.

Most of the world’s goods are carried by ocean going vessels, and with the greater need to track shipping to ensure global safety and security has generated more data than ever before.

But the increase in ship position data creates problems for officers like LCdr Phillip Mundy, Director of the Regional Joint Operations Centre Atlantic. “Our job is to keep an eye on the ship traffic off the coast of Eastern Canada. As we introduced more data, we had systems choking on millions of position reports; it was affecting our ability to track ships off of Canada’s coasts.”

To solve the problem, Mundy turned to a technical support group embedded with the East Coast Navy.  “The amount of data available is outstripping older methods of processing it,” says Alicia Hogue, a programmer with the Navy. “To solve LCdr Mundy’s problem, we had to re-think the whole process of gathering and storing data.”

The group leveraged components from big data companies such as Google, Uber and Linkedin, The resulting software is capable of processing hundreds of millions of position reports a day and is used on both coasts to manage and visualise ship data.

Hogue described Canada’s efforts to colleagues overseas, and they were interested. “All Navies were struggling with the same set of problems brought about by new, high-volume data sources.”

The interest soon became an opportunity.

When MDA Systems approached the RCN about licensing the software as the cornerstone of a bid for a multi-million dollar NATO contract, the Navy jumped at the chance. 

“We knew there was an opportunity and government policy is quite clear that we’re to make our software available to industry. Our licensing agreement with MDA ensures that additional modifications to the software are returned to the Crown.”

“It’s as if we’ve added 20 programmers to the effort at no cost. It benefits Canadians, and benefits Canadian industry”, adds Hogue.

The software competed well, and MDA Systems beat out industry leaders to build ship tracking software for the 29 country military alliance.  The majority of the contract work will be done in Nova Scotia, and programmers will work in close partnership with Navy expertise at MARLANT.

“Our success is the result of a close relationship between military staff and civilian expertise on the east coast,” says Hogue. “It’s one more example of how we build strength from diversity.”

The Navy’s next programming challenge? Says Hogue, “We’re already working on version 2.0!”