Hacking For Defense planners look to expand beyond military problems

For the last five years, Army veteran Alex Gallo and the Common Mission Project have been partnering with military officials to use teams of college students in solving a host of equipment and personnel challenges at the Defense Department.

Now the team wants to expand that idea to the rest of the world’s problems too.

“We’re doing programs on hacking for the oceans and the environment and hacking for climate and sustainability at five different universities already,” said Gallo, co-founder and executive director of CMP. “In society today, we solve too many problems in silos. This is a way to bring different groups together in a constructive problem solving process.”

The group’s Hacking For Defense program has drawn headlines in recent years for its unusual approach to Pentagon problems, with programs at more than 50 college campuses, including England.

Teams of college students — would-be engineers, computer scientists, public policy specialists and more — work together for a semester on an issue presented by military partners, with the goal of finding outside-the-box solutions.

Recent topics tackled with help from the the National Security Innovation Network include developing anti-drone technology for special forces vehicles, improving portable batteries for personal battlefield use, and improving mental health support for military specialists facing higher rates of suicide.

Gallo, who served as an Army officer in Iraq, said the value of having individuals outside the military evaluate and propose answers to those problems is they aren’t limited by military preconceptions about what the solutions should be

“When we arrived in Kuwait before entering into Iraq, we got a lot of cool equipment,” he said. “And our soldiers tried it out in the desert. And when we went into Iraq, that stuff stayed in storage for an entire year.

“It was all solutions in search of problems. We had a ton of problems in Iraq that year, but none of what they gave us solved our problems.”

Students in the course (more than 500 have gone through the program so far) meet with front-line troops as well as military planners and leaders throughout the semester, to better understand…