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Microsoft partners with Naval postgraduate school

Microsoft Corp. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Microsoft is coming to Monterey.

The company and the Naval Postgraduate School have teamed up to discover how evolving technologies can strengthen national security and solve operational challenges faced by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

“We’re extremely excited about working with Microsoft because this gives us the opportunity to work on solving some of the most complex and difficult problems that the services and the fleet are experiencing right now,” the school’s Col. Randy Pugh said during a media roundtable held Thursday in advance of the announcement. “With the exponential pace of technology change and these increasingly complex security challenges around the world, it is certainly apparent to us that we need each other and that we need to come up with solutions that are better and faster if we are going to keep pace with the threats to national and international security.”

The partnership is part of a larger transformation effort at the school called “NPS Next,” which aims to transform the school into a collaborative gathering place for problem-solving. Some larger industry leaders collaborating with NPS include AT&T, Xerox and General Atomics.

“[NPS Next] is going to merge together the comparative advantages of the government, military academia and industry all in one place so that we can work together to roll up our sleeves and get after the priorities of the services,” Pugh said.

Microsoft became the latest industry leader to partner with the Naval Postgraduate School after a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) was signed by the two organizations. CRADAs allow U.S. government agencies and research facilities to collaborate with private companies on research and development.

Under the agreement, the school will collaborate with Microsoft in four key areas: the use of gaming, exercising, modeling, and simulation to assist operational commanders in their decision-making processes; digital enterprise and field experimentation; delivery solutions for education to the fleet; and operational uses for cloud enhanced networks and edge solutions.

In a press release announcing the partnership, the Naval Postgraduate School said the goal is to “leverage the latest in commercial technologies and expertise to advance Navy and Marine Corps operations, while sharing any insights gained with the broader public.”

Leaders from NPS and Microsoft stressed that the CRADA is a relationship rather than a legal contract. Both organizations will provide personnel, funds, capabilities, resources and facilities that will enable them to conduct research and discover new technologies and processes. As for intellectual property rights, leaders from the school explained that both Microsoft and the government will be able to license any co-innovations and discoveries cost-free.

“We can each get insights into what each other are doing,” Pugh said, pointing out that the process helps Microsoft develop its products. “… the intent is to tell everything we know to the industry side so that they can build a better product to sell to the government at a cheaper price.”

A collaboration space on campus will also be constructed for Microsoft and NPS faculty and staff to work together on the projects. Microsoft and NPS leaders said they’re still scouting locations for the facility.

“The innovation lab that we’ll be building on campus provides a remarkable opportunity for us to work shoulder to shoulder with our nation’s brightest leaders and service members to help solve the complex challenges they face,” Mark Langlois, the senior director for Microsoft’s U.S. Navy portfolio, said.

Partnering with Microsoft will provide the Naval Postgraduate School with all Microsoft Cloud services, including Azure, Office 365 and Teams. Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing program which includes more than 200 products and cloud services designed to help businesses manage challenges and meet their organizational goals. Over 95% of Fortune 500 companies currently use Azure.

“There’s a number of ways that this is really going to help revolutionize the way that we are researching new technologies to support the operational needs of the Navy, the Marine force and the Department of Defense in general,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, the school’s Dean of Research. “Historically, in World War II, the technological innovations were really around weapons systems. Today, a large part of it has to do with data, data management and data fusion and how you incorporate all that.”

Langlois said Microsoft can sum up what the company wants to deliver in two words: decision advantage. Microsoft has worked with farmers and agriculture industry leaders to provide technology that helps farmers decide when the best time to plow and water crops is each season. Similarly, one of the research areas the postgraduate school and Microsoft will focus on will be how to leverage gaming, exercising, modeling and simulation to help operational commanders make faster and better decisions.

“Technology is running away from the military,” Pugh explained, pointing out that the military has not kept up with new technologies like artificial intelligence, autonomous systems or data engineering and science.

“What we found with Microsoft is there is a willingness to allow us to the left of the release of these commercial capabilities so that we’re ready to see them, understand them, integrate them and then operationalize them when they appear on the marketplace.”

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