Twins Turning Heads Working On Combat Systems Software
by Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport Public Affairs Office
November 15, 2022
Alex and Zach Pink, computer scientists in Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport’s Undersea Warfare (USW) Combat Systems Department, admit they have gotten a few double takes in their time at Division Newport, but that is not exactly a new occurrence for the twin brothers.
“There’s always the occasional ‘wait, there are two of you?’ or ‘I thought I was seeing double,’ but NUWC has a lot of families working together,” Zach said. “I’ve seen couples, siblings, parents and children working together, but we seem to be the only case of identical twins.”
September 30, 2021 - Identical twins, Alexander Pink (left) and Zachary Pink (right), with members of the Automated Combat System Vehicle Preset Logic Engine Team, Natasha Andrea Fedan (center, from left) and Sheldon Joseph Santos, receive a 2021 Excellence in Data Science Award during the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport’s Annual Awards ceremony held on June 23, 2022. The twins, who also attended college together at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, work on combat systems software for the U.S. Navy fleet. (Photo by David Stoehr, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport)
Where the two really have been turning heads, though, is with their work on combat systems software.
At the 2021 Division Newport Annual Awards, Alex and Zach received the Excellence in Technology Transfer Innovation Award alongside team members Tim Donahue, Natasha Fedan and Sheldon Santos, for their Automated Combat System Vehicle Preset Logic Engine (VPLE). This novel technology that automates the process to tell Sailors what should be a weapon’s preset since has been transitioned to the fleet on the AN/BYG-1 Combat System.
“Part of where they had a shortcoming was how to adjust presetting different payloads and there were some competing projects,” Alex said. “We really proved we had the easiest program to work with in the end.”
For Alex and Zach, residents of Lakeville, Massachusetts, the earliest roots of this project reach back to when they were at Apponequet Regional High School in Lakeville, and were deciding where to attend college. Alex recalled how there were an “abnormal amount of sets of twins” at their high school, yet they always seemed to be the closest of the pairs.
“From what I can tell, we were definitely the ones that stuck closest or had the most similar minds,” Alex said.
“It just made sense to us to learn and work together,” Zach added. “We were both on board with the economic approach of going to a state school and commuting while working to pay off loans. So, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth worked for both of us.”
Early on at UMass-Dartmouth, the twin brothers had to make a decision. They were toying with the idea of majoring in writing or history, but their love of technology and video games led them in a different direction.
“There was something challenging about computer science that drew us to it,” Zach said. “Ultimately, we chose to challenge ourselves a little bit more with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field.”
In 2015-16, their senior year at university, they were connected with Division Newport scientists as part of the Combat Systems Department’s sponsorship of senior capstone projects, which was made possible by an Educational Partnership Agreement (EPA), to develop a novel approach to torpedo presetting.
“When we were working the student project, Alex was definitely more the lead developer role while I was more of the lead project role,” Zach said. “We had other guys on the team, but he was more on the organizing the tasks side and I was more in the artistic sense creating assets and stuff that would work into the project. Alex was definitely more kind of taking it all and putting it together.”
It was so effective that just one month after graduating, the Pinks were hired to work full time on this effort at Division Newport. Though they had some other opportunities, ultimately they chose to work at Division Newport.
“We flirted with some jobs in the private sector before we came here because NUWC has a little more gravity,” Zach said. “Politics and the news become a little more interesting to watch. You feel like what you do has a stake in that.”
As it would turn out, this approach to vehicle presetting truly is unique. The software currently is in the process of being patented thanks in part to a Division Newport “Shark Tank” event held in March 2022.
“We were stuck on if it was truly a novel, patentable idea and they helped us make the justification,” Zach said.
“We had been talking about it and then the ‘Shark Tank’ came up. We thought it was the perfect opportunity,” Alex added. “The guidance from that was definitely helpful and a reassurance that it could be done through working with the expert panel.”
While the two still collaborate on the VPLE when something needs to be reviewed, for the most part they have moved onto different projects. Alex is working on training software for the Technical Tomahawk Weapon Control System (TTWCS), while Zach is working with Division Newport’s USW Weapons, Vehicles and Defensive Systems Department to develop a new type of torpedo software.
“When we get a chance to work together, though, we’re good at dividing and conquering,” Zach said. “It works pretty naturally.”
When they’re not developing cutting-edge software for submarine combat systems, the brothers enjoy trail running and hiking in the summer or snowboarding in the winter.
“Video games will always be there too,” Alex said. “We call it research these days.”
NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.
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