The Simulated Revolution

Advanced simulation systems are best known in the military for helping kick off the "revolution in military affairs," ushering in a new era where warriors hone their skills on virtual battlefields before confronting the real thing. Perhaps the greatest untapped potential for advanced simulations and modeling, however, lies in the cost-cutting "revolution in business affairs" now touted by the Pentagon.

"To pay for the modernization required to achieve the revolution in military affairs will require designing and building affordable systems and simultaneously cutting support and infrastructure costs," Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, said at a recent industry conference. "We must also [field and upgrade weapons] on much faster cycle times in order to make the best use of continuing advances in technology, as well as trim costs. Techniques like simulation and modeling can help us in [those] areas by reducing the risk associated with new products and processes, by saving time in the development and production phase of new systems and by making efficient use of scarce and increasingly expensive resources."

Advanced simulations and modeling already are making their impact felt in Defense Department acquisition. When the Air Force's F-22 is fielded early in the next century, for instance, it will become the first fighter aircraft designed on computers using advanced modeling techniques. That follows the pioneering work of Boeing on the 777 wide-body jet, the product of a computer-aided design and manufacturing process that substituted for much of the bent metal and factory-floor detritus of prior large-scale productions.

At the Army's simulation test beds at Fort Rucker, Ala., and Fort Knox, Ky., soldiers routinely fight simulated battles from the cockpits of futuristic weapons systems. They adjust their own fighting doctrine and discover the enemy's vulnerabilities to weapons that thus far exist only as computer-generated prototypes in the virtual world.

In fact, the Army has begun introducing advanced simulation into almost every stage of its acquisition process, from exploratory development to production. The service has even embraced a "simulate before you buy" policy, requiring program managers to develop simulation master plans for all new weapons. By prototyping and testing weapons in the virtual world at each step in the development process, Army leaders hope to break the "test-fix-test" cycle that is so often blamed for cost overruns and schedule slippage.

The Simulation Universe

Accurately depicting the total universe of military modeling and simulation is notoriously difficult, however, largely because it is scattered and much of the technology involved is embedded in individual weapons and command-and-control systems. In 1997, for example, the number of Navy research and development programs with significant modeling and simulation components was 97 out of 114; for the Army it was 107 out of 153; and for the Air Force, 68 out of 166.

The organizations that ride herd on the Pentagon's numerous modeling and simulation programs are also diverse. They include the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Army Simulation Training and Instrumentation Command, the National Simulation Center, the Navy's Modeling and Simulation Management Office and the Air Force Modeling, Simulation and Analysis organizations.

The heavy reliance on modeling and simulation was perhaps best illustrated during last year's Quadrennial Defense Review, when each of the services was asked to look out 10 to 20 years and describe the nature of their future operations. In each case, the services tried to pierce the veil of time using advanced simulation.

The Army turned to its network of battle labs to develop plans for "The Force XXI" and "The Army After Next." To develop the blueprint for "Global Engagement: A Vision for the 21st Century Air Force," the Air Force established six new battle labs, which used advanced simulations to test new ideas. Likewise, the Navy used computer-assisted war-fighting experiments to integrate the new operational concepts behind its "Forward . . . From the Sea" manifesto. The Marine Corps commitment to the technology is clear at the Commandant's War-Fighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va.

Down-to-Earth Training

Not all advanced simulations, however, are focused on such futuristic scenarios. In Bosnia, for example, U.S. troops hone important combat skills on more down-to-earth training and simulation systems. Systems used in Bosnia over the years have included the Mobile Conduct of Fire Trainer and Guardfist tank training systems for the M-1 Abrams tank and M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle; and Engagement Skills Trainers used to improve marksmanship.

Earlier in that conflict, NATO aircrews bombed Bosnian Serb positions chosen with the help of a computer program called the Contingency Air Control System, which selects targets based on intended outcomes. Before launching, the pilots rehearsed their mission on Powerscene computer programs that create virtual landscapes in stunning detail from satellite photographs and other information. Developed by Cambridge Research Associates, the Powerscene was instrumental in helping achieve the Dayton Accords that brought peace to Bosnia. During weeks of round-the-clock negotiations, participants would retreat to the Powerscene to see virtual depictions of the villages and townships they were establishing within various borders.

The Powerscene is closely linked with the emerging use of simulations for mission rehearsal. With the help of the Defense Mapping Agency and the Army Topographic Engineering Center, U.S. special operations forces hope to cut the time it takes to assemble a computer mock-up of any area in the world to just 48 hours.

Advances in image generation and computer modeling also have improved the ability of simulators to replicate conditions that are too dangerous for pilots to confront during air training, such as flying at night during a sandstorm. It was just such an environment that helped doom the hostage rescue attempt in Iran in 1980. Today the MH-53J Pave Low trainer and mission rehearsal simulator gives Air Force special operations helicopter pilots the chance to practice in such conditions routinely.

"Simulations really have enormous payoffs in training and developing tactics and doctrine. You can try out lots of different ideas, and you can do it relatively cheaply," DoD's Gansler said in an interview with Government Executive.

Driven by Necessity

Indeed, it is the rising cost and capabilities of modern weapons systems-coupled with more than a decade of declining Defense budgets-that have driven the services to an ever-heavier reliance on simulations for training. The original Link Flight Simulator, for instance, was developed precisely because aircraft and flight time were so expensive. Today, when even relatively less expensive systems like tanks cost well over $1 million per copy, the services have no choice but to use training simulators.

When constrained 1990s budgets forced the U.S. Army in Europe to slash the number of miles and live-fire exercises its tank crews logged annually, for example, the service compensated by using a simulator called the Conduct of Fire Trainer. Soldiers' performance on tests of their tank gunnery skills actually improved.

Today's weapons systems are rapidly outgrowing their training ranges. Since World War II, the amount of space required for a fighter aircraft to conduct standard aerial maneuvers has grown from five to 40 miles and that needed for an Army mechanized battalion, from 4,000 to 80,000 acres. Rather than expanding to meet those needs, however, training ranges are being constrained by encroaching urbanization and more stringent environmental regulations. The solution increasingly has been to turn to virtual, or "synthetic," battlefields to exercise weapons and coordinate units.

"The electronic battlefield . . . offers enormous potential across the board and can revolutionize our way of doing business," the Army Science Board said in a recent study. "The Army should seize this opportunity and move out as rapidly as possible."

In its 10-year forecast, the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) estimated that the budget for modeling and simulation will continue to increase by roughly 6 percent annually, growing to about $11 billion by 2006 in inflation-adjusted dollars. The research, development, testing and engineering budget for modeling and simulation is forecast by the EIA to grow from $1.4 billion last year to nearly $2 billion in 2006. As a percentage of DoD's total procurement budget, modeling and simulation is forecast to increase from roughly 5.1 percent to 6.1 percent in 2006.

The Pentagon's emphasis on training and integrating its forces in a joint-service environment may well drive the industry to exceed those estimates. "If we can build models and simulations that are joint-or even reflect coalition operations-then you can get a much bigger payoff than if they just apply to a single service," Gansler said. "I think we're going to see a huge payoff in the joint arena."

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