Magazine article National Defense

High-Octane Computers Spark Scientific Models, Simulations

Magazine article National Defense

High-Octane Computers Spark Scientific Models, Simulations

Article excerpt

The explosive growth of computer-based simulation and modeling in civilian and military science has fueled the market for high-performance supercomputers, which now stands at about $5 billion worldwide.

But the advanced capabilities achieved in personal computers in recent years often have blurred the lines between what researchers and technology developers considered to be "supercomputers" and mainstream PCs.

In other words, yesterday's supercomputers are today's desktop PCs. "We do nor have a strict definition of a HPC [high-performance computer] since it changes as technology evolves," according to Bill Gabor, who works at the Defense Department's High Performance Computing Modernization Office (HPCMO), in Arlington, Va. Cray Henry, also from HPCMO, said any computer that costs more than a million dollars is considered a supercomputer.

Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) described supercompurers as "a class of computers that are recognized as delivering industry-leading performance, in terms of computational abilities (both number of processors and performance), bandwidth, memory capacity, storage capacity and visualization."

Supercomputers are about speed. Steve Conway, of Cray Inc., headquartered in Seattle, explained the difference with an example of time. A supercomputer can run calculations in eight hours that would take a PC two to five years to run. The first supercomputers, back in the 1970s, ran approximately 133 million calculations per second. Conway said, the world record, today, is one trillion per second. The need for a supercomputer is based on how much information is needed and how fast it has to be processed.

The field of modeling and simulation, meanwhile, has benefited enormously from the wider availability of supercomputers in the marketplace.

The U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Command-Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TACOM-TARDEC) uses supercomputers to test new ground vehicle models. John Schmuhl, from TARDEC said, simulations are used to analyze designs, interaction and integration of crews with the vehicle displays and controls and accelerated component durability testing.

In general, Schmuhl said, "the purpose is to support technology upgrades for aging ground vehicle systems and, in particular, the high-priority Army Interim Brigade Combat Team and Future Combat Systems programs." A recent example he cited was the joint Army/Marine Corps Medium Tactical Truck Remanufacture Program and its follow-on contract activity, which resulted in contracts exceeding one billion dollars.

Other vehicle programs that have benefited from simulation and modeling include the Abrams main battle tank's M1A2 SEP commander's station, the M2 drivers station, and the humvee truck driver's station on TACOM-TARDEC's ride motion and crew station/turret motion-based simulator.

Training Focus

The vehicles and the drivers are subjected to various on-road and off-road tests. Scenarios, with complex terrain features, are run while mobility and dynamics performance are observed and analyzed.

Schmuhl explained that in real-time simulations, the crew of the vehicle can be given control and influence over the simulation, so they are not "merely going along for the ride." Computer-generated imagery, realistic vehicle sounds and communications are added to the simulation to give soldiers more control. Virtual battles even can be created between manned simulators or computer-generated forces.

The realistic nature of the simulations is made possible by the new computers and the amount of data they can handle, experts said. Things such as vehicle weight, center of gravity, moment of inertia effects, propulsion systems performance, weapon stabilization and control and weapon firing characteristics can be replicated accurately when simulations are run for tracked or wheeled vehicles. Even variables such as mobility, ride quality and maneuverability--which are different between tracked and wheeled vehicles--can be modeled. …

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