The ability of computers to crunch numbers at mind-boggling speeds and at steadily lower costs has opened the floodgates of traditional modeling and simulation research enclaves-allowing the technology to cascade into real-world applications.
Sophisticated computer models can now perform tasks that range from designing military weapon systems to simulating a war between fictional nations. They are not only giving scientists access to areas of research that were previously unattainable but are also offering new tools to government and industry to conduct a variety of practical tasks.
During the past several decades, the Defense Department has been among the most prolific users of computer simulation for military training. Pentagon officials are now realizing that, as is the case in many industries, computer models can often provide valuable assistance in areas beyond training. With the proper databases and standards in place, those models can be unleashed into fields such as weapon acquisition and manufacturing, military logistics, and budget analysis.
Computer simulation is finally "moving out of the laboratory and into useful areas" to help managers save money and "do jobs better," says W H. Lunceford, program manager for advanced simulation technology at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Lunceford and other government and industry officials addressed a recent conference on defense simulation and modeling sponsored by the National Training Systems Association (NTSA), Arlington, Virginia.
DARPA, which has largely focused on simulation and modeling for advanced research projects, is now moving into "field applications" that, ideally, will help to lower the cost of weapon systems or assist in determining whether a system should be built at all. There is also an accelerating trend toward the "generalization of simulations," Lunceford says, where a single simulation system can support a wide range of applications.
One effort to acquire and support complex weapon systems throughout their entire life cycle via computer models is known as simulation-based design. This name, however, is a "misnomer," says Gary Jones, DARPA's program manager for simulation-based design. Rather than focus on narrow models that are restricted to design or training, for example, "you have to talk about the entire life cycle" of a system, he says.
Weapon system models must be broader in scope and offer tools to find "efficiencies" in logistics and acquisition processes within the Defense Department, explains Jones. Because the operation and maintenance of a system engulf about two-thirds of its cost, simulationbased design must move out of "R&D into the real world," he adds.
One way to address a "lack of focus" in defense modeling, Jones says, involves an overarching concept called "smart product model." The model, unlike the traditional single-use stovepipes, captures more than just an electronic representation of an object on a computer screen. It incorporates cost, performance, and material information about the item so that multi-disciplinary analysis can be accomplished. For the smart product model to succeed, says Jones, it must be "flexible and adjustable." It must help build models without scrapping the databases that are proprietary to a system.
Experts, meanwhile, concur that the cornucopia of existing "legacy" databases is a significant obstacle in the Defense Department's efforts to put its simulation and modeling efforts on a fast track toward a central clearinghouse where all models can communicate and collaborate.
"Analysts want to be able to compare apples with apples," and they are not often able to do so, says Rear. Adm. Fred Lewis, USN (Ret.), NTSA's executive director. The apples can be, for example, assumptions about a particular weapon system. In the eyes of weapon testers, he says in an interview, if the database is flawed, "it is not a true test. …