Modeling, simulations aiding military planners

Orlando ' The use of high-tech modeling and simulation support is taking on increasing importance and sophistication in global military decision-making, Air Force Gen. Lance Smith said in a closing keynote address at this week's MILCOM conference.

'The lines between experimentation, training and operations are blurring,' said Smith, who is commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command/North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.

Analysts are taking increasing advantage of a combination of technology tools to assemble high-resolution, three-dimensional models of prospective battlegrounds, using near real-time data, to aid warfighters in planning and simulating attack routes in Iraq.

The modeling capability relies largely on Light Detection And Ranging topographic mapping technology. LIDAR sensors measure elevations by transmitting laser pulses to a target and recording the time it takes for the pulse to return to the sensor receiver. The readings are combined with Global Positioning System and inertial measurement unit data. The data can quickly be converted into 3-D visual renderings that capture the precise elevations and locations of a variety of topographic features, including buildings, trees and other objects. The models can then be enhanced, using color coding and other mapping tools, to identify strategic elevations and routes.

What's changing is the increasing ability to combine combat or air strike simulation software with virtual constructions based on actual field data. Moreover, the simulations can now be distributed to, and conducted by, participating coalition partners anywhere around the globe. The result, said Smith, is that training is becoming more dynamic as the 'synthetic world' increasingly resembles current battle conditions.

But a new form of modeling is also being developed for military planning, Smith said, under a pilot program called Operation Net Assessment.

The program, led by the US Joint Concept Development & Experimentation Directorate (J9), attempts to gauge the core social, economic, political and infrastructure dynamics in a given area or region. Using high-performance computers and a market analysis model reportedly developed at Purdue University, the program can simulate a variety of scenarios and help commanders 'anticipate' possible outcomes if, for instance, they removed or failed to remove an influential warlord.

Smith cited an example of when a new hospital was constructed in a village south of Baghdad. It turned out there were virtually no nurses in the region to support it and the hospital went unused. Operation Net Assessment's modeling tool might have helped coalition forces identify more appropriate choices. As many as 100 workers are now at work at J9 developing such a database for use in Afghanistan.

These and other modeling tools will be important as military commanders continue to confront unconventional enemies, Smith suggested.

'It is difficult for me to envision getting into a conventional war, with tanks on tanks or huge air-to-air fights, where the merits are how many planes you shoot down,' said Smith. 'What we saw in Lebanon is the model for the future.'

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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