Army Tests Move to ‘Virtual Proving Ground’

By Mike Cast

The U.S. Army is applying advanced simulation technologies, communications architectures and real-time data-sharing processes to be able to test multiple weapon systems from different locations, simultaneously.

To make that possible, the Army’s Developmental Test Command is focusing on “virtual proving-ground” technologies, which rely on modeling and simulation to create realistic testing environments. In a briefing to military testers and evaluators last year, DTC’s technical director and deputy commander, Brian Simmons, said the virtual proving-ground is DTC’s “highest-priority investment.”

He said that modeling and simulation can cut costs by helping test directors prepare to receive the data from expensive, destructive tests at sites such as the White Sands Missile Range, where a live missile test can cost $1 million per day. Simmons said of the virtual proving-ground, “All of this is anchored in real testing and is a tool, not a replacement for physical testing.”

The virtual proving ground is a composite of facilities and technologies throughout the DTC that enhance test programs with the aid of computer modeling and realistic simulations.

To meet growing needs for interoperability testing, the U.S. Army’s Developmental Test Command is shifting its focus from the testing of separate platforms—such as tanks, trucks or aircraft—to testing how systems work together within a network, said Rick Cozby, chief of DTC’s Technology Management Division.

“Throughout the Cold War period, as well as during World War I and World War II, the Army was essentially platform-centric,” Cozby explained. “Our battlefield tactics and doctrine dictated a heavy force, and the cornerstone of the heavy force is the Abrams M1 tank. Along with that are the mechanized infantry, light infantry and airborne infantry. So we organized ourselves for testing around these platforms ... but that is all changing.

“It started changing in Desert Storm, when the prospect of maneuver became the dominant battlefield force. Dominant maneuver is the chess-like maneuver that causes the threat to capitulate, because we surprised him, enveloped him and rendered him incapable of executing his mission, even though his forces may be numerically superior. We did that successfully in Desert Storm and learned a lot from it. We learned that, in order to have dominant maneuver, you must have information superiority.”

To help the Army test complex systems, such as command, control, communications, computer and intelligence equipment (C4I) as well as weapons and other components—a virtual proving ground is being used to “distribute” testing, Cozby said.

Distributed, network-centric testing makes it easier for Army evaluators to determine the overall effectiveness of new systems, because it more closely replicates how these systems would have to operate together in the real world, Cozby added.

“Historically, we’ve been organized to test certain aspects of a major system at specific test centers. So if you were testing an M1 Abrams tank, for example, you tested it at Aberdeen Test Center [in Maryland] for mobility, reliability, durability and survivability. If you wanted to test it in an electromagnetic environment, you had to take it to Fort Huachuca [in Arizona], and if you wanted to test it in a chemical/biological environment, you took it to Dugway Proving Ground [in Utah].

If you wanted to test its interface with tactical missile systems, you took the item to Redstone Technical Test Center [in Alabama], and for a desert environment you had to take it to Yuma Proving Ground [in Arizona].”

According to Cozby, “By necessity, that was done over different days at different times of year by different people using different procedures and types of instrumentation. So the outputs are different—yet the evaluator at the end of it all has to assimilate and synthesize the test results into an evaluation of what would have happened if the platform had been exposed to all those environments at once, which is typically what happens in a battlefield scenario. It is a very difficult job for the evaluator.”

Cozby said DTC’s test centers are striving to integrate their virtual test capabilities into a single virtual proving ground, making it possible to bring these diverse modeling and simulation capabilities to bear on a system under test, as needed.

“We’re building a common architecture, so that we can talk the same language and share the same formats, protocols, processes and procedures,” he explained. “Beyond that, we are working toward integrated information systems. You don’t necessarily have to have the same database technology, structure and data-collection capabilities, but you must have an agreement on the interfaces between those things. That is what the virtual proving ground is building now. We call it an integration-level hierarchy. We design our instrumentation and database structures to accommodate it.”

DTC is working to develop “profiles” that can be used to replicate effects that occur when items are tested in various environments and then, with the aid of modeling and simulation, apply those types of test stimuli to tests that would otherwise require more time, manpower and funding. Cozby cited the bridge-crossing simulator at DTC’s Aberdeen Test Center as an example.

“We put accelerometers and other sensors on a bridge, run a series of tests so you can characterize the impact of a tank on the bridge, and then replicate those impacts with hydraulic actuators,” Cozby explained. “We can press a button, and the actuators vibrate the bridge with the same profile that a tank vibrates the bridge.”

“We can do it 24 hours a day, and we don’t need a driver, don’t need gas, and are not wearing out a tank while testing the bridge. And we’re doing it in a way that gives us controllability and repeatability,” Cozby said. “So we can go back and repeat the test on a modified bridge and be fairly certain it was tested in the same way (as the original design).

“If we want to somehow play a bridge being exercised as part of a battlefield simulation, I can now do that by hooking up the bridge-crossing simulator to whatever larger simulation might be going on at the time.”

Because many “traditional” tests are expensive and labor-intensive, technologies such as the bridge-crossing simulator will pay for themselves quickly, said Byron Hawley, of DTC’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments Division. Hawley, one of the Army technical experts behind the development of this system, said the bridge-crossing simulator is just one component in the “leading wave” of developmental test technologies that will save time and money, and reduce risks to soldiers.

The bridge-crossing simulator is designed to input stresses and strains based on load classes, Hawley said.

It used data that are based on international standards. Such technologies will give the Army flexibility in conducting tests on future developmental items, he added.

In September 2000, the DTC’s Aberdeen Test Center had a groundbreaking ceremony for a roadway simulator projected to cost about $37 million—for construction and installation. This system is expected to be the world’s largest flat-track simulator of this type when completed. It will operate in a controlled laboratory setting and employ computer programming to create varying driving conditions, such as speed, grade, curves and bumps. It will enable testers to collect comprehensive data on the performance and safety of vehicles ranging from passenger cars to tractor-trailer rigs.

DTC’s Redstone Technical Test Center, at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., frequently has employed these virtual proving-ground technologies, Cozby said, largely because of its access to a wealth of scientific expertise at a major missile research center.

Cozby cites the Simulation/Test Acceptance Facility at Redstone as an example of the virtual proving ground’s role in supporting Army weapons tests.

Missile Tests
Since its opening in July 1997, this DTC facility has used specialized simulations to test hundreds of Longbow Hellfire missiles in support of the Army’s weapons upgrades to the Apache attack helicopter.

Testers at the Simulation/Test Acceptance Facility examine lot samples before the Army acquires the missiles. If the Army had instead test-fired missiles to the extent that it did in the past—before accepting production lots—it would have needed to destroy a larger number of missiles as part of the test program and in the process reduced its missile inventory.

The tests conducted at Redstone, which employed a variety of simulations duplicating various scenarios and extreme environments, revealed defects that led to corrections in design or manufacturing processes.

The Redstone Technical Test Center also has used high-speed communications technology to link with DTC’s White Sands Missile Range, enabling the two centers to conduct collaborative, non-destructive testing on the Javelin missile. During one test, a soldier at White Sands powered up a Javelin command launch unit linked to Redstone’s Electro-Optical Flight Evaluation Laboratory (EOSFEL) and pressed the trigger to “virtually” fire a missile.

He saw the missile go down range via an EOSFEL simulation linked to White Sands by the Defense Research and Engineering Network, a high-speed wide area network connection. The soldier didn’t notice a lapse in response time after pressing the trigger, due to the speed of communications between the two test centers.

Among the threats confronting the United States and its allies is the use of unconventional weapons or terrorist attacks. As U.S. military forces transform to meet new threats, there is a critical need to test emerging technologies designed to provide protection from chemical and biological threats. Dugway Proving Ground conducts a wide range of chemical and biological tests to assist the Defense Department and other agencies develop protective measures. A virtual proving-ground initiative known as the Chemical/Biological Simulated Natural Environment currently is under way at Dugway.

The thrust of this program is to develop a physics-based, realistic digital representation of chemical and biological threats in traditional and urban battlefield environments. Output from a simulated environment is employed to support live and virtual tests of materials to be acquired for chemical and biological protection.

Dugway also has the capability to use its virtual proving-ground simulation capabilities to support training as well as testing.

One technology recently tested at Dugway with the aid of its virtual capabilities is the Biological Aerosol Warning System (BAWS), under development by the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, in Maryland. The BAWS is an array of point biological aerosol detectors networked to detect biological agent attacks while reducing the likelihood of false alarms.

Dugway’s West Desert Test Center used digital representations of biological threat clouds, as well as chemical simulants that represent a biological threat, and employed them during a four-week test to evaluate the performance of soldiers and Marines operating a BAWS “base station.”

The West Desert Test Center is working to improve computer-based modeling and simulation, as well as digitally-based testing, using these virtual tools to enhance the testing of chemical/biological defense systems.

Mike Cast is a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Army Developmental Test Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

Topics: Modeling and Simulation, Science and Engineering Technology, Test and Evaluation, Missiles

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