Navy Program Bolsters Links Between Testers, Engineers
The Defense Department is funding a two-year, $10 million program that seeks to emphasize the use of technology experimentation and cost analysis before weapons systems enter full-rate procurement.
The initiative, called War Fighting Concepts to Future Weapon System Designs (Warcon), is managed by the Office for Naval Research. Essentially, it is looking to provide a link between the experimentation and acquisition communities.
The growing emphasis on so-called war-fighting experiments by the military services means that acquisition programs cannot work in isolation from those experiments, officials said. The availability of advanced digital models and simulation technologies now is making it possible to experiment with weapon-system concepts before final design decisions are made.
“The venue we have picked to emphasize the concepts is modeling and simulation,” said Ben Riley, government program manager for Warcon.
In addition to the Office of Naval Research, other Warcon participants include the Naval Sea Systems Command, Newport News Shipbuilding, Lockheed Martin, MTS Technologies, BMH, TSI and Oculus Technologies, among others.
Warcon explores ways to change the roles between government and industry and “lay more emphasis on up-front demonstrations to validate technology and determine the cost, versus performance, before an actual weapons system is acquired,” said Riley. The goal, he explained, is to use “engineering-level models to fill the gap in the refinement of system requirements, as weapon systems proceed through the acquisition life cycle.” Modeling and simulation facilitates “continuous technology insertion,” he said.
For the Defense Department to benefit from these technologies, there needs to be a “collaborative engineering enterprise,” where government and industry program managers are linked electronically, in a “distributed team” operation, he added.
If one applies the Warcon principles, Riley said, the end-result is a “knowledge base for the acquisition process.”
A critical tool for Warcon is a joint synthetic battle space, “where all the models are integrated into a single architecture,” said Riley. BMH, based in Virginia Beach, Va., is responsible for this part of the project.
In the context of Navy programs, for example, the synthetic battle space models the natural environment, the ships and the battle space for an aircraft carrier. “We are using the joint synthetic battle space as opposed to the virtual ship,” said Lockheed Martin’s Richard Schaeffer. “It is providing the context in which the war fighter can evaluate new operational concepts,” he added.
The simulation used in the joint synthetic battle space is called joint semi-automated forces, or JSAF, which is the “primary simulation used in support of fleet battle experiments run by the Maritime Battle Center and it is also used by [Joint Forces Command Experimentation Division] J9,” said Schaeffer.
“In the JSAF model, we integrate features of the future design of a carrier,” explained Riley. “In our test case, we are asking, ‘will the ordnance infrastructure of the carrier support the time critical strike concept developed by the Navy and, if not, what are the alternatives?’”
Newport News Shipbuilding has a direct interest in the success of Warcon, because the shipyard is the only builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy. The company currently is working with the service on design concepts for the next generation of carriers, the CVN-X. (See related story). The Navy wants to make sure that the new carrier can incorporate the latest technologies and that those technologies can be continually upgraded throughout the course of the ship’s 50-year life cycle. The Warcon approach is ideally suited for this type of technology insertion, officials said.
The Office of Naval Research is evaluating future war-fighting concepts on the 2010 to 2020 time frame, and “we even built a platform that goes into the 2060 time frame,” said Rob Lisle, Newport News Shipbuilding program administrator.
One example of a collaborative design environment advocated by Warcon is the Virginia Advanced Shipbuilding and Carrier Integration Center, established in 1998 by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s General Assembly. Its goal is to develop new technologies for aircraft carriers and other Navy ships. Much of the work at VASCIC will involve advanced simulation and modeling. Newport News Shipbuilding is under contract to manage the center.
One simulation that Newport News created replicates carrier flight-deck operations—it includes every single person involved in carrier operations, said Lisle. This simulation model, he said, is linked to a weapons handling systems model, which helps design the weapons that go on the carrier.
“The flight deck model is how you achieve a war plan,” Lisle said. “The weapons model is a subsystem to hit targets at a certain schedule. You have to be able to build up certain weapons and bombs.”
To complement these two models, the Naval Air Systems Command, in Lake Hurst, N.J., developed a weapons information model. “Our carrier received tasking from the commander through JSAF, and then the three models prepared for the tasking,” said Riley.
With JSAF, military planners can simulate an entire military operation, from the build-up process, the people and the weapon kits, to the information exchanges that take place on the ship, said Lisle.
“JSAF is a very complex time-sequence architecture where the three models ... were discreet event models that were developed as stand-alone models, and in our joint synthetic battle space, we were able to link all three together and have them operate with each other.”
Testing concepts using simulations saves time and money, explained MTS Technologies’ David Schmitz. MTS is a management contractor for Warcon. “We are looking for bottle necks and systems that need improvement,” he said. “A future scenario might stress a current design and if we understand how it is being stressed then we can tweak that design to improve it,” he added.
In addition to the joint synthetic battle space component, Warcon relies on advanced analysis tools, said Riley. A model developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is used for trade-off analysis, where the cost of a system, for example, is measured against operational requirements, said Riley.
The Naval Research Laboratory is setting up a collaborative enterprise environment that will pull all the parties of the program together, said Riley. Then the analysis group will develop a definition of a given problem and come up with a methodology and software to determine what needs to be solved.
“One of the biggest challenges of the program is the fact that you bring together a very diverse group of participants, from government and industry,” said Riley. “Everybody, based on their background and experience, has a slightly different understanding of the problem and solution and the challenge is to bring this to a unified manner, to see the problem and find a solution.”
Riley stressed that Warcon is only in the early stages of design and there is a lot of work yet to be done, particularly in the development of standard terminology and technical tools. The program received funding for two years to prove its worth and to try to spin off its findings into other programs. During the next several years, Warcon officials expect to participate in the Navy’s advanced battle fleet experiments, which are increasingly becoming a test bed for emerging technologies.