Modelling capabilities for specific simulation applications
Software, what software? Or, more accurately, which software? The variety of modelling solutions for simulation platforms is wide, varied and – indeed – variable. Which is largely because the environment keeps changing.
Wander the halls of I/ITSEC in Orlando any given November/December or ITEC in whichever European city it is hosted in and the interested observer will see many things: cockpits, tanks, ship bridges, medical mannequins, role players, sophisticated displays and image handling systems – the list is always in danger of becoming endless. There are a lot of companies, however, that provide the engines that make all these platforms work – and they are not always obvious either! Some small and virtually unknown except by their circle of (usually faithful) users, others the largest of the large, the providers of modelling software for simulation platforms are legion. So large a community embraces modelling capabilities for an equally bewildering variety of specific applications in virtually every genre of the simulation industry.
The Road Less (or More) Travelled
Traditionally, not to say normally, the modelling software company addresses the terrain and associated components for a simulation – providing physics-based entities, capabilities and behaviours that will engage the simulation user and provide events, learning opportunities and an interactive experience for student and instructors alike. One of the aspects of terrain modelling that has been both vibrant and fascinating for several years has been the issue of dynamic terrain, an area in which CAE, among others, has done a great deal of work.
Dynamic terrain addresses the need for there to be consequences of events impacting the area in which the simulation is based. As a relatively simple example, a simulation for a tactical engagement training solution for armoured troops will inevitably contain terrain features to be crossed by the vehicles in the scenario – roads, tracks, fields, water obstacles, bridges, perhaps airports or railroad stations. Artillery or mortar fire, close air support weapons drops, combat engineering ‘interference’ or severe weather conditions can all have a subsequent effect on the specific terrain feature in question and it is important from the perspective of being able to instil the relative skills in the student that those effects be reflected the next time the tank or armoured vehicle crosses that particular terrain feature. Thus a bridge may have a span destroyed and the system prevents the tank from re-crossing or a road junction may now sport a deep crater as a result of a bombing mission, forcing the student ‘deriver’ to find an alternative route to his destination.
That is a good example of the manner in which modelling software has become more sophisticated in recent years. This level of required sophistication is driven primarily by the expectation levels of the current and future generations of trainees. Once called the ‘Nintendo generation,’ even that epithet is somewhat passé now, in our ever-changing multi-faceted world. The simple fact is that a generation who have grown up with computer games and smartphones – people ‘fluent in thumb’ – have expectation levels much higher than their forefathers’ for levels of fidelity and realism in the visual components of their training systems. Failure a) to recognise this and b) to do something about satisfying those expectations leads to wasted effort, resources and capital at best and negative training effect at worst.
It is therefore not surprising that a whole raft of companies specialising in niche capabilities as far as realistic and high-fidelity modelling solutions has sprung into existence. Bionatics, for example – a company whose marketing strapline is ‘Simulation for Decision’ – originally specialised in the simulation of vegetation. Having generic vegetation models is all well and good for training close air support or naval bombardment missions, perhaps. For small infantry unit tactics, special forces missions and ‘nap of the earth’ helicopter aircrew training, however, there are other questions to be answered by the terrain database. Is the vegetation appropriate to the season or geographic location? Does it present tactical issues for concealment (or lack of it) or does it limit potential landing zones? Incorporating sophisticated algorithms to govern the scenario evolution and provide an almost infinite variety of options, decisions for which can be made within the system, reduces the workload of the instructor or scenario developer, provides for greater flexibility in terms of the range of training requirements for which the simulation can be harnessed and therefore saves time and money. It also, incidentally, makes procurement decisions arguably easier for the same reason, which is often the successful countervailing argument to the “do we really need to pay for this?” starting point.
Having started out as the gardeners of the simulation world, Bionatics has now developed a wide range of urban terrain capabilities as well, reflecting the post-Afghanistan tendency towards increased emphasis on Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) and Fighting in Built-Up Areas (FIBUA) training facilities. A clear demonstration of the evolutionary effect being exercised on training requirements by cultural and doctrinal changes rather than scenario-specific considerations. The company’s LandSim 3D software suite, for instance, provides developers with the ability to plan, manage and promote entire cities or smaller urban constructs and reflects the increased concerns around security of increasingly vulnerable cities as well as the purely military aspects of training. Emergency services, first responders, hazardous materials crews, police, hostage rescue and counterterrorist forces all need to be trained in urban scenarios and the requirement for high degrees of realism in mission critical training has never been more stringent.
From Battlefield to Drawing Office
There are other aspects of the simulation world, however, in which the military also has demands that in many cases cross over with requirements and capabilities in the industrial arena. Logistics – or supply chain management to give it a non-military title – is an area in which the military has a great deal to learn from work that has been done in easing and facilitating the flow of the essentials for any campaign, from the obvious food, water, fuel and ammunition to the less so – helmet liners, socks and toothpaste. Any senior commander will tell you battles are won or lost on the battlefield, but campaigns and wars are won in the supply chain. Just consider Napoleon in Spain 1808-14.
Simio has established an enviable reputation in the supply chain management simulation and training business and has devoted considerable effort to leveraging that expertise for potential military end users. With so much money being requested for updating or refurbishment of real estate owned by the military in almost every nation (with current examples of the controversy and disruption such projects create being highly visible in the UK, USA and Australia, for instance) the ability to leverage a proven logistics solution to train those who must control, implement and evaluate the required refurbishment operations is extremely attractive to managers. As more and more services are contracted out to private companies, the ability to answer questions on optimum fleet size and utility, or the potential impact of changes in supply and demand on the resupply process becomes a key discriminator for the use of a modelling solution for ensuring readiness and for training, planning and smarter procurement.
Changes in the requirements for modelling software are also being driven by changes taking place in the nature of the customer. Quite apart from the horizontal extension of the requirements caused by evolutions in the threat envelope and the blurring of the edges between what were once ‘purely military’ and ‘purely security’ concerns, there are also changes taking place in the vertical dimension. Armed forces now have to be cognisant of and competent in a whole variety of issues that at one time were left to other parties – an ironic development considering the trend towards contracting out referred to above.
Consider the US Air Force (USAF), for instance, which is pouring hundreds of millions into its ‘Factory of the Future’ programme. Intended to provide an answer to the conundrum posed by the combination of an ageing industrial workforce, the increasing complexity of weapons systems and platforms manufacturing and the unpredictable nature of the defence budget, the USAF intends to leverage best practices and learn lessons from its civilian manufacturing counterparts in order to exercise greater control over its own destiny. Combine that laudable desire with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills gap complained of by industrial magnates in every developed country (though more so currently, it seems, in the UK and North America) and you arrive at a situation in which there is an acknowledged need – and a dire one – for education, knowledge transfer and skills development. This is an area in which software tools such as those developed by Dassault can be leveraged to considerable advantage. Providing student educators, training programmes and software suites across a range of engineering and technology disciplines, including computer assisted design and manufacturing, the company’s software toolkits can be leveraged by a wide variety of military and security service users in the same way as they have been in industry.
All at Sea
The maritime environment is a particularly taxing one from a training and a maintenance perspective. Apart from all the environmental concerns (salt corrosion, vibration dampening, lateral stresses induced by severe wave conditions, radiated noise) there are several issues that preoccupy naval and coast guard operators. Fire at sea remains the sailors’ worst nightmare even almost two centuries after the heyday of the wooden-hulled vessel and training for firefighting is one of the issues that has created the most demanding requirements for training.
Given the complexity of modern naval vessels – a multi mission frigate, for instance, may have several hundred separate compartments which might be configured in over a dozen different ways depending on mission requirements, creating a huge number of training scenarios – the use of competent and high fidelity modelling software solutions for simulated training has considerable attraction. More fascinatingly, though, has been the development of a virtual ship design, engineering and training facility within BAE Systems’ Naval Ships business unit. Several years in development and continuing to evolve, the system has been replicated at several company sites across the UK and has often been used by Royal Navy and Maritime and Coastguard Agency personnel to conduct engineering reviews, training serials or ‘what if’ development scenarios at multiple sites simultaneously, thus enabling the users to assuage Treasury’s demands for money saving wherever possible.
Combining a variety of virtual and augmented reality devices and capabilities with a carefully cherry picked suite of modelling capabilities that have subsequently been enhanced, modified and tweaked, the system offers a sophisticated, high fidelity, highly realistic and almost infinitely customisable facility to image an individual ship or a generic ship class. From the perspective of preliminary and critical design reviews, this can be a godsend, as the Aircraft Carrier Alliance discovered when using it to assess the air operations bridge design for the QUEEN ELIZABETH-class carriers for the Royal Navy. A critical line of sight conflict issue became immediately apparent on the first ‘walkthrough’ of the virtual bridge, which, in the words of one company engineering manager, “would have been phenomenally expensive to fix if not discovered till after we had started cutting steel.”
Almost more importantly, however, is the facility the system gives for the creation of a ‘digital ship.’ This is an issue to do with the individual vessel, not the class design. With so few vessels in any one class in modern navies and with extended construction, fitting out and commissioning periods, no two vessels are exactly alike in every detail. Minor engineering changes and iterative design improvements or enhancements can have substantive effects on maintenance regimes – and even on the suitability of personnel to be moved from one ship to another if they do not have the relevant change-related knowledge that would impact their approach to maintenance. Creating a digital ship that goes with the vessel wherever she is – and faithfully replicates changes over time – is a facility worth every penny the company has invested in development.
Sophisticated, high fidelity modelling software for simulation platforms is not just about flying an aircraft, steering a ship or firing a tank gun. It is about providing the whole user community – procurement, operations, maintenance, supply and training – with a modern, cohesive, competent and current capability. Cost effectively and competitively. Which is why, by MONS’ count, there are over 300 companies involved in it worldwide.
I/ITSEC is showcasing the future of innovation across defences and www.monch.com/mpg/news/iitsec17.html brings together key developments from the show. For more information please see MILITARY TECHNOLOGY #12/2017, available on booth #257; and frequently check back for more NEWS FROM THE FLOOR.