Major Marksmanship

A changing international security environment — missiles from North Korea, missiles in Iran, Soviet warships off the East Coast — underscores the need for the U.S. to continue to develop more advanced missile defense systems. 

But developing missile defense systems is expensive and involves a lot of M&S — modeling and simulation — much of which is done in the technical conclaves in Huntsville. 

Bill Stender is a veteran of the missile defense business, and his expertise on M&S is considerable. Stender goes way back — to the days when SCUDS lit up the television screens of American homes and to the beginning of the PATRIOT missile. PATRIOT is a long-range, high altitude, all-weather solution built by Raytheon with U.S. Army oversight under real-world conditions. It can counter threats from tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones and advanced aircraft.

Stender, along with Fred Clark, founded CAS Inc., which grew to be the largest programmatic contractor and the second-largest defense consulting and services contractor in Huntsville. CAS is now a part of KBRwyle, whose customers include the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA and a variety of other federal agencies. KBRwyle’s areas of expertise include systems and sustainment engineering, program and acquisition management, life science research, space medical operations, information technology and test and evaluation of aircraft, weapon systems and networks.  

Stender recalls the early days of CAS and M&S and the reasons behind it.

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“You don’t want to sit there and fire missiles and keep stressing the system until it breaks, because it is too expensive. So you want to do that by simulation to test the boundaries of the system, ” Stender says.

“The whole aspect of the missile was modeled, all the way down to the movement of the fin, aerodynamics, the thrust of the motor, all of that in painstaking detail.

“To fire a missile was a million dollars a pop in the ’80s; now it is probably four times that, but it was an expensive process to fire a test missile. You had to very carefully pick the points to stress the system, which in turn would stress the simulation out into the boundaries of performance to validate the simulation to areas beyond that, ” Stender says. 

While the name is catchy, the system is known as the “Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target, ” or PATRIOT.

“Our primary involvement at CAS was, we had a large six degrees of freedom model that combined the missile, the radar and the ground-based command-control system.

“We ran that primarily to evaluate the performance of the missile and the radar in various environments. A large part of what we did in the later years was to provide insight into how many systems we would need to deploy for the Gulf War, where should they be located, how many missiles, which sites and that sort of thing.”

The SCUD, a descendent of the German V-2, is a ballistic missile widely used by the Iraqis in the Gulf War in the 1990s. In fact, Stender is the author of “Master Switch, ” a suspense novel based on the deployment of PATRIOT during the first Gulf War.

Stender says PATRIOT was originally designed as an anti-aircraft system for manned aircraft and in the ’80s and ’90s the design was retooled by Raytheon to give it the capability to defensively engage missiles. 

“We went in and sort of piggy-backed on top of Raytheon’s program in order to provide the government an independent assessment of the performance of the system, ” Stender says.

“I can’t say enough good things about Raytheon. They are an outstanding defense contractor.

“They had a full suite of simulations, which were at an even higher fidelity, because they had more detailed knowledge, but ours was done from the standpoint of providing to the government an independent evaluation of the system.”

According to Stender, the demonstration of the top-level intercept performance of the system was actually done on simulations using the test program to provide data for the validation of the simulation.

“We started when everything was just on paper. We started developing simulations. We used the live fire test program as a vehicle to validate the simulations.”

“The primary issue there was: How does it perform in the face of enemy countermeasures? A lot of those I can’t talk a lot about, but I would venture to say the PATRIOT in its day was the absolute primary system and was way in the forefront of using simulation to both validate a system’s performance and to determine its performance in other environments, ” says Stender.

“We went out on a limb and bought a large computer specifically to run the simulations that we provided to the PATRIOT project. Nowadays, they damn near do that on a PC. In the beginning it was all done on a large mainframe computer. When we built our first building, we had a big huge facility built that had pipes buried under the concrete foundation so that we could carry classified data throughout the building, ” Stender says.

“Those were the Reagan years, and there was a big push to get the number of civil servants down and out-source all this stuff to contractors and we were able to hire a lot of civil servants as they came out of the government and they had been doing similar work inside the government.”

ABOVE Raytheon’s $75 million missile integration and testing facility at Redstone Arsenal, where workers and robots assemble the Standard Missile-3 and Standard Missile-6, a ship-defense missile. 

Ballistics fast forward

Modeling and simulation plays an equally important role in today’s missile defense work.

Jacob Divoll is vice president for system development and integration for AEgis Technologies in Huntsville, a firm that oversees development and integration of software and hardware solutions for a wide range of simulation and test applications. The company specializes in modeling and simulation technology and emerging training solutions for both military and commercial applications.

“We support the Missile Defense Agency, the Army Research and Development Engineering Center, and in the past, the Air Missile Defense System programs for NATO, and we also support Air Force Research Laboratory, which has a missile defense mission as well.

“M&S is used in a lot of different ways, ” Divoll says. “The way I think of it is that you have different levels of M&S that are used in the defense industry. The lowest level is what we consider the engineering level. 

“That is a piece of M&S that is designed to model very closely the physics of the flight of the missile, the physics of the behavior of the engine, whatever else it might happen to be.

“Those simulations are very high performance. They have a lot of computing requirements that take a long time to run, and you get very detailed data out of them. Those tools are often used to solve difficult design problems.”

Divoll says the process eventually reaches the point where “you are trying to model how that system worked, how those individual piece parts behave in the full system. So, instead of just looking at an engine and how it behaves, you may be looking at the entire missile.

“And then you get to the point at what we consider full-force simulation, which means a multiple threat system and how they act in a larger scenario.”

The dramatic increase in computer power and technology, particularly in the past 15 years, has taken M&S to new heights.

“You have a wider range of tools that can be used, and that helps modeling and simulation especially, because modeling and simulation can mean a lot of different things and is very specific as to what the intended use is, ” according to Divoll.

“There is a lot more open source development done in the past 15 years, ” Divoll says.

PAC-3 test launch


Still, there is the question of cost versus benefit.

“There are a couple of benefits to M&S when it comes to cost, ” Divoll says. “The earlier on that you find a problem, the cheaper it is going to be to fix.

“When you catch it in the early phases of design, it is going to be very cheap to change the design. Once you have built the prototype, it is a little more expensive, but at least you caught it before you went and built a bunch of them. You can fix it earlier in the timeline if you are simulating it rather than building it.”

Like Stender, Divoll appreciates the cost of flight testing. 

“There are tests where we can fly the actual missiles, but those missiles are extremely expensive and the manpower that it takes to monitor that test, to gather that data. You are getting basically one flight of a missile, so you are not really getting any sort of statistical significance, and that is an extremely expensive venture, ” Divoll says.

“If you can do that as a piece of modeling and simulation and are accurate enough to be able to trust your results, then you can do hundreds of thousands of those for the same cost as a single flight of a missile and get a lot better idea of how that missile is going behave in a lot of different situations than in just that one flight.” 

Both Stender and Divoll take a pragmatic approach to the cost of M&S. 

“Simulations are like governments, ” Stender says. “Left alone, they will grow without bounds.” 

“M&S is just another branch of engineering science that, if used incorrectly, can be more expensive than if you had done it in a different way, ” according to Divoll. “I think the big thing is that M&S is a great tool that can be used to basically make our war fighters safer before they get to the war so we need to make sure that we are using the appropriate tools.”

Still, there is something to be said about seeing the real thing at work. 

“It was a great experience. Once the missile fired, PATRIOT was like a lot of systems. PATRIOT was a big warhead on the end of a computer, so after a test firing there was tons of data. The process of reducing the data and getting what you needed was an exciting thing, ” Stender says. 

“PATRIOT was the best example of destructive testing. There is nothing left. Hopefully there is not much left of the target either.” 

Bill Gerdes is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. He is based in Hoover. 


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