Modern warfare is a complicated business, involving an intricate interplay of men, machines and supply. The Department of Defense increasingly hires contractors that use their modeling and simulation capabilities to optimize components, train soldiers, calculate the logistics of a situation and predict the most favorable outcome.
The companies highlighted here have helped make Huntsville a center for DOD M&S.
Teledyne Brown Engineering: War Games for Real Life
Teledyne Brown Engineering provides a broad range of military simulations to model combat scenarios.
Built for the Army, the extended air defense simulation is “the premier, ” says John Regner, vice president of mission systems for the Alabama company. “It’s a ‘many on many’ type of war game, which can be linked to ground and surface combat activities, so you see the implications of air defense on how the ground commander does his or her job. We began this program in 1989, and it’s still going strong today.”
These simulations define numbers of troops and weapons, capabilities and location and mix in the physics—ballistics, wind and weather, for example. The software can pinpoint the limitations of a weapons system and suggest improvements or predict how a grand military strategy could be optimized.
TBE also is working on projects to help with missile defense and health care logistics—getting the necessary medical help to those injured in the field.
Analytical Services Inc.: Rocket Motors and Missile Defense
Solid rocket motors are widely used in military applications, from ejection seats in aircraft to guided missiles in combat. ASI has two projects that model SRM from different perspectives.
Working for the Navy, Junia Melin is studying propellant on a molecular scale. “Energetic ingredients such as nitroglycerin decompose over time, particularly at high temperatures, ” she says. “Decomposition products will react with the propellant and catalyze faster degradation. So stabilizers are added that preferentially react with these degradation products and remove them. My modeling simulates how fast different stabilizer molecules react with the catalysts and what pathway the reaction goes through, ” in hopes of finding more efficient stabilizers.
Melissa Forton and Caroline Hood are studying solid propellants from a materials standpoint. “The propellants are bonded to a metal or composite case, ” says Forton. “Sometimes there are flaws called debonds along the propellant-case interface. When ignition occurs there is a pressure spike from the burning gases, which could cause debonds to enlarge and propagate. In the worse scenario, the propellant tears, breaks up, and the motor explodes.” Modeling helps them learn how propellant cracks behave during pressure spike —a challenging problem since it involves both gases and solids.
“Gases are modeled with fluid dynamics and solids through structural dynamics programs, ” Forton explains. “The goal of our work is to link the separate programs together in an all inclusive program to model the entire system.”
ASI also has a team testing a model of the Ground-based Missile Defense system, from the moment radar detects a threat to the flight pattern of an interceptor, says team member John Wilson.
Dynetics: Defeating Hackers
Sophisticated weapons systems often have their own computer brains that send and receive information regarding their mission—making them potentially vulnerable to hacking. Dynetics is addressing this problem in one of its DOD programs.
“This is a fairly new area and the trail is just being blazed, ” says Greg Lester, vice president, air and missile defense systems. “All of the elements of a system talk to one another. We need to understand the ability of an adversary to penetrate the data stream that a weapon system might depend on. What impact could they render on the effectiveness of the system, if they were somehow able to penetrate and begin to give it artificial commands or simply deny transfer of information?”
Dynetics simulates the information flow of a weapon system and searches for vulnerabilities, says David McKinley, manager, systems development division.
Ironically, the missile-defense models draw heavily on signal processing technology developed for the gaming industry. Says Lester, “We are harnessing those platforms, which were not designed for DOD, but have turned out to be very good at something that’s useful for us.”
William Stevenson is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. He lives in Huntsville.
By William H. Stevenson III