Army extends simulation beyond training to encompass entire acquisition process
By John Rhea
WARREN, Mich. — Simulation technology has matured to the point where engineers can apply it throughout the acquisition cycle of U.S. Army combat vehicles. In this way, designers can head off potential system problems before deploying the vehicles in combat, says Dennis Wend, director of the National Automotive Center (NAC) in Warren, Mich.
Working with existing simulation and training technology, NAC officials are using computer-based modeling techniques to create what Wend calls "virtual battlefields." In these environments, soldiers can test "virtual weapons" so that designers can engineer the real weapons that soldiers will need in real warfare.
"The big payoff comes from making any design and engineering mistake in cyberspace and correcting them there instead of in the factory or in the field, where fixes come too late and cost too much," Wend says.
NAC, which is an activity of the Army`s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) and the Tank/Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), co-located in Warren, Mich., sponsored demonstrations of the new simulation concepts at last month`s Association of the U.S. Army`s (AUSA) annual conference in Washington.
The demonstrations, which involved nine contractors and a university research group, focused on a program the Army calls SimTLC, short for simulation throughout the life cycle. The program uses simulation technology initially in the design process and then continues it throughout testing and field operations, especially when system life cycles that may extend 25 years or more are involved.
SimTLC, in turn, is part of a broader Army program called SMART, for simulation and modeling for acquisition, requirements, and training. The overall goal is to cut development cycle time in half and reduce acquisition and support costs. NAC`s role is to seek dual-use technologies from the nearby automotive industry and apply them across the spectrum of military and civilian vehicles.
Among the participating contractors at the AUSA demonstrations were three members of the team on the Army`s computerized automatic virtual environment (CAVE) program to create a life-sized three-dimensional virtual domain for running computer-generated scenarios.
The companies, EDS Inc. of Herndon, Va.; Silicon Graphics Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.; and MultiGen-Paradigm of San Jose, Calif., demonstrated how designers could reconfigure one vehicle chassis with a variety of weapon systems and components. MultiGen-Paradigm experts showed how people at widely dispersed locations could share the "virtual work space" to design vehicle components.
Another participant in the demonstrations, Evans & Sutherland of Salt Lake City, demonstrated moving terrain display techniques using high-resolution, textured terrain displays to provide the realism necessary for effective human-in-the-loop testing.
The University of Iowa`s National Advanced Driving Simulator Group, Iowa City, Iowa, demonstrated ground vehicle motion simulators in a videotaped presentation.
Additional information about NAC`s simulation efforts in the acquisition process is available at the organization`s site on the World Wide Web at www.tacom.army.mil/ tardec/nac/.
A U.S. Army soldier uses the National Automotive Center`s Computerized Automatic Virtual Enviroment — better known as the CAVE — to help design new weapons and weapons configurations.