Digital transformation is occurring at most companies and organizations across the globe to ensure that the right complex data, products, and processes are delivered at the right place and the right time.
Nowhere is this transformation more critical than in national defense.
Under the Joint All-Domain Command and Control project, the Pentagon is working to connect sensors from all of the military services — Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force — into a single network. JADC2 will replace the separate, incompatible tactical networks that each of these entities normally maintain, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Department of Defense anticipates that such a tactical network will be needed to connect military ground personnel, ships, aircraft, and satellites into a single, cyber-secure fighting unit. The JADC2 network would enable data sharing between hundreds or thousands of sensors simultaneously even in a chaotic battle environment. Automated redundancy will be built in: If one sensor temporarily loses sight of the target, other sensors will be able to cover it. The ambition and complexity of this project has led some analysts to express doubt that the necessary technology is available and can be made to work in these conditions.
“They raise questions about its technical maturity and affordability, and whether it is even possible to field a network that can securely and reliably connect sensors to shooters and support command and control in a lethal, electronic warfare-rich environment,” notes the same CRS report.
While these concerns may be valid, a solution is already on the horizon: multi-physics engineering simulation built on proven, physics-based simulation software.
Engineering simulation is a mature technology that continues to develop, constantly increasing in scope, speed, and capability. Simulation accurately applies the laws of physics to predict how a system will work — without building expensive physical prototypes. And it is already widely used across the DoD to design and test products such as weapons systems. Simulation speeds the delivery of innovative weapons systems, at lower cost, and improves their availability and reliability, which are essential to mission success.
In the case of JADC2, we are trying to understand the positions and behavior of all the personnel and equipment on a battlefield, both friendly and adversarial. To do this, data from a range of sensors will need to be collected, communicated, combined, and presented in a manner that enables battlefield decision makers to rapidly understand it, make a decision, and take action. Data from radar, lidar, optical, infrared, and radio-frequency sensors will have to be communicated through antennas to processors that use recognition software based on artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand the battlespace.
Fortunately, the automobile sector has been working on a these very same sensor and antenna technologies in the last decade to solve the challenges of autonomous driving. While perhaps differing in scale, the process of autonomous vehicles sensing their surroundings, communicating with satellites and other nearby vehicles while taking action (braking, accelerating, changing lanes, etc.) based on combined sensor data is comparable to the complex battle scenario we outlined earlier.
The radar, lidar, optical, infrared, and radio-frequency sensors along with the antennas used in both autonomous vehicles and battlespace sensors are being developed and tested using engineering simulation as a primary tool for verification and validation. Automobile and communications companies have made great progress toward the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles, and in a sense have been doing much of the legwork that the military will need to make JADC2 possible.
Undoubtedly, the consequences of success or failure are greater in war than on the highway. And while autonomous automobiles can operate, for the most part, by selfishly attending to their own priorities, battlefield commanders must have a comprehensive plan that considers all the fielded personnel and equipment along with the goals of the engagement. That’s where digital mission engineering is effective.
Digital mission engineering is a digital plan that combines models of individual components (satellites, ships, aircraft, tanks, etc.) into a “system of systems” — a connected digital thread containing all components and interactions involved. Commanders can plan how the whole mission should unfold and then check on actual operations in real time, giving them 360-degree situational awareness and coordination for better, quicker decision making. The ultimate mission is our national defense strategy.
Digital mission engineering has been important to the growth of the space industry, and the accuracy of simulation today has made possible a range of missions that were previously in the realm of science fiction. Just as the JADC2 project will require complex and interdependent analyses, the space industry has been leveraging commercial software for digital mission engineering to design and operate ever more complicated missions, such as visiting a small asteroid.
After years of identifying and establishing best practices, the automotive industry standardized on physics-based simulation for sensor fusion and the rapid training of AI/ML applications for situational awareness and decision making. Likewise, the satellite and aerospace communities have been using mission-based engineering for mission planning and test range management.
Development, validation, and adoption of these capabilities across such high reliability applications should provide the DoD with the assurance they are looking for when questions of maturity and affordability arise. By combining these two well-established simulation capabilities, JADC2 milestones can be met more quickly and drive advanced features to the warfighter.
Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Bleymaier is the chief technology officer for aerospace & defense at simulation specialist Ansys.