Digital twins are helping the military cut costs, improve readiness
August 20, 202111:18 am
5 min read
This content is sponsored by CACI.
Building, fielding and maintaining weapons systems, vehicles, networks and critical infrastructure for the military is an expensive and tedious process. Leveraging technology advancements in digital modeling and simulation can deliver faster, smarter capability for military missions at reduced cost and risk to personnel.
While far from a new concept, computer generated models of systems, known as digital twins, provide a wide range of uses and are increasingly utilized throughout the defense industrial base and the military.
Cost savings are a huge draw for their use in any organization. From the prototyping process to maintenance to training personnel on how to operate systems, digital twins allow for a quicker and more efficient process at a significantly reduced cost. Even before they are deployed, digital twins allow the Defense Department to ensure that designs meet critical requirements and make any necessary adjustments before spending large sums of money to build them, ultimately shortening the timeline and allowing for innovation in other areas. The models and simulations also allow the DoD to emulate any unwanted conditions that might take place when operating a system, for example in a flight control system, encountering errors or malfunctions in the aircraft. Digital simulations allow for a safe environment to try and understand how to mitigate those issues in the future and learn about potential techniques to use in designs or in the operation of the system.
Consider the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC) initiative. The Defense Department’s all-in modernization effort aims to connect disparate mission systems and tactical networks across the services to fully enable joint operations.
“That’s a very complex environment. So creating a digital twin of that environment allows you to war-game it, to analyze it for vulnerabilities, to stress test it in a simulated environment.” said Dr. Kevin McNeill, Senior Vice President of Cyberspace Solutions at CACI. “For instance, how resilient is the system to the loss of connectivity between elements? Or, from a cyber-perspective, are mission systems resilient when subjected to electronic warfare or cyber-attack?”
Technology modernization is a key focus throughout the military. Deploying emerging technologies such as 5G is a priority and can be realized at a significantly quicker pace with the use of M&S.
“It could cost you $20-to-40 million just to set up a large-scale instance of one of those types of networks with all the various types of equipment. So in a model environment, you can model not only the digital terrain, but also the terrain environment that you’re going to be deploying into, you can model the locations of towers, you can model all of the equipment and analyze the performance, and understand where you need to place that equipment, all in a simulated environment before you start spending millions of dollars.” McNeill said.
M&S also plays a major role in training members of the military. Virtual Reality simulations allow the military to train troops in life-like combat scenarios without needing a physical environment, which is costly, time consuming and has the added risk of injury.
These augmented realities require large quantities of data to be visualized, so a popular trend has become utilizing video game technology. Using the high resolution, high fidelity visualizations that can be produced by gaming engines allows for realistic training environments without the need to create new software.
“It allows you to very rapidly create those simulated environments versus if you tried writing all that code from scratch. It would not be cost effective.” McNeill said.
With more complex systems being used in the battlefield and the ever growing threat of cyber vulnerabilities that can be taken advantage of by adversaries, digital models allow the military to train combat protection teams to better understand the infrastructure they are operating in before they are put into a real life scenario. New service members can more quickly develop and refine their skills far beyond what they learned in basic training. They are able to train in systems like SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) and other operational technology (OT) that underly much of the critical infrastructure on military bases.
Staying ahead of adversaries is always a top priority for the military. In the modern world, that means technological superiority. This is especially challenging in the era of great power competition. M&S allows for technology to be developed and deployed more quickly and at a lower cost, as well as ensuring personnel is trained on the utilization of systems. Naturally, adversaries are also using digital modeling and simulation, so it’s critical for the DoD to continue investing in this technology.
The utilization of M&S is part of why the DoD is pushing for open systems and away from what is known as vendor lock or proprietary systems. Large systems have a wide range of components provided by different vendors, which can cause a range of interoperability and compliance standard issues during systems integration.
“You don’t want to be in a situation where something’s discontinued or proprietary, and now you’ve got to go have a multimillion dollar program to build a new one. So M&S and digital twins are very helpful in assessing interoperability and open architectures during the development of requirements, design and development of these large-scale, complex, software intensive systems.” McNeill said.