Battlefield Simulation Gets Communications Reality Boost

A new emulation tool called software virtual networks (SVNs) closes a threatening force readiness gap by adding realistic communications effects to battlefield simulations

From Kriegspiel to DARWARS, the goals of military simulation have remained constant – predict battle outcomes and build warfighter skills. Today’s advanced battlefield simulations deliver experiential realism in force positioning, troop movement, supply routing, enemy force detection and engagement, and damage calculation. For warfighters depending on next generation network-centric systems however, there is a new domain that these wargaming systems don’t encompass.

In net-centric warfare, the warfighter’s lifeline is a flow of information being transmitted and received over ad-hoc mobile networks. Minute by minute, that lifeline is impacted by myriad invisible threats, including environmental, technical and cyber. Present day scenario planning and tactical training exercises don’t recognize these threats; they either assume perfect communications or simulate only the physical layer of communications in a rudimentary way, like line-of-sight. Nor do they take into account predictable realities like delays. This practice is creating a threatening force readiness gap by negatively training commanders and warfighters to perform in conditions based on unrealistic premises – something warfighters would be better off not getting at all.

Simulated Battlefield, Real Communications

A compelling solution to this negative training problem is a new class of advanced emulation-based tools called software virtual networks (SVNs). SVNs take battlefield simulation to a new level of realism by adding the rigors and uncertainties of in-field communications like urban environment effects, message delays or drops, signal jamming, and sophisticated cyberattacks like denial-of-service and wormholes. SVNs can interoperate with a wide range of simulation platforms without the need for extensive re-programming or systems integration.

First introduced in 2008 by Scalable Network Technologies of Los Angeles, CA, SVNs are being utilized for advanced military programs such as the U.S. Army’s Brigade Combat Team Modernization Program and the Joint Tactical Radio System. SVNs are exact digital replicas of physical networks in virtual space – indistinguishable from real networks. Unlike traditional communication simulation technologies, SVNs interoperate with existing networks and devices, software applications, network management tools, and people – at real time speed. SVNs emulate protocols at all layers of complex networks and can digitally replicate hundreds or thousands of communication points.

The communications realism of SVNs benefits simulation and training in situations that involve either large numbers of radios and computers in a single battlespace, or fighting units and support teams networked across multiple geographic areas. Today, simulations in these scenarios do not generally take into account network priorities such as voice communications interrupting and delaying the data and video streams. That’s negative training, and it’s not good enough to prepare warfighters who depend on all three communications streams to accomplish their missions. SVNs eliminate this negative training problem by connecting to real battlefield applications – like force tracking and battle command – and handling all of the communication traffic (sensor feeds, video, data, and voice) including their priorities, interference and delays.

With this realistic communications emulation in place, changes to conditions that affect battlefield outcomes can be automatically taken into account by the SVN as entity positions, network traffic and threats evolve. Or condition changes could be made manually by instructors to fit specific training scripts. Either way, the effects of traffic levels, environment/terrain, and cyber threats can be accurately modeled, and warfighters positively trained to meet real-life network conditions with tested responses.

Powerful Solution, Simple Implementation

Because SVNs are inherently designed to interoperate with real networks, devices, and applications, adding their powerful capabilities to existing simulation and training systems is a relatively simple task. With computer-generated forces (CGF) applications, the SVN can be integrated with simple plug and play application interfaces to serve as the "communication network effects" component of the system. Because of their ability to represent up to thousands of network nodes, adding an SVN to a CGF application enables commanders and planners to evaluate the effect of the "state of the network" on operations and battle outcomes at the platoon, company, battalion, and brigade command levels.

In the case of a large distributed simulation system, such as the U.S. Air Force’s Distributed Mission Operations (DMO), adding realistic communications effects with an SVN would be a simple process that would not require modifying the existing applications. Software would be installed at each site that would intercept the packet data flowing onto the wide area network. All communications traffic would be routed through the SVN during a training exercise, and the SVN would distribute the communications across the system. Changes to variables affecting communications can be automated through the SVN or controlled by commanders and instructors running the distributed training exercise.

Network Awareness Eliminates Negative Net-Centric Training

If you’re going to fight in the desert, you train in desert conditions. Network-centric warfare requires the same kind of realistic preparation. As "assets" and "targets" move rapidly to the cyber domain, warfighters need training in conditions as close to what they’ll experience in the field as possible. Adding SVNs to existing simulation and training systems can eliminate the risk of negative training by equipping forces with the knowledge and confidence to use battlefield networks to their maximum advantage before they face down a real enemy.

Scalable Network Technologies will be publicly demonstrating how SVNs can be used in battlefield simulation and training applications at the 2009 I/ITSEC Conference, booth 2719, November 30 – December 3 in Orlando, FL.


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