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Prior to embarking on any defence programme, modelling simulation and experimentation offers defence organisations the flexibility to testbed new operation concepts, tactics, procedures and techniques.

Test assumptions, gain clarity on the way forward, and be confident in your technology applications of choice.

We offer our customers the following services to support your experimentation journey:

  • Liaise with your organisation, end users and industry
  • Experiment conceptualisation, overseeing and reporting
  • Facilitate any desired user participation in the experiments

Our Success Stories

University of Alabama

Militaries are developing swarms of autonomous robotic Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to conduct missions that are too hazardous for human crews or expensive robotic systems. Using MAK's VR-Forces CGF, researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) are conducting experiments to determine if a simulated model of a robot swarm can improve military swarm tactics.

Robot swarms (groups of robots acting autonomously to achieve a common goal) conduct complex missions using many simple, inexpensive robots. Defined by basic rules that govern interactions between the robots in the swarm and environmental influences, the swarm uses tactics and control schemes to generate coordination and emergent behavior through swarm intelligence.

Because operational robot swarms are not yet available in the real world, doctrine developers use constructive entity-level combat models, like MAK's VR-Forces, to devise employment tactics for robot swarms. Here's how UAH is doing it.

UAH's Robot Swarm Experiments Using VR-Forces
Over the last two years, UAH researchers Dr. Mikel Petty and Dr. Kevin Foster researched models of swarm robots as a part of Dr. Foster's dissertation work. The research included three integrated efforts:

  • Use Design of Experiments (DoE) methods and retrodiction of a historical battle to calibrate model parameter settings and estimate the tactical impact of a simple robot swarm in VR-Forces – we'll discuss this effort below.
  • Develop an autonomous robot swarm model in VR-Forces
  • Improve the tactical performance of the swarm using a genetic algorithm implemented with VR-Forces Lua scripts

The rest of this blog post covers the first effort listed above. The results were published in the July 2021 issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation, titled "Estimating the tactical impact of robot swarms using a semi-automated forces system and design of experiments methods." The combat model was calibrated using retroactive prediction, or ''retrodiction,'' a method that involves simulating a historical battle and comparing the simulation results to the battle's historical outcome. For this experiment, the researchers used the Battle of 73 Easting as the historical battle to simulate in VR-Forces. The calibrated combat model was then used to estimate the tactical impact of a notional Iraqi robot swarm conducting reconnaissance and surveillance in that battle.

The Battle of 73 Easting, which was influential in the overall outcome of the 1991 Gulf War, was fought on 26 February 1991 in featureless desert terrain near the Iraq–Kuwait border. It was fought between the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (2ACR) of the United States Army and two brigades of the Tawakalna Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard. An extensive analysis of the battlefield and interviews with participants in the weeks after the Battle of 73 Easting provided the information needed to create and validate a VR-Forces model of the battle.

The Design of Experiments methods produced estimates of the interaction of the robot swarm's effect with the technologies of the combatants' weapon systems. Simulation trials and statistical analysis showed that the tactical benefits of an Iraqi robot swarm were overshadowed by the advantage provided by the US forces' thermal sights. However, additional trials indicated that if both sides had been equipped with optical sights only, the early warning provided to the Iraqi forces by a robot swarm could have had a significant effect on the battle's outcome.

"Using VR-Forces was an integral piece of our experiments to understand how to model robot swarms using a CGF system and how that model could be used to improve swarm tactics, " said Dr. Kevin Foster. "VR-Forces provides an extensive set of advanced entity models and high-resolution terrain databases that facilitate the development of robot swarm models that operate in complex urban terrain. The VR-Forces Lua scripting language interface provides an efficient method to modify existing entity models to exhibit autonomous behavior and develop a flexible genetic algorithm to improve swarm tactics. With VR-Forces' capability for batch execution, the machine learning model we developed enhanced swarm tactics over hundreds of unattended simulation scenarios."

Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI)

What's At Stake?
The Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) has established a demonstrator for experimentation with command and control information system (C2IS) technology. The demonstrator is used for studying middleware, different communication media, legacy information systems and user interface equipment employed in C2ISs.

How MAK Helped
MAK’s VR-Forces, computer generated forces simulation toolkit is a component of the demonstrator serving as the general framework for rapid development of synthetic environments. It is used for describing the scenario and representing the behavior of most of the entities in the environment. The demonstrator’s flexible and extendable HLA based synthetic environment supporting VR-Forces participation as a federate in the HLA federation, allowing it to exchange data with entities and systems represented in external simulation models.

Colombian National Government

The Battlefield is Evolving.
The Increased Threat of Cyber Attack Affects Strategic Decision Making.

As technologies continue to advance and become more deeply ingrained in modern life, threats of a crippling cyber attack or electronic warfare (EW) become increasingly probable. In an attempt to mitigate these risks, the Colombian national government (represented by the Ministry of Information Technology), the Higher War School in Colombia, and ITM Consulting Company joined forces to explore the role simulation plays in understanding, preparing for, and combating cyber attacks.

To build electronic warfare scenarios, the organizations needed a tool that could create and model elements vulnerable to cyber attacks, such as radar systems, military and civilian entities, and communication systems; they chose VT MAK’s VR-Forces simulation software tool for the job. VR-Forces not only allowed them to create scenarios to play out different threats in different environments, but also gave them the freedom to redesign the User Interface (UI) to match specific scenario needs. The group conducted three major cyber attack scenarios, which they are using to create response strategies.

In the first scenario, VR-Forces simulated two aircraft teams, where the red team was given a mission to use scanners and jammers to alter the frequency on the blue team’s radar systems; doing this enabled the red team to use attack aircraft to undermine the blue team’s defense system (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Illustration of a Radar Attack

The second scenario uses VR-Forces to simulate an electronic warfare attack on the Colombian oil infrastructure, a victim of frequent terrorist attacks. In this exercise, the red team was instructed to alter the readings on specific valves on a pipeline to ignite fires. Additionally attacks on the blue team’s surveillance systems (unmanned aircraft) set out to deter the blue team’s response (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Cyber Attack on a Colombian Oil Infrastructure

A third scenario highlights the danger to civilian population if the turbines in a hydroelectric plant are compromised through a cyber attack. The red team in this situation instigates drastic variations in water levels at the plant that in turn disrupt the power and energy generated to the nearby town. The power and energy disruptions bring about detrimental consequences for the simulated town (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Cyber Attack on the Colombian Critical Infrastructure

The exercises using VR-Forces have contributed to research and development efforts led by the Department of Telematics ESDEGUE, and in particular its line of research in Cybersecurity and Cyber Defense.

"What we were able to do with VR-Forces allowed us to lead the research process for the modeling and simulation of Electronic Warfare and Cybernetics; it is through this research that we learn how to best describe the behavior of different cyber attacks and EW tactics to determine scenarios, trends, and courses of action with excellent results,” says Colonel Martha Liliana Sanchez Lozano, the Official Colombian Air Force Chief of Telematics and Program Coordinator of Cybersecurity and Cyber Defense at the Higher War School.

NASA Project Wins, Grows with the MAK RTI

As aviation technology has improved, commercial air traffic has increased significantly, requiring better airspace management techniques. In an attempt to develop better air capacity, safety, and flexibility, NASA’s Air Traffic Operations Laboratory (ATOL) used a massive simulation environment called Air and Traffic Operations Simulation (ATOS) to explore better techniques. As the project’s success lead to its growth, NASA required a licensing option that would be easily scalable in a simulation that is ever-expanding.

NASA originally needed a tool that could effectively communicate and maintain all the entities involved in its complex, multi-laboratory, simulation that includes 400+ workstation-based high-fidelity aircraft simulators networked together. The simulation would eventually demand a creative, flexible solution so that licensing restrictions would not hinder its development.

The MAK Advantage:
VT MAK offers commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology to facilitate Air Traffic Management simulations, backed by a company with an “engineer down the hall” philosophy to help organizations creatively solve their implementation issues. The MAK RTI has been used by ATOL for over a decade to enable their High Level Architecture (HLA) federations to rapidly and efficiently communicate the positioning and actions of entities in the ATOS simulation. It was also used to communicate with external laboratories at NASA LaRC, NASA Ames Research Center, FAA and other compliant facilities. As the simulation’s success led to the growth in the number of federates and labs involved in the simulation, NASA’s needs changed. The ATOL required a way to use unlimited instances of the MAK RTI, and needed to do it in a way that would be cost-efficient. MAK’s “engineer own the hall” philosophy played a big role in ensuring success, as we worked out a custom licensing model to meet their needs and ensure that MAK would continue to play a role in the success of the ATOL.

We were able to reach Glover Barker of NASA Langley Research Center for comment: “At NASA Langley Research Center, we have used the MAK RTI libraries since 2005. Our Airspace and Traffic Operations Simulation (ATOS) uses High Level Architecture (HLA), so we initially tried an open source HLA solution. But the quality and reliability were not adequate, so we purchased RTI from MAK. MAK's RTI implementation conforms well to HLA standards, so we could easily substitute MAK RTI for the open source solution. We have been satisfied customers ever since.”

“MAK has steadily improved their product in every new release. MAK's technical support always responds quickly and helpfully when we have questions or problems. When needed, they have sent staff to our site to inspect our environment, and made recommendations to change our configuration. In the cases when we experienced a bug because of the unique way we used their software, MAK has diligently provided fixes for our problems. When we needed a new licensing scheme to fit our usage model, MAK delivered.”