Success beckons from the bleeding edge

Demand grows for modeling and simulation, portable devices

Before a naval strike force leaves the pier for open water, its crew can get hands-on training on every system aboard the ship.

All communications, radar, weapons and other systems are activated and live. The final piece needed for dockside training is the simulation system. The simulations are so sophisticated, sailors can hone the skills they need to deploy the ships.

"When they get out to sea, they've worked out all the typical problems that a new strike group would have," said Rae Dehncke, deputy sector manager, Defense Operations Integration Sector at Alion Science and Technology Corp.'s defense operations integration sector. Alion of McLean, Va., is No. 57 on the Top 100 list, with $162.7 million in prime IT contracting revenue.

Emerging technologies such as modeling and simulation are important to the success and future of most Top 100 companies. Other interoperable, easy-to-use technologies also are getting attention, and technologies for the Defense and Homeland Security departments are stirring interest among many companies up and down the list.

Call it an evolution

Simulation and modeling have been around for decades but are seeing a surge in development. The Pentagon relies heavily on them to help in combat training and joint exercises.

"We are evolving simulations to address new problems, and we're building federations where we hook in a number of different simulations in new and different ways to address these new problems," Dehncke said.

For example, improvements have been made in the way simulations display urban environments. A simulation database of 10,000 buildings once was considered huge. Today, simulations use millions of buildings, Dehncke said.

"The other thing that has really evolved is the representation of the civilians in the battlespace," he said. "In the past, civilians were always kind of wished away, but now, they have millions of people and vehicles moving around to 'clutter' the battlespace, as civilians normally would do. That adds a whole new dimension."

Simulations that model the busy urban environments in which military operations are conducted are in high demand because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Improvised explosive devices used for attacks on truck convoys are being studied by using simulations. Technologies can be tested in a simulated environment to measure how effective they might be in the real world.

Look also for supercomputers and parallel processor technology to play a bigger role in simulations that are becoming increasingly more complex.

Constraints such as cost and weight mean that not every soldier carries a radio into combat. A developing technology called Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems could change that.

MEMS reproduces mechanical systems such as gears and switches, but reduced in size thousands of times, said Keith Diefenderfer, programs director for the Advanced Technology Center at Rockwell Collins Inc., No. 25 on the list, with $513.3 million in prime IT contracting revenue.

"We are constructing those machinery components and building those things at the molecular level," Diefenderfer said. "Something that's maybe an inch in diameter in a machine can be reduced to where you could fit several within the width of a human hair."

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency backs the research, which is ready to transition from the laboratory to real-world applications. One of the first places it could show up is in radios and communications. Radios need to be able switch paths or route signals to select a channel or frequency. Modern radios use silicon-based diodes and transistors to accomplish this.

MEMS technology will enable those functions, but in a space hundreds or thousands of times smaller and at a significantly reduced cost. The radio frequency portion of a radio's cost could be reduced from several thousands of dollars to less than $100.

"Consider operations today in Afghanistan or Iraq," Diefenderfer said. "Not every soldier has a communications device, and that's because of affordability, and because of the volume and the battery power required.

"Imagine if we could get the cost of the radio that we sell to the military down to the same as [a radio in] an electronics store, but have the same kind of communications in those low-cost, almost disposal devices that are almost completely interoperable with all the military's communications systems," he said.

"That would be a boon for the Defense Department."

The technology also is expected to be in demand for homeland security organizations and public safety officials. Not only will the lower cost help with initial investment, but also because the initial investment would be so low, it's more likely organizations could upgrade as new technology becomes available.

Networks on the go

Flood water from Hurricane Katrina knocked out much of New Orleans' infrastructure, including its wireless communications system.

In an effort to contact victims on their mobile phones, Lucent Technologies Inc.'s Base Station Router was mounted on the bottom of a helicopter and flown over the city. Lucent is ranked at No. 49, with $200.8 million in prime IT contracting revenue.

The device combines a base station, radio network controller and core network router functionalities. A phone was attached to a base station, and the receiver on the other end let it connect to cell phones on the ground.

"It's for when you need to throw up a network fast," said Paul Mankiewich, CTO of Lucent's Network Solutions Group. "In the case of Katrina, we had to stick a base station on a helicopter to fly it over homes to see if we could detect people who had cell phones but no network to hook up to."

In a conventional network, a base station with receiver and antennae is mounted somewhere, often on a roof. It connects to networking equipment that can move a session among different base stations and manage the gateways to the Internet and wired network.

"You have a fairly complex, mobile network that is very hierarchical and has standards-based interfaces," Mankie-wich said. "But they're not simple interfaces; there's fairly complex messaging and signaling between each box. We've taken the whole network and collapse it into the base station."

Staff Writer Doug Beizer can be reached at dbeizer@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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