On November 20, SC '97: High Performance Networking and Computing, an annual conference on supercomputing co-sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Association for Computing Machinery, was both the origination and exhibition site of the largest military simulation in history.

The simulation, directed from and instantaneously viewed on the conference floor of the San Jose Convention Center, dwarfed what has been possible in the past in terms of the number of vehicles simulated--66,239 tanks, trucks and other vehicles--and the complexity of their modeled behavior.

Organized by a team comprised of engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, both located in Pasadena, CA, as well as the Space & Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, CA, the simulation played out a scenario of opposing forces operating on terrain modeled on the geography of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The vehicles executed a fast-moving scenario: Blue Forces aggressively attacked and ultimately overran Red Forces. Real-time execution took place for nearly two hours.

Actual execution of the simulation was remotely performed on supercomputers within the Department of Defense's High Performance Computer Modernization Program (HPCMP), whose conference booth controlled the execution and displayed the results from supercomputers located at the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC) in Dayton, Ohio, and the Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station (CEWES) in Vicksburg, MS.

The largest prior simulation, utilizing national networks of workstations, encompassed 5,000 vehicles. The potential for the November 20th simulation began when the Information Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency initiated the Synthetic Forces Express Project, or S F Express, in early 1996. This project's successful goal was the creation of a scalable architecture on massively parallel supercomputers. The new architecture, built under S F Express' auspices by the same team that coordinated the November 20th simulation, enabled this latest simulation to surpass its predecessor in scale by well over ten times.

The simulation engine was Modular Semi-Automated Forces, a large software system that has successfully generated synthetic environments for many large military training exercises. Using the expanded capabilities made possible by the new S F Express architecture, the computers (a 256-processor IBM SP2 and two 64- processor SGI Origin 2000s at the Aeronautical Systems Center and a 256-processor SP2 at Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station) were connected over the Defense Research and Engineering Network.

The individual processors involved computed the complex vehicle behaviors in real time, sharing the results internally and across the Defense Research and Engineering Network to achieve the coordinated result.

Dr. David Curkendall, head of JPL's Advanced Laboratory for Parallel High-Performance Applications, the JPL unit that worked on the new architecture, explains, "Access to a large number of processors, such as these provided through the Department of Defense's High Performance Computer Modernization Program, makes such large simulations not just a possibility, but a practical, cost-effective reality as well. The support staffs at both ASC and CEWES worked closely and diligently with the S F Express team to enable this successful demonstration."

The computer simulation was supported in part by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

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