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Video Game Innovation Empowers Naval Simulations

January 2006
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Kill Chain, a modeling and simulation system that utilizes the power of video game technology, was initially designed to illustrate the capabilities the DD(X) next-generation destroyer will add to the battlespace for the U.S. Navy.
Sea service capitalizes on commercial capabilities.

Analysts in the U.S. Navy will soon be able to examine new ship systems and military tactics from the beginning to the end of the kill chain without ever leaving shore. A modeling and simulation tool will enable them to assess capabilities quickly at their desktop with a level of fidelity that allows them to make better informed acquisition recommendations as well as to explore adversaries’ responses to new devices and strategies. The capability capitalizes on advances made by the video game industry.

The Navy has been reaping the benefits of war games, including rolling the lessons learned into budget decisions, since the late 1880s. Techniques have advanced over the years in large part because of developments in technology, but the benefits are the same: better decisions, systems, doctrine and tactics. Models and simulations allow analysts to examine capabilities and concepts that are too dangerous, too expensive, too time-consuming or simply impossible to study in the real world.

But until recently, even modeling and simulation was a time-consuming task for the Navy because it involved outsourcing much of the work. First, naval personnel had to determine what they needed to know about a naval system’s capabilities and effects. They then had to explain their requirement to contracted analysts, who decided which tools would best address the issue and presented this information to the Navy. After the Navy approved or adjusted the proposed course of action, the contractor returned to the company, resolved the question and delivered the findings to the service. This process could take weeks or even months, and when the analysts’ results revealed new questions, the entire process would have to begin again.

Software currently under development by Symmetron LLC, a ManTech Gray Hawk Systems company located in Fairfax, Virginia, will alleviate this arduous process significantly. It will allow individual analysts at the Pentagon and the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), Washington, D.C., to evaluate systems and capabilities quickly on their desktop computers. Based on the power behind video game engines, Kill Chain will facilitate a rapid turnaround of analysis so naval decision makers can assess proposed systems and make recommendations about acquisition.

Capt. Paul Rosbolt, USN, program manager for undersea systems, Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) at NAVSEA, explains that, in addition to facilitating the decision-making process, Kill Chain will help his group accomplish a task articulated by former chief of naval operations, Adm. Vern Clark, USN. As the Navy considers new systems for antisubmarine warfare, such as entirely new sensor concepts, the admiral wanted the Navy to be able to determine whether adversaries could circumvent them by simply changing their pattern of operations. “About a year ago at one of our antisubmarine warfare task force meetings, Adm. Clark made a point to us that we needed to more effectively model—interactively model—an adversary’s potential behavior. … Adm. Clark wanted us to have a way to quickly, easily and with high fidelity change adversary behavior in reaction to putting one of these new systems out there in simulation space and see if there was a way to beat it,” Capt. Rosbolt explains.

Kill Chain’s ability to pit new systems against an adversary’s capabilities and tactics throughout a simulated battle allows analysts to assess the effectiveness of the new capabilities, he says. “A big driver for us is the ability that this system will bring to have somebody sit here and say, ‘If you put out a new distributed field, here are all the things I can do with my adversary submarine.’ He can then try each one of them out interactively to see if he can beat it. That’s a big benefit for us. Without spending a lot of funds and a lot of time—months literally—an operator can sit down and say, ‘I’m a submarine driver, and I know that the blue guy now has this new capability. Let me figure out how I can beat this thing.’ And, I have a tool to quantify that,” the captain relates.

Kill Chain’s development actually began more than three years ago when the Navy’s DD(X) program contracted Symmetron to create a technology demonstrator. DD(X) is the Navy’s future generation of destroyer. The goal was to model the state of existing naval capabilities then insert the DD(X) into tactical scenarios and illustrate the capabilities it would add to naval warfare. Although the DD(X) program ended its direct sponsorship of the effort in November 2003, the program office directed Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to use Kill Chain to evaluate mission effectiveness in air and surface warfare for the ship’s preliminary design review. The work involved the completion and analysis of 18,000 runs of DD(X) scenarios based on the ship’s design reference missions.

In June 2004, the PEO IWS assumed Kill Chain sponsorship and changed the focus from surface warfare and antiship missile defense to antisubmarine warfare. The effort involved 7,000 runs that demonstrated the effectiveness of new and projected antisubmarine warfare systems such as the advanced deployment system and the littoral combat ship.

Part of Kill Chain’s potency as an analysis tool comes from the performance database on which it is built. The information has been gleaned from real-world sources such as exercises. It includes U.S. ships and weaponry as well as data about foreign vessels and weapons such as those used by the Russian military.

Simulation analysis runs can incorporate both classified and unclassified information. For instance, in the area of surface and air warfare, classified information about the effectiveness of Harpoon missiles and guided weapons against Russia’s Slava-class guided missile cruiser is used. Kill Chain includes data that has been collected since the end of the Cold War that reveals the location of key systems and the effectiveness of targeting certain compartments with Harpoon missiles. The simulations demonstrated that fewer missiles than were previously estimated could disable or destroy cruisers if they struck in specific areas.

The three-dimensional view Kill Chain offers helps analysts understand not only what is happening but also why.
Capt. Neil F. Byrne, USN (Ret.), president, Tactics Unlimited, San Diego, is a consultant to Symmetron on the Kill Chain project. He emphasizes that although Kill Chain improves naval modeling and simulation by using advances made in the game industry, the system differs from commercial video games in one significant way. “While video game developers spend about 80 percent of their budgets on graphics—eye candy—Kill Chain has done the reverse. The overriding emphasis has been on under-the-hood fidelity supported by a very muscular Secret database derived from fleet performance sources,” Capt. Byrne relates. Much of the work conducted for the Navy to date has been based on data provided by the military; however, one goal in developing the system has always been to be as database-independent as possible, he adds.

And it is the data available to users while running the simulations that sets Kill Chain apart from past systems. By clicking on tabs at the bottom of the screen, users can view information about the capabilities and status of their ship’s weapons, launchers, countermeasures and sensors. In addition, data about a ship’s systems and compartments tell them how a strike would affect the ship. As a result, Kill Chain can be used to evaluate mission effectiveness, to demonstrate the effects of current and new technologies, to conduct tactical development and evaluation, and to support training.

The abundance of information provided to users continues as the simulation proceeds, and because it is based on real-world experience, it provides the sailor with a realistic experience, Capt. Byrne says. “For example, we examined one missile and what goes on between the intent to fire and hitting the target, then we tracked everything that the computer had to do to track it. The sensor-to-shooter chain involves a lot of steps, so there is latency and we studied that. Delays are put into the game to reflect what really happens and how it happens. That’s important from a realism standpoint,” he explains.

A typical simulation run begins with the user controlling a U.S. ship in an area that includes both friendly and unknown ships and aircraft. The unknown entities could be enemy ships and aircraft or neutral craft such as merchant marine ships. The controller then uses the ship’s capabilities as well as input from other friendly craft in the area to identify the unknown entities. When the enemy fires on the U.S. ship, the user can determine what weapons have been fired, the flight path of the missiles and the likely damage to the ship. The controller also can watch the missile in flight as it heads toward the ship, determine a response and deploy the appropriate countermeasures. Capt. Byrne points out that because this action can take place in the simulation with the same time increments sailors would expect in an actual attack, Kill Chain presents a realistic experience.

Capt. Rosbolt notes that Kill Chain adds realism in tactical scenarios in other ways. Because most current models are based on the established capabilities of systems such as sonar, the simulations do not necessarily reflect the way other ship systems affect overall performance during a battle. Kill Chain’s level of detail demonstrates how all the pieces have to fit together, including command and control systems and weapons.

Don Martin, project manager, antisubmarine warfare modeling and simulation, undersea systems, PEO IWS, NAVSEA, points out that the ability to view simulations in three dimensions is another benefit Kill Chain offers. “The video game aspects of it—the 3D displays—they’re really not just there for fun. One of the hardest aspects of a computerized analysis model is taking the reams and reams of numbers it produces and making sense of it, understanding what it means. And, truly, that three-dimensional picture sometimes helps an operator picture what happened in a way that would take hours and hours of sifting through numbers. So the ability of the model to let the operator make sense of what happened and why quickly in this model is stronger than many of the models we have available,” he says.

Although Kill Chain has been developed primarily as an analysis tool, it also could aid in training. The extension into training is a logical one as Kill Chain’s predecessor, the Naval Tactical Game (NAVTAG), has been used for many years to prepare surface warfare officers for tactical operations. By capitalizing on current video game technology, Kill Chain’s realism could enhance training, Capt. Byrne says. For example, while NAVTAG involved 110,000 lines of source code, Kill Chain’s simulation core comprises more than 400,000 lines of code—and the system is only 30 percent complete.

In addition, compared to NAVTAG, Kill Chain can perform in both real and accelerated time. The current version supports artificial intelligence versus artificial intelligence, which is especially useful for conducting analysis, and man versus artificial intelligence. Plans for future versions of Kill Chain include expanding the playing field so that multiple players can compete and collaborate on a local area network or several users can face off against the artificial intelligence component.

Capt. Rosbolt emphasizes that current funding covers only delivery of Kill Chain as an analysis tool. It will be distributed to personnel at the Navy Yard and the Pentagon primarily, and a few models may be sent to training commands so they can see how it works from an analysis perspective. If other commands are interested in pursuing Kill Chain for training or tactical development and evaluation purposes, they would have to convey the requirement and fund the project, the captain explains.

Delivery of Kill Chain in the areas of antisubmarine warfare, surface warfare and antiship missile defense is scheduled for April.


Web Resources
NavalSea Systems Command:
Symmetron LLC: