Modeling to Thwart Terrorism

October 2002
By Henry S. Kenyon

Virtual scenarios help planners identify, deter threats.

An interactive wargaming program developed by the U.S. military for joint force exercises is helping to protect potential terrorism targets in the United States. The software was employed to model security scenarios for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

The military has used computer simulations for decades. However, in today’s environment where the home front is a target, these powerful and sophisticated tools are being applied in civil defense and emergency response roles. Many of these modeling tools were either developed at government laboratories or used the laboratories’ massive computing resources. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California, is one of many research facilities that is finding new homeland security functions for existing technologies.

Lawrence Livermore has a long history of developing advanced modeling and computing systems. One of its efforts, the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS), is a sophisticated battlefield simulation tool. The culmination of nearly two decades of research and development for the military community, it originally was developed for the U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Warfighting Center (JWC), Suffolk, Virginia.

According to Dr. Gregory Simonson, leader of the Proliferation, Detection and Defense Systems Division, a part of Lawrence Livermore’s Nonproliferation, Arms Control and International Security Directorate, JCATS is a wargaming simulation used for planning and training purposes. Described as a computerized sand table, the system is scalable from individual soldiers to major formations involving tens of thousands of troops and vehicles. The program is highly detailed and can model the actions of individual soldiers, including their levels of fatigue, health, equipment weight and wounds suffered.

The latest version of JCATS generates additional spatial dimensions to a battle area by modeling individual floors in multistory buildings. The level of detail includes doors, windows and furniture and the effects they have on operations inside a structure. Simonson explains that this feature permits effective modeling of operations in urban environments.

Previous versions of the software could simulate a battle area measuring 600 kilometers (375 miles) on each side. The latest version covers up to half of the Earth, but only the immediate theater of operations is rendered in high detail, Simonson says. Besides detailing units down to individual people and vehicles, the software can generate topography and weather effects such as fog and plumes from chemical, nuclear and biological weapons. He notes that the program can simulate land, sea and littoral warfare and the use of nonlethal weapons.

JCATS was used to model, plan and rehearse the security situation for the 2002 Olympic Games. Lawrence Livermore was contacted in August 2001 by the joint task force responsible for event security. These authorities requested simulating a 150- by 150-mile area, but this model was ultimately expanded to 250 miles in every direction from the Olympic sites, Simonson explains.

The security joint task force was interested in a variety of natural and man-made events, ranging from accidents and avalanches to terrorist attacks. All of these potential threats were placed into 16 categories for evaluation.

Lawrence Livermore scientists ran simulations involving up to 12,000 entities representing people, vehicles and even bomb-sniffing dogs. Researchers modeled roughly 1,000 different scenario events for the Olympic joint task force. Because of these efforts, 75 percent of the security incidents that took place at the event had been anticipated and planned for, Simonson says.

JCATS also can model chemical and biological plumes. Lawrence Livermore is home to the Atmospheric Release Advisory Capability (ARAC), a computer-driven weather modeling and emergency response system. ARAC can globally map plumes of all kinds, from natural events such as volcanic eruptions to man-made toxic chemical releases. JCATS can use ARAC and directly tap into the weather modeling functions to plot the direction of fallout and chemical plumes quickly.

Although the JWC is a major JCATS sponsor, other organizations have expressed interest in the software. While not at liberty to name them, Simonson notes that potential sponsors are interested in developing a version of the simulation with additional applications. The software can be used for a variety of event models, but its current functions are driven by the needs of the individual military services. Now, Lawrence Livermore is using its own initiative to propose homeland security features to potential sponsors, he says.

Through its work with the JWC, Lawrence Livermore has conducted anti-terrorist simulations and assessments for many years, Simonson says. The system can model the motion of individual terrorists or rental trucks filled with explosives to provide highly accurate representations of attacks. For example, the program can determine the optimal number of individuals needed to attack a particular installation successfully. The laboratory has already held an exercise to study regional anti-terrorism defenses in the United States. This work builds on anti-terror research conducted over a decade ago by JCATS’ predecessor software to assess the defenses of military installations against terrorist attacks. “We’ve been in the counterterrorism business for a long time,” he says.

Because it is like a sophisticated computer game, JCATS can simulate and plan events before live troops ever take to the field. Running simulations is less expensive than real-world exercises, and they permit multiple scenarios to run in real or faster than real time, Simonson explains. Although there is no substitute for the experience gained from an actual exercise, simulations permit commanders to train and rehearse mission planning and execution, he explains. Each event generates data on tactics that worked and those that did not. Users also can enter a conflict in mid-game and run it to a different conclusion. This allows tactics to be worked out in the laboratory and permits troops to understand an area’s terrain and enemy defenses before they ever go into harm’s way, he says.

However, JCATS can be integrated into an exercise to create an additional layer of complexity. The software was used in Millennium Challenge 2002 (SIGNAL, July, page 51). This joint services event involved 35,000 live personnel and hundreds of thousands of virtual entities, including both troops and vehicles. JCATS was part of a federation of many software programs involved in the exercise, Simonson says.

An additional benefit of JCATS is that it can test the efficacy of a new piece of equipment before it enters production. The device can be described in high detail in the program’s code and tested for effects on logistics and maintenance. For example, the U.S. Marine Corps’ new advanced amphibious assault vehicle required additional armor protection. The Marines wanted to know where to position it to provide the best value relative to weight. Lawrence Livermore then ran simulations demonstrating where the vehicles were most likely to be hit by enemy fire under operational conditions.

The software also can be linked to simulators to connect actual events with virtual ones and to increase the number of realistic options available in an exercise. For example, military personnel may be in a combination of real aircraft and simulators while attacking the same target, he says.

Since its introduction in 1998, JCATS has undergone several modifications. The system now can model an entire city for vulnerabilities, permitting municipal authorities to conduct emergency preparedness exercises and plan routes for first responders. The software can make detailed maps of individual buildings, roads, bridges and infrastructure that can be woven together into extensive plans for any emergency. This capability is useful in a terrorist attack or a hostage situation because law enforcement groups can quickly access floor plans for rescue operations, Simonson observes.

Lawrence Livermore scientists developed JCATS’ predecessor, Janus, for the U.S. Army almost 20 years ago. Named after the Roman god, Janus was the first military battlefield simulator to employ a graphic user interface. The laboratory has been involved with the ongoing program ever since, Simonson says. JCATS is now used at 120 sites around the world. The U.S. Energy Department uses the software for facility security, and foreign nations also use the program, although he notes that U.S. contractors operate it, and these efforts are overseen by the Joint Forces Command.

Besides JCATS, Simonson adds that his division works with sensors and the analysis of weapons effects. In the future, he wants to tie these capabilities into codes that can model and detail chemical, nuclear and biological defenses for facilities. Another long-term goal is to make a system of systems combining these multiple capabilities, he says.

Additional information on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is available on the World Wide Web at


New Detectors Under Development

Lawrence Livermore researchers are working on new technologies to locate and identify chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

One device is designed to detect weapons of mass destruction being transported in steel shipping containers. The approach involves scanning a container with a beam of neutrons or gamma rays. Called active interrogation, the process entails registering the reaction caused when the beam interacts with radiological material.

According to William Dunlop, program leader for Lawrence Livermore’s Proliferation Prevention and Arms Control division, scientists are looking at different ways to detect both neutrons and gamma rays. Reactor-grade fissile materials produce both kinds of particles. Likewise, the system can locate conventional high explosives because they also emit particles when exposed to the beam.

Active interrogation has an advantage over handheld passive devices. Passive units can only detect objects that are giving off radiation, whereas the new approach produces a readable reaction from a variety of substances. Dunlop notes that the device already has been tested against various types of materials and cargo loads.

Scientists also are working on systems to detect biological weapons. Another Lawrence Livermore development project is an autonomous pathogen detection system (APDS). The laboratory is field testing a prototype device that will monitor the air in a building for harmful biological agents. The mailbox-size system is relatively large because many smaller systems do not work very well, says Page Stoutland, deputy division leader for the laboratory’s counterterrorism division.

The APDS sucks in air and scans it for known pathogens, which are then moved through various fluid-filled testing chambers inside the device. The system uses antibodies and DNA to detect harmful agents. Stoutland notes that antibodies alone are not sufficient for accurate detection. Although the system currently uses a hybrid approach, in time he believes it will move to a completely DNA-based detection strategy. The system has been in development for four years and is at least two years away from commercialization, he says.

Current detectors take up to 30 minutes to make a reading because they require multiple steps to obtain a proper result. Stoutland warns that it is important to put this into context. While 30 minutes is slow for immediate actions such as evacuating a building or shutting down a ventilation system, it is fast if the goal is to treat all of the exposed personnel because biological agents often take from several hours to several days to affect their victims.

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