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Real and Virtual Nodes Blur In Uncommon Contract

A small business innovation research project is taking the Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio program from simulation to emulation through a combination of technical advancements and government cooperation. The effort would enable the military to scale up the radio network and ensure the system will work without investing in actual hardware. Training options also exist as part of the future employment of the technology.


In a network-centric system’s life cycle, the need for realism increases as the network matures from concept to implementation. A small business innovation research (SBIR) program grant aims to use Scalable Network Technologies’ tools to move the
Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) from simulation to emulation.

Software virtual network runs actual applications on emulated products to conduct tests prohibited by the physical world.

A small business innovation research project is taking the Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio program from simulation to emulation through a combination of technical advancements and government cooperation. The effort would enable the military to scale up the radio network and ensure the system will work without investing in actual hardware. Training options also exist as part of the future employment of the technology.

The Joint Program Executive Office Joint Tactical Radio System (JPEO JTRS), the Future Combat Systems (FCS) Modeling and Simulation Office, and the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command’s (ATEC’s) Operational Test Command (OTC) are working together on and arranging funding for the Phase 2.5 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract. Scalable Network Technologies received the contract, which focuses on the interface of the company’s Communications Effects Server model of Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) with the JTRS Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) Engineering Development Model. Through the work, the GMR program will be able to validate the requirement that a WNW network must scale up to 250 nodes. Other equipment using the WNW also can benefit from the development. The Airborne, Maritime, Fixed Station (AMF) JTRS uses the waveform, and the model created for the GMR can be used for AMF testing and evaluation.

According to Lt. Cmdr. Keith Howland, USN, deputy chief engineer, Network Enterprise Domain, JPEO JTRS, the novelty of the Phase 2.5 project is the objective of crossing over from simulation of a JTRS waveform to emulation of the waveform. In simulation, a waveform model represents waveform performance with a certain level of abstraction that prevents that model from interfacing with a live radio running the waveform. In emulation, the waveform model implements the waveform functionality to such a high level of fidelity that the model is able to exchange messages with a live radio in real time such that the effect on the radio is the same as if it were communicating with another radio.

“What makes this such a powerful tool is that the model is able to emulate not one radio but hundreds of radios at the same time all running the waveform,” Cmdr. Howland says. “This allows JTRS, FCS and ATEC to test the waveform performance at much greater scale than any of the programs could afford early on in the development cycle.”

The main thrust behind Scalable Network Technologies’ project is to take a high-fidelity, accurate representation of a communications network and recreate it digitally as emulation. The work is done in as close to real time as possible, so external components such as applications are unable to differentiate between actual equipment and models. The process is achieved through the creation of a software virtual network (SVN) that allows the use of the same applications as a physical network at a lower cost. The synthetic network behaves in the same way as an actual large-scale mobile network so that real products can interface with it without people or equipment detecting a difference. Scalable Network Technologies does not own the term SVN, but has created a framework that creates SVNs that emulate mobile networks to the highest fidelity.

According to Rajive Bagrodia, president and chief executive officer of Scalable Network Technologies, the SVN can facilitate testing that would be difficult to complete in the real world. For example, if testers wanted to assess the use of 200 JTRS radios in an urban environment, they could create a high-fidelity replication through the SVN at a fraction of the price, and they even could do so without access to the actual environment.

Bagrodia explains that his company’s technology also could help solve other problems such as vulnerability to cyberattacks. With an accurate model of JTRS technology, the SBIR tools could construct models of different types of assaults and combat them. Users could examine how vulnerable various networks are to threats such as denial of service and communications intrusions. The technology could test the types of countermeasures deployed to fight back, as well as examine those costs and the amount of bandwidth required for the defensive measures. “A very important attribute is that I can run real applications on top of my models,” Bagrodia says.

In a training context, instructors could use the SVN to cause events to happen in the model such as shutting down a radio or bringing in other obstacles. Troops then would respond to maintain connectivity in the communications network. Bagrodia believes the most useful case for a test is if the military has 10 to 20 physical radios and wants to examine how they would work if an entire brigade or battalion were equipped with the radios. The remainder of the devices could be represented virtually to enable a meaningful test of the technology in a large-scale performance. The SVN is not limited to JTRS; it is applicable to many types of communications. Bagrodia says that from a broad technology perspective, the work will advance how training, test and analysis of network-centric systems could be significantly impacted by demonstrating feasibility in the JTRS context.

The value of the project to JTRS is severalfold, according to Cmdr. Howland. It allows JTRS to develop a solution to meet operational test requirements that mandate the use of modeling and simulation. The effort also provides JTRS with an environment to test network managers further. Finally, the SBIR gives JTRS an opportunity to work with the FCS program to develop waveform models in which the two organizations, along with the OTC, share a common interest.

In the multi-organization partnership, the JPEO JTRS Network Enterprise Domain serves as the contractual lead for the Phase 2.5 SBIR and provides technical oversight to Scalable Network Technologies’ software development work. However, the organization did not directly fund its portion of the Phase 2.5 effort; the money came from SBIR program funds. In a Phase 2.5 SBIR contract the SBIR money matches contributions from other organizations—in this case the FCS and the ATEC. The SBIR Phase 2.5 program is less than two years old, and little data is available about it. The JPEO JTRS has 40 active SBIR contracts, but only two are in Phase 2.5.

Other government organizations also are participating in the development. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s (TRADOC’s) Signal Center developed the specific doctrine methodologies by which the tactical systems being evaluated in the SBIR project will be employed on the battlefield. TRADOC is in charge of all the doctrine and operational methodology that will drive the use of the SBIR technologies in JTRS and FCS efforts.


Simulated radio must execute actual protocols to correctly interpret routing and other control messages sent by physical radio. The JTRS GMR Phase 2.5 SBIR emulations use the various technologies that the actual radios employ to provide the most accurate simulation networks possible.

The Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center participates in the research efforts by looking at evolution to support the warfighter. The center helped develop concepts for testing and simulation to fill in gaps caused by shortages of radios, and it examined the engineering level assessment of the tools to ensure proper functioning. It also provides research validation information.

The JTRS office is the sponsor of the original Phase 2 SBIR effort to develop a hardware-in-the-loop interface for Scalable Network Technologies’ Communications Effects Server to the GMR surrogate hardware. That work was done to prove that the server model of the JTRS WNW had enough fidelity so the model could operate with a real radio in real time. Hardware-in-the-loop simulations combine physical and virtual radios operating together, enabling training, analysis and testing of much larger-scale networks than can be achieved solely with physical radios. Phase 2.5 addresses the next step in the process in which the model interfaces with an actual GMR Engineering Development Model radio for a developmental or an operational test event.

The SBIR takes the testing of the WNW model developed under the FCS Modeling and Simulation Office a step further than previous efforts to interface it with a live radio. Through this, 100 versions of the emulated waveforms could be running and communicating with actual JTRS hardware radios inside the model. The Army OTC has the requirement to test against more radios than the JTRS program can actually build, necessitating hardware in the loop to supply the simulations.

John Diem, chief, Simulation and Integration Division, Transformation Technology Directorate, Army OTC, explains that testing has begun, and his organization is pushing toward a major operational test at the end of 2011. The large assessment will prove whether the network can scale up to the required size. “There’s a lot of pressure to get this right and get it right soon,” Diem says.

Efforts to simulate a network fully and interface that with radios and emulation have been in development for more than 15 years at the Army’s OTC. Diem says, “The fact that we not only have two major programs [but also] operational testing working together is something I thought maybe I’d never see in my career.” The defense representatives work closely with Scalable Network Technologies as well to ensure that the development of the tools will be relevant for JTRS.

Eventually the concept with JTRS GMR is to field hardware to an Army brigade combat team, which will require thousands of radios. Oral Walker, deputy director, Program Manager FCS (Brigade Combat Team), Modeling and Simulation Office, says that, “Prior to letting a production contract, we need to make sure we are testing at that level of scalability.” The SBIR technology will test the system, providing the military with confidence that it is ready to begin production of that amount of radios, he adds. The work will increase fidelity of network design, analysis and testing. It also will reduce costs because the military does not purchase the actual high-fidelity systems; instead, it will employ the emulations to produce quality results that can continue the sphere of development.

 The SBIR work will take its technological tools through analysis, developmental and operational testing. Walker shares that from an acquisition perspective, FCS is looking at network design. The SBIR technology will help his organization do real-time analysis of that laid-out design. The tools also will assist with developing a plan of action for the JTRS network that operational forces will look at for their environment and planning efforts. “That’s what’s coming from this technology,” Walker says.

Part of the importance of the SBIR’s efforts is the long-range uses for the technology. What comes out of this project will impact future systems fieldings, especially any that use JTRS as part of their network operations. Diem explains that, “The tools we use today to test JTRS and FCS become the tools we use to create environments to test other systems that interface with those capabilities in the future.” He compares the process to the development of the telephone line and fax machine. The SBIR work is akin to the development of the telephone line that the future fax machine eventually will use to send its messages. Once the emulations have proved the scalability of the network, troops could use the technology to conduct their training.

Diem states that in the past the military has done a poor job of giving troops the ability to train with systems and manage complex networks. He touts the JTRS work with this SBIR as the best effort he has seen to have a common strategy before the design is finished. He adds that the effort goes past acquisition to the training dimension.

Diem states that goals and successes for the SBIR technology have multiple phases. First the capability must be completed with the knowledge that the military plans for it to be integrated with JTRS and FCS tactical systems. It also must integrate with the test tools (simulations, data collection systems and test control systems) that are required to create the test environment and collect the data necessary to evaluate the performance of JTRS and FCS capabilities. Then integration with other simulations used in JTRS and FCS testing must occur, followed by integration with other tools used for testing. Officials also must examine its ability on the battlefield and collect data from that analysis.

Ultimately, he states, the capability will become part of the military’s toolkit to help with equipment integration into JTRS and FCS in the future. As the military fields and tests new and emerging tactical systems that must work with JTRS and FCS, it will continue to use the tools developed in the SBIR program.

Walker states that a goal of his organization is to integrate the technology into existing simulation environments. “When this is successful, we will definitely integrate it into our simulation environment to support our specific analysis and test events,” he says. Cmdr. Howland adds another caveat to success of the Phase 2.5 SBIR—its evolution to a Phase 3 SBIR in which a government program or commercial entity decides to fund the effort without the assistance of SBIR program money. In Phase 3, Scalable Network Technologies would advance its technology to create viable products for acquisition.

Bagrodia echoes the commander, saying a measure of success for his company is the actual incorporation of the technology into defense programs and a government agency’s willingness to pick up the tools for a particular test or technology. The other success for Scalable Network Technologies will be the demonstration of interoperability between physical and virtual JTRS radios.

JPEO JTRS: http://jpeojtrs.mil
Army Operational Test Command: www.otc.army.mil
Scalable Network Technologies: www.scalable-networks.com