NEWS | April 30, 2021

NSWC Dahlgren Division Innovation Expands Wargaming and Simulation Horizons

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Pronounce it “awesome,” but spell it “OSM.”

Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) engineers have designed and patented a new modeling and simulation tool – a new framework allowing scientists, warfighters and college students to model ideas and develop wargaming scenarios seamlessly.

“OSM” stands for Orchestrated Simulation through Modeling and its impact on major military exercises, technical programs and wargames is “awesome” indeed.  

When NSWCDD engineers Clint Winfrey and Mike Maldonado discuss OSM – a framework that defines utilities and interfaces for domain-agnostic modeling and simulation – they also describe the Modeling and Simulation Toolbox (MAST) architecture built on OSM.

“The opportunities and possibilities for analysis using OSM and MAST are unlimited,” said Maldonado, NSWCDD Modeling and Simulation Branch deputy program manager. “The framework is built for speed and provides anyone with the capability to model and test an idea quickly – in minutes – to see if it’s going in the right direction. That is a huge advantage because we understand that many of our customers have low fidelity ideas and hypothesis that need to be modeled. They need to see if they are on the right track, and the tool provides our users with that capability.”

MAST is an agent-based modeling and simulation application with which analysts create models from building blocks for any branch of the Department of Defense (DoD). MAST executes the building blocks against each other thousands of times and analyzes the results. These building blocks are coded at a low resolution in order to reduce execution time for effects-based, system-of-systems studies.

The earliest version of MAST – used for analysis with custom OSM plugins – was initially built for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

“It started when we were making a simulation for MDA that allowed a high run count modeling application,” said Winfrey, a Dahlgren software developer who created the OSM prototype in 2012 with input and design decisions from his NSWCDD colleagues, Ben Baldwin, a physicist and Dr. Mary Ann Cummings, the project lead.

“Ben was designing and making the models,” Winfrey recounted. “I was coding the framework. People loved the application, but the approach we came up with to do it was what really made it special.” 

A patent was awarded to Winfrey, Cummings and Baldwin for the OSM framework in 2016.

“Once it was awarded, we finished formal development and released the developer toolkit so that others could make plugins for the framework,” said Winfrey. “The MAST team continued making plugins specific to our users, and the tools kept growing to include additional plugins to meet the needs of new users. We started making upgrades to the framework itself about two years ago. This coming year, we are making a new and improved developer toolkit.”

The most important feature of OSM is its definition of the plugin types – graphical user interface elements and Discrete Event System Specification (DEVS) frames.

There are three DEVS framework plugin types – model, simulator and experiment – matching the formalism defined by Dr. Bernard Ziegler, University of Arizona emeritus professor, who invented DEVS in 1976. Graphical user interface, model, simulator and experiment plugins can be developed separately by different organizations and joined together with no additional coordination other than meeting the OSM standard.

“MAST is specific to the military domain, and so an additional framework portion called OSMil was built on top of OSM,” said Maldonado. “OSMil defines military-specific interfaces and utilities in addition to two new plugin types: state and trigger.”

With the state and trigger plugin definitions, developers can create the building blocks analysts need to create complex state machines.

“We have the capability to work with anyone who has an idea, including concepts with a wargaming component, to actually build a scenario along with the ships and assets required – just click, drop and touch the screen,” said Maldonado. “It provides that option to a member of a community who says, ‘I want to create a scenario or an event quickly. Time is a big challenge, so if you can create a rapid simulation and not rely on somebody to help you put it together – that is a huge accomplishment.”

Moreover, MAST offers a human-in-the-loop wargaming capability that positively impacted and adjudicated live events, wargames and military exercises such as Valiant Shield and Northern Edge. 

Exercise Valiant Shield – one of the largest wargames held in the Pacific Ocean – focuses on cooperation among military branches and on the detection, tracking, and engagement of units at sea, in the air, and on land in response to a wide range of missions. Northern Edge is Alaska’s largest biannual joint-military training exercise that prepares thousands of joint service members to respond to crises in the Indo-Pacific.

Besides military exercises, the Dahlgren team applied MAST and the military version of OSM to simulations while collaborating with customers from the Marine Corps to the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) on wargaming. During one such collaboration, NPS provided myriad techniques to enhance the tool, including a new implementation in their experimental plugin that is now used by analysts all over the country.

“In the future, we expect similar collaborations with other tools and a continuation of a rapidly growing user base,” said Maldonado, adding that the OSM-MAST combination is also used to perform fast-executing and high-run-count studies, which highlight the possibilities for a given scenario. 

Any time a new capability is added to MAST, the problem is compartmentalized to a given plugin – GUI, model, simulator, experiment, state or trigger. When an analyst finds that a task cannot be completed with the existing plugin building blocks, a developer is called to modify one or create a new building block.

“We expect the wargaming piece to get further traction for use in wargaming events across sites,” said Maldonado. “At this point, we have over 100 users who are focused on solving problems for the Navy. Some of them are paying customers, and that means they get to determine what types of plugins are made.” 

Customers who need a component that is not available in the OSM and MAST libraries can create their own plugins. The libraries define standards that allow plugins to be developed separately and combined as an application. For example, users can build products for a new ship or radar and make it available in the system for future users.

“MAST provides an open source programming capability where people can customize the models to their own needs by leveraging items they already have while contributing to our programming database model,” said Maldonado.

NSWCDD Mission Engineering and Analysis Division analysts are also available to help users develop and analyze complicated scenarios. “When a lower fidelity analysis is necessary to test out scenarios quickly, our analysts can take advantage of plugins that have been created and assist with rapid turn-around analysis that keeps a project on track while providing essential insight,” said Jennifer Boyd, NSWCDD Digital Modeling Division head.

What’s more, the NSWCDD Modeling and Simulation Branch’s military and civilian customers can access the newest models in the MAST portfolio such as the Naval Air Systems Command-developed Next Generation Threat System (NGTS) and the Dahlgren-developed High Power Microwave.

NGTS – a synthetic environment generator used to support training, testing, analysis, research and development – consists of three main components: the simulation engine, which models platforms, weapons and subsystems; the battle monitor, which displays entities in the synthetic environment and controls the system’s entities; and the database, which contains parametric data for platforms, weapons and subsystems.

“We would like to empower the modeling community to use OSM and MAST for developing scenarios,” said Aaron Anderson, NSWCDD Modeling and Simulation Branch head. “Our vision is to grow the user community for the tool because it’s extremely flexible.”

In terms of a classified project, many simulation tools lack flexibility to develop unclassified portions in an unclassified environment. All development must take place on base in a classified environment.  The majority of actual code written by the Navy would largely be unclassified if this decoupling pattern were expanded further.

“We do not have that limitation, and since everything is plugin-based, we can still do most of our work remotely on the unclassified side,” said Maldonado. “The increased telework has been a revelation for us. Our team has maintained productivity levels, and we continue to maintain our resolve during these difficult times. We keep in close contact with each other via daily standups and regular team meetings. We call and message each other constantly.”