Using COTS software to model development and logistics

Harry Lye 1 May 2020 (Last Updated May 1st, 2020 10:19)

Commercial off-the-shelf software is becoming more common in the defence industry, with Armed Forces and Industry exploiting its potential to make better decisions. Harry Lye attended a Command PE training event to find out how the software is being used by the armed forces.

Using COTS software to model development and logistics
Screenshot from Command PE. Credits: Slitherine.

In January, at the BAE Systems headquarters in Farnborough, around a hundred people from across the world huddle around laptops, learning how they can use Command PE, a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) defence simulator, to improve the way they model various elements of military operations.

Delegates from the US Marine Corp (USMC), US Air Force (USAF), the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the German Luftwaffe and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), to name a few, all participated to learn the ins and outs of the software during the week-long conference.

At the event, Iain McNeil of Slitherine Games, the company behind Command PE, spoke about the massive growth of interest from military and industry in COTS software for defence simulations. Three years ago, when Slitherine began running events to train users, the first conference had six attendees; in January there were over 100.

Unique applications and requirements

Representing industry at the event were BAE Systems, Improbable and Microsoft among others, all bringing different applications and requirements for the software to the table. As one member of the USAF told us, one application the air force was looking into was modelling aircraft loads and the effects on range.

Acting as a bridge between users and developers of Command PE is the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), which is using COTS simulations to improve early science and technology research, so those in the defence industry can make better decisions faster.

At the core of this approach is how Command PE allows the engineer and the warfighter to sit next to each other when modelling concepts, rather than the warfighter making a request and the engineer delivering a model months later that may not work. The aim of using software such as Command is to facilitate collaboration and speed up decision-making processes.

“An engineering decision to carry a lighter load can be shown in a real-time model increasing the longevity of a mission from a fuel-use perspective.”

Another aspect of this, as UDRI division head for power and energy David B. Dunn explained, is that engineers can quickly translate decisions into something understandable to personnel. For example, an engineering decision to carry a lighter load can be shown in a real-time model increasing the longevity of a mission from a fuel-use perspective.

UDRI’s main focus when it comes to using the software is helping its clients make better decisions and improve efficiency in the areas of power and energy. The tool’s ease of use and near-instant simulation capability can help bridge the understanding gap between what programmers or engineers are doing and what users need to know.

Learning from users

Training events such as the seminar in January also offer users and developers an opportunity to share knowledge and collaborate to make improvements. As Slitherine Games CFO JD McNeil explained in prior conversations with Global Defence Technology, every time the company meets its users, they find uses for the tools that they never imagined. Modelling air defence, testing new configurations of ships, or predicting the damage that could be caused rocket attacks are just a few examples.

At the heart of Command lies a vast database of assets, which clients are often surprised to find is more than detailed enough to model real-life scenarios – whether it is for science and technology research or the tool’s logistics modelling function.

At the training event Slitherine staff created an up-armoured, modified F-16 and tested it inside the simulation within half an hour. The logistics potential and modelling capabilities include the ability to rapidly test different loadouts for an aircraft, which is a vital tool for militaries when planning missions.

This allows a force to design an ideal mission package and then figure out what elements they can afford to lose or modify in order to gain more range, or add armour, increasing survivability and manoeuvrability which can be vital in missions.