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    NIWC Pacific’s swarming experimentation aims to advance autonomous warfare

    NIWC Pacific's swarming experimentation aims to advance autonomous warfare

    Courtesy Photo | Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA (August 10, 2020) Saam Ostovari, Naval Information...... read more read more



    Story by Maison Piedfort 

    Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific

    When a commander must decide whether or not to engage in an urban mission, she knows casualties in urban operations are more likely than those in other environments. She knows the benefits — tactical, political, and economic advantages — must outweigh risk to warfighter and civilian lives.

    What she needs is a way to balance the equation in her favor. What if she could maximize the benefit side of the equation by recruiting the help of artificial intelligence (AI) to perform superhuman reconnaissance and other mission-critical objectives? What if she could minimize risk by removing warfighters from the equation almost entirely? If she could do both, suddenly the outcome becomes much more advantageous.

    The decision to engage in urban operations could become easier to make thanks to a Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific team’s efforts to create testing and evaluation frameworks for autonomous swarming technology.

    Through the Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) Program, NIWC Pacific is partnering with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop software, physical autonomous systems integration, and test and evaluation support for autonomous swarming tactics. Dr. John Reeder, senior research scientist at NIWC Pacific and OFFSET technical lead, and his team act as testing and evaluation leads for OFFSET, which entails designing scenarios for virtual and real-world experimentation and developing software to orchestrate those experiments.

    The pursuit of swarming innovation via the OFFSET Program began with a question: “What capabilities could you build — and specifically what tactics would you develop — for a swarm of heterogeneous air and ground vehicles at an operational level for urban operations?” Reeder asked. Through regular experimentation via semiannual exercises dating back to 2018, the NIWC Pacific and DARPA teams, along with their industry partners, are discovering the answer.

    What that deliverable looks like, what the NIWC Pacific team calls “experimentation in a box,” is a comprehensive container that includes everything one needs to conduct swarm experiments in urban environments. Immediate deliverables provided in that container include the network infrastructure needed to provide a test bed for autonomous swarming tactics. Longer term, the goal is to develop more innovative tactics to keep swarming on the cutting edge of autonomous warfare.

    “In the future, when we have more capable assets, what can we do with them?” said Reeder. “Developing a framework for that future capability — that’s the goal of the program.” In the lab, the NIWC Pacific team organizes input on software simulators and deliverables from experimentation partners into a working, government-owned product that could be the seed for future transition to the fleet.

    On the ground, it looks like this: more than 100 electronic sensors paired with Bluetooth beacons, which can interact with more than 250 air and ground vehicles, are connected around a physical testbed area spanning multiple city blocks. More than 1,000 fiducial tags, or markers, representing enemy combatants, civilians, or explosive devices, are dispersed throughout the testing environment. Measurements such as ground area covered, number of targets discovered, and number of simulated threats neutralized are collected real-time, then processed by experiment automation software which generates customizable reports.

    These elements make up the physical infrastructure piece of a testing framework that allows researchers to take empirical measurements of an unmanned swarm’s performance. Thanks to agile experimentation and automated data collection, a database of successfully executed tactics can later be used by engineers at NIWC Pacific as source material for advancing swarm technology in the form of highly capable, heterogeneous swarm systems.

    Inputs to that database rely on NIWC Pacific’s collaborative partnerships with industry. At experimentation events, contractor performers engage in friendly competition by demonstrating their best solutions for achieving swarm objectives laid out by the DARPA program manager. “Every six months we have this new crop of people adding new technology to a swarm system that will ultimately contribute to a robust, government-owned solution,” said Reeder.

    As a result of NIWC Pacific’s role in facilitating testing events, its OFFSET shadow integration team accrues the expertise about exercise performers’ software solutions required to continue research and experimentation in-house.

    Before the program’s end in December, the NIWC Pacific team will facilitate an experimental exercise to test swarm technologies this fall at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Performers will need to demonstrate swarming tactics for accomplishing a six-hour mission covering eight square blocks with a 250-asset swarm.

    The swarm system architecture and “experimentation in a box” packaging are just two of many potential outcomes for the OFFSET program. Reeder says that discussions with the DARPA program manager about OFFSET’s successful experimentation infrastructure could be developed into a replicable program asset pioneered by NIWC Pacific, which could benefit other DARPA-related experimentation efforts.

    Research for other projects at the Center could directly contribute to OFFSET’s long-term success. For instance, Reeder serves as mentor for a project called Multi-Platform Object Detection (MPOD), which is funded by the Naval Innovative Science and Engineering Program. The multi-camera view, target tracking algorithm developed by the MPOD team is one example of a government-created solution ideal for incorporation into OFFSET’s swarm system architecture.

    Innovation from projects such as OFFSET give practical context to what it means to win in the information warfare domain. In this instance, it’s using advanced unmanned systems to maintain superiority of the urban operating environment. In battle or in urban operations, it’s a commander having to make fewer decisions about sending warfighters into the line of fire. With disruptive autonomous technologies that bring the power of information to the fight, she may not have to put them in harm’s way at all.

    NIWC Pacific’s mission is to conduct research, development, engineering, and support of integrated command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber, and space systems across all warfighting domains, and to rapidly prototype, conduct test and evaluation, and provide acquisition, installation, and in-service engineering support.



    Date Taken: 07.26.2021
    Date Posted: 07.26.2021 17:45
    Story ID: 401553
    Location: SAN DIEGO, US

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