Baghdad reduced to bytes
Some experts question whether the Defense Department is overreaching with a simulation of Baghdad that tries to model most human factors
- By Josh Rogin
- Nov 06, 2006
About USJFCOM: Urban Resolve
On a hot summer day in Iraq, U.S. soldiers fight a low-intensity counterinsurgency battle on the streets of Baghdad. At 10 a.m., a truck parks near a warehouse in a crowded part of town. The truck explodes, killing the men inside and one of the soldiers standing guard.
After securing the area, the remaining soldiers sound the alarm and call for help. Onlookers gather — some cursing the bombers and others cursing the Americans for attracting the attack. Eventually, emergency responders arrive and begin to treat the wounded and quell the mob. If it had occurred in the real world, this scenario generated in a Defense Department simulation would have immediate and future repercussions in the neighborhood, the country and the Middle East.
DOD creates hundreds of similar scenarios in the largest modeling and simulation environment that the department has ever built. DOD uses the simulated environment for a set of experiments, known as Urban Resolve 2015. Those experiments are redefining the way the military operates in urban environments. Urban Resolve is also changing the way DOD develops concepts, procures technology and conducts training.
The Joint Forces Command’s experimentation directorate often brings new concepts into JFCOM training centers to benefit soon-to-be-deployed solders, said Dave Ozolek, executive director of DOD’s Joint Urban Operations Office and executive director of the Joint Futures Laboratory at JFCOM. “What you’re seeing is a glimpse of the future.”
Urban Resolve is the most important and complex experiment conducted since Millennium Challenge 2002, Ozolek said. The 2002 experiment took three years to plan and cost about $250 million. DOD developed Urban Resolve in half the time and spent about $22 million.
Officials highlighted other differences between the two. Millennium Challenge was mostly a live simulation in which 14,000 people spent about three weeks in the field. Urban Resolve relies on virtual operations in which people control computer entities and so-called constructive operations in which computer simulations run independently.
But the biggest difference between Urban Resolve and its predecessors is its size, architecture and ambitious intent. With modeling and simulation of civilian behavior still in its infancy, the most controversial aspect of Urban Resolve is its model of human behavior, which includes political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and information factors. DOD uses the acronym PMESII for those factors.
In JFCOM’s war game operations room, more than 100 DOD employees and contractors work at virtual posts, waiting for something to happen. Each belongs to one of three teams: the blue team of coalition forces, the red team of enemy forces, or the green team of Iraqi security forces and civilians. The operations room is their command center.
The team members play Urban Resolve in real time at 19 networked sites nationwide. Players control the blue team forces from Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Benning, Ga. Others control the red forces from Fort Belvoir, Va., and the green team from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego.
Each site contributes simulations to Urban Resolve. Its service-oriented architecture brings together 28 separate simulations in a federated command-and-control environment, said Maj. Mitch Mitchell, the experiment’s technical leader.
Simulation experts say a federated strategy works better than a one-size-fits-all approach. “We don’t want one simulation that does everything,” said Sean Burns, Urban Resolve’s modeling and simulation lead. “We’d rather bring the best simulations to bear to represent their field.” Each service can test its objectives, taking advantage of the work that other group members have done, Burns added.
For example, the Army used one of its simulations to test aspects of the Future Combat Systems program throughout the event.
Based on maps provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and two Linux-based supercomputers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and the Maui High Performance Computing Center, Urban Resolve simulated every building in Baghdad, including its exact size and location.
“We’ve created the most complex simulated environment in history,” Burns said.
The simulation includes 2 million individual entities, such as people and cars. In that environment, people wake up in their homes in the morning, go to work and create morning traffic jams. Religious people pray at mosques five times a day.
“In a counterinsurgency, one of the fundamental facts is that the population is the center of gravity,” said Maj. Gen. Larry Budge, program manager for Urban Resolve.
DOD sees a twofold purpose for Urban Resolve. First, it will help DOD develop new concepts for fighting in and stabilizing urban environments. In addition, it will let the department test new capabilities for winning conflicts in those situations. JFCOM chose Baghdad for its simulation because it has a great deal of information about the city, but the experiment is relevant to all urban operations, Ozolek said.
Urban Resolve completed three phases this year. In August, JFCOM pitted a 2005 U.S. force — with current technology and policies — against insurgents in the year 2015. The experiment identified planning and readiness shortfalls and the risk of not modernizing the force, Ozolek said. The experiment assumes that insurgents in 2015 will have more dangerous weapons, including radiological, chemical and biological agents, in addition to better technological capabilities, Ozolek said.
In a second phase, DOD updated the U.S. forces with capabilities included in the Army’s budget plans to determine whether they are sufficient, said Col. Terry Kono, leader of experimentation design and execution at JFCOM’s Joint Experimentation Directorate. Those capabilities include the use of radio frequency identification tagging to track the movement of warfighters and supplies.
In a third phase, the U.S. forces used experimental concepts and technologies that are not in DOD’s funding plans. Phase 3 tested future concepts, such as the Joint Command Post of the Future, which facilitates joint command and control, and the Communications Strategy Board, which integrates public affairs strategy with information operations and intelligence efforts.
The most ambitious and controversial aspects of Urban Resolve are the ways it models political, economic and social factors. “The security problems we are facing are so complex that they can’t be solved with military power alone,” Ozolek said.
Those nonmilitary factors are part of the Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation, which a team of researchers at Purdue University developed. SEAS uses data from a military incident and models reactions of the population, media, leaders and other organizations throughout Baghdad.
The program can then model effects on regional politics, the world economy and global public opinion, said Alok Chaturvedi, director of Purdue University’s Homeland Security Institute and founder of Simulex, a company that markets SEAS. “If anything happens inside Baghdad, you are able to see the reaction around the world,” Chaturvedi said.
Purdue’s SEAS team mined data from Web sites, public opinion surveys, policy research organizations and economic data sites to create best-estimate assumptions.
Urban Resolve represents the first time DOD has used a full complement of military, political, economic, social and other human factors in modeling and simulation, Chaturvedi said. “It’s all about behavior anticipation and shaping.”
DOD expects to use SEAS to predict “what the attitudinal effect of the population is going to be toward the government of Iraq, toward the coalition or toward the insurgency — across time,” said retired Adm. James Winnefeld, director of JFCOM’s Joint Experimentation Directorate.
Not all experts share JFCOM’s confidence in behavioral simulation and modeling.
“Modeling behavior is a tough thing,” said Herb Strauss, a research vice president at Gartner. Anyone can build a model based on past behavior, he said. “But just like Wall Street, it’s not necessarily a predictor of future behavior.”
Predictive analysis tools should not replace commanders’ decision-making, Strauss said. But people need to learn how to use predictive analysis and recognize how to incorporate it into their doctrine and planning.
Mark Herman, vice president for modeling, simulation and war gaming at Booz Allen Hamilton, said he has doubts about the feasibility of modeling behavior. “That would assume that you actually understood cause and effect between human actions and what actually happens in the real world,” Herman said.
Without a validated theory about predicting human behavior, predictive analysis requires a big leap, Herman said. “The problem with all of this prediction is, the enemy gets a vote.”
A January report by the National Research Council, “Defense Modeling, Simulation and Analysis,” states that evidence is lacking to demonstrate that what DOD defines as PMESII factors fully and accurately define the sociocultural environment in Baghdad. It points out that no unified social science theory accounts for all those factors. Definitions and standard procedures for data collection are also lacking.
But others say JFCOM is on the right track in pursuing predictive analysis of civilian population behavior. “In order to simulate a large, modern urban area so that you have realistic constraints on how you can operate…you need to model that civilian population,” said Robert Lucas, director of computational sciences at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute.
The models will improve, Lucas said. “We’re at the early period of time when we try and model the civilian population.”