In October 2015, the US Army introduced its newest supercomputer, Excalibur, which will help ensure Soldiers have the technological advantage on the battlefield, officials said. Excalibur is the 19th most powerful computer in the world. It’s located at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Department of Defense Supercomputing Resource Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
Increased computational capabilities will allow researchers to bring improved communications, data and intelligence to Soldiers in the field, said Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton, commander of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.
“The Army Operating Concept discusses innovation and accelerating the speed of technology. The Excalibur will allow us to do that,” he said, adding that Excalibur provides “decisive overmatch for our Army.” Wharton said when tied to the tactical network, Excalibur will be able to provide data instantly to the field
More powerful computers will allow the DoD research community to develop solutions to the most difficult technological challenges, said Dr. Raju Namburu, director of the ARL DOD Supercomputing Resource Center. Russell said the Excalibur will improve every military scientific and engineering domain.
“Computational science feeds into all our areas of research,” Russell said. “Here we are today with computing capability far exceeding anything anyone of us would have ever imagined.” Researchers will use the Excalibur to study underbody blasts on combat vehicles, protection of Soldiers in extreme ballistic environments, tactical networks, cybersecurity network modeling, and real-time data analytics.
Supercomputer for real time battlefield intelligence
In critical and life threatening situations faced by Soldiers on the battlefield, timely response to complex information is required. In such situations, battlefield computation can help to distill data into actionable information that can lead to better decision-making and outcomes. However, computing power is limited on the tactical edge due to size, weight, and power constraints of a Soldier’s mobile device.
One potential solution to this problem is to offload the computation to a more powerful computer to obtain an answer as fast as possible. However, this strategy comes at the cost of the introduction of a delay due to communication latency. It is therefore important to design the offloading mechanism intelligently.
Obtaining the computational results as quickly as possible while maintaining lower energy consumption is often a useful strategy. In a military setting, the network infrastructure is often disrupted, intermittent, and low-bandwidth. This greatly increases communication time, which opens a potential technology gap. It might be possible to fill this gap by deploying strategic (regional), tactical (local) , or mobile (1-hop) High-Performance Computers (HPCs) within the network providing new offloading targets between the centralized data center and the user’s handheld device.
ARL’s HPC Strategy
“Emerging trends suggest that the future Army’s operational environment will likely be dominated by decreasing domestic budgets and reduced force structure; increased velocity and momentum of human interaction and events; potential for adversarial capability overmatch; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; spread of advanced cyberspace and counter-space capabilities among our adversaries; and increased likelihood of operations among populations, in cities, and in complex terrain.
The Army Research Laboratory (ARL) has developed a technical strategy, based on eight S&T campaigns; namely, Extramural Basic Research, Computational Sciences, Materials Research, Sciences-for-Maneuver, Information Sciences, Sciences-for-Lethality and Protection, Human Sciences, and Assessment and Analysis.
The ARL’s computational sciences campaign sets out a three-fold mission to (1) harness the potential of computational sciences and emerging high-performance computers (HPC) to maintain the superiority of Army material systems through predictive modeling and simulation technologies; (2) facilitate information dominance, distributed maneuver operations, and human sciences through computational data intensive sciences; and (3) significantly increase and tailor advanced computing architectures and computing sciences technologies on the forefront to enable land power dominance.
Army Research Lab Lays Out HPC Roadmap
Tactical High Performance Computing, the first element of this plan, comes with a bold goal: provide 100 petaflops of computing power to improve mission effectiveness and mitigate risk in hostile environments.
Tactical High Performance Computing (HPC) effort will enable real-time processing for Soldiers operating at the tactical edge and improve mission effectiveness and mitigate risk in hostile environments. Computing power of this magnitude is also an enabling technology for autonomous systems and real-time data analytics for Soldiers and intelligence analysts.
The ARL aims to overcome the power and performance limitations associated with standing up a 100-petaflops supercomputer by using a distributed computing approach. The system will be an aggregation of deployed devices and mobile HPC platforms operating at the tactical edge, so-called “tactical cloudlets.” In addition to enabling real-time processing for the benefit of mounted soldiers, the amassed computing power will provide intelligence analysts with real-time data analytics.
Advanced computing research to support this real-time distributed processing system falls into four categories:
- Efficient use of emerging architectures to facilitate this level of computing capacity straddling both fixed and deployed devices.
- Provisioning systems within a distributed computing architecture in a way that limits network hops.
- Dynamic binary translation to limit software re-writes and promote optimization in a runtime environment to achieve maximum performance.
- Power- and architecture-aware computing for enhanced intelligence of provisioning systems to increase awareness of computing capacity and mission appropriateness
“The critical, mobile ad hoc networks that will form the connections in tactical cloudlets to the large-scale databases and complex applications that will be performed by these resources make this research uniquely military and Army in nature,” the ARL plan states. “Numerous applications are envisioned for this system in the future and include artificial intelligence aids for decision making, processing large-scale datasets (text, video), and navigation systems for autonomous vehicles (HPC-enabled autonomous vehicles providing on-demand processing).”
The roadmap for meeting these goals emphasizes several emerging computing paradigms, including quantum networks, bio-computing, heterogeneous, quantum annealing, and neuro-synaptic computing architectures. For example, a far-term goal (FY26-30) is: “Incorporation of novel processing paradigms and hardware (Quantum, neuro-synaptic, and bio-computing) as part of a broader distributed computing solution for Soldiers.” In the near-term (FY15-19), the ARL will use neuro-synaptic and quantum annealing emulation architectures and small scale systems to support algorithm research.