Army proving ground, academia partner to improve Soldier communication networks

By Ray K. Ragan

 

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. – The U.S. Army Electronic Proving Ground (USAEPG) recently started work with an academic partner at Arizona State University’s (ASU) Security and Defense Systems Initiative (SDSI) in Arizona to assist USAEPG in its mission to test the Army’s networks.

“We [USAEPG] wanted to team up with someone in the academic world and take advantage of the latest research and see if we could apply that to our mission,” said Pat Kerr, a computer scientist at USAEPG.

The Fort Huachuca-headquartered USAEPG found a willing partner in ASU’s SDSI, who was looking for just this sort of partnership, to bring academic knowledge and research to solve real-world problems, explained the director of SDSI at ASU, Werner J.A. Dahm, Ph.D.

“Obviously the T&E [test and evaluation] mission that USAEPG has is critical for the warfighter,” said Dahm. “Helping USAEPG execute its mission has tremendous benefits for the nation and the warfighter.”

SDSI wanted to focus on assisting USAEPG to modernize test and evaluation methods, tools and fundamental approaches to improve the quality of technology for Soldiers and reduce the cost to American taxpayers.

Data produced by network traffic during large-scale test events like the Network Integration Evaluation quickly becomes terabytes of data, and figuring out what data is important and what data is not, is increasingly difficult. The increasing amounts of data also comes with additional cost. The longer an event runs allowing testers to capture data, or the longer it takes to analyze that data, all requires additional time, which results in greater costs.

“We’re looking for the big ideas,” said Kerr. “We need those.”

The partnership has already produced a “big idea” with an early and important success.

“We’re focused on doing things cheaper, faster, better,” said Kevin Buell, Ph.D., the lead researcher working with USAEPG at SDSI.

USAEPG, like other Army test centers, approached the challenge of growing volumes of data by adding more resources like people, computers and various systems for analysis. However, the approach of adding such resources simply did not scale adequately to meet the growing needs of test events. USAEPG needed a new approach; SDSI provided that approach.

The engineers from both groups evaluated the problem of unmanageable data volumes from network traffic analysis. The researchers at SDSI realized that there were some practical approaches to summarizing the data, which reduced the total amount of data to a manageable and usable amount.

Buell explained the SDSI team’s approach to the challenge as, “we focused on providing network traffic analysis more efficiently – ‘faster,’ using open-source tools –‘cheaper’ and providing more advanced capability, and that’s ‘better.’ ”

This approach developed through the partnership allowed the Army testers and engineers to focus on other critical variables of testing the Army’s next generation of communication and data networks. This efficiency gain allows test engineers and technicians to turn their attention to other aspects of the test, rather than wrestling with data, explained Kerr.

The partnership plans to work together on finding better ways of looking at data. Rather than viewing data as raw numbers on a spreadsheet, they want to find better ways for analysts to assess the data and understand it. They also plan to address the problem of the growing amount of data from other aspects of test to find better ways to manage this data. Lastly, they plan to work together on better ways to manage software used in testing, called instrumentation, to be less costly and more flexible.

“We’re now looking at networks differently; we can now find out things we didn’t know before that will really allow us to assess how these things [networks] will work when they are actually fielded and accessible to the warfighter,” said Kerr.