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Modeling & Simulation Cluster, Helped by ODU, Grows With Help from Region's Strategic Plan

It's easy to assume that the nascent, but burgeoning, modeling and simulation cluster in Hampton Roads developed as individual silos, with the military doing its thing, industry and government negotiating contracts, and Old Dominion University researchers plugging away at groundbreaking, multidisciplinary M&S work.

In fact, there's far more coordination in the strategy to grow the cluster from its current $1 billion-per-year contribution to the region's economy.

Officials from government, business, military and ODU have created a strategic plan for M&S growth in Hampton Roads. Officially launched last fall, the effort is called MODSIM 2018, aimed at dramatically expanding the scope of M&S in Hampton Roads in the next 10 years.

Events such as the Virginia Summit on Modeling & Simulation, hosted by Virginia Sen. Mark Warner on Tuesday, Oct. 13 -- and MODSIM World, the third-annual convention highlighting the M&S industry here, October 14-16 -- are proof that this coordinated effort is paying off.

Meetings for the creation of MODSIM 2018 began with 25 participants from a broad range of M&S disciplines.

Bob Harper of Northrop Grumman Technical Services produced a white paper examining the state of M&S in Hampton Roads, and exploring the opportunities for expansion of the field.

"Hampton Roads is the beneficiary of major Department of Defense investments in modeling and simulation," Harper wrote. "This has created and presented to us opportunity and an educated and very capable workforce.

"We would be wise to examine our regional approach to economic development to determine if there are ways to improve and transform Hampton Roads in modeling and simulation."

Key in that transformation will be the work of Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) in Suffolk.

With the announcement of the creation of a new undergraduate program in modeling and simulation, ODU will be the only school that offers a complete advanced education in in M&S, from undergraduate through postdoctoral.

John Sokolowski, director of research and acting executive director of VMASC, said ODU's role in the growth of M&S breaks into three mission areas.

"One is the advancement of modeling and simulation, visualization and analysis research, to address new problems or to improve on the capabilities of solving those problems through modeling and simulation," he said.

Sokolowski said VMASC also provides a ready hub for business to access the research that has been created, with an eye toward creating new business opportunities.

Finally, with more than 4,000 people already employed in modeling in simulation in Hampton Roads, ODU can also provide a steady stream of qualified graduates to fill positions.

Modeling and simulation technology received its biggest boost when military branches started using it in the 1960s to plan for combat scenarios during peacetime, or to avoid the cost of construction of prototypes.

The modeling and simulation industry still needs military involvement, both as the chief customer for the technology, and as one of the groups actively seeking new technological tools.

This is especially true in Hampton Roads.

Greg Knapp, executive director of the Joint Warfighting Center of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), said Congress has labeled M&S as a national critical technology focus area.

"As we know, M&S and computing technology have revolutionized our way of life. Gaming, technology, social networking, artificial intelligence and business process modeling impact us daily," Knapp said.

"However, the use of M&S in many areas within the Department of Defense has lagged the innovations within the commercial sector."

Knapp said the close relationships USJFCOM has formed with academia and industry in Hampton Roads will help with the development of the technology to meet joint military training technical requirements and develop other innovative technologies.

"One of the local Hampton Roads academic institutions is ODU, and more than 10 years ago, we assisted ODU in the creation of (VMASC) and continue this partnership every day," Knapp said.

"They provide us leading-edge research and technology capabilities to fill the gaps identified during training exercise assessments and after-action reviews."

Government agencies also see the value of investing in an industry that has grown exponentially, even through the difficult economic times of the past two years.

The Hampton Roads Partnership (HRP) is a group of agencies, both government and nongovernment, that collaborate on issues that affect the entire region.

HRP program manager Andrew Sinclair said one of the goals of the strategic plan for M&S is to take the technology and make it commercially viable outside the military sector.

"The M&S industry is a vital and growing economic engine in Hampton Roads. However, the vast majority of its activity is currently taking place within the realm of the Department of Defense," Sinclair said.

"In order for the region to feel its full impact, it must expand beyond the DoD. The fastest and most effective way for that to happen is through a concerted and coordinated effort. We must work together if we want to achieve our full potential. This strategic plan is one way to do that."

The group behind the creation of MODSIM 2018 has identified eight major objectives around which to develop strategies to grow the M&S cluster in Hampton Roads. They include:

-- Building government support for M&S industry development and research and development;

-- Creating an environment friendly to industry funded R&D;

-- Leveraging existing and building new unique assets to differentiate the region from other M&S centers. VMASC is a tangible example of such an asset;

-- Developing human infrastructure to support industry growth by expanding educational opportunities and linkages at all levels. Again, ODU is heavily involved in that objective;

-- Improving critical infrastructure, including traditional infrastructure such as roads, and technology infrastructure like high-bandwidth networks;

-- Developing and executing a marketing plan to expand the technology/vision base. This is essential for attracting the businesses and workers who will help diversify the regional M&S industry;

-- Developing the capability to expand into new market areas, making M&S ubiquitous locally. ODU's efforts at engaging other academic disciplines in modeling and simulation research can be an example of extending M&S' reach.; and

-- Creating an environment conducive to developing and expanding new business.

This article was posted on: October 5, 2009

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