A researcher uses the Army Research Laboratory Supercomputing Research Center's modeling and simulation applications to visualize complex ballistics interactions. (Army Research Laboratory)
The Army’s supercomputing lab just got a new home. The superintelligent, cutting-edge computers — which are helping Army researchers strengthen armored vehicles against improvised explosive devices, design the Army’s next-generation helicopter and test the Army’s next-generation radio network — are in a new building at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
The Army Research Laboratory’s Supercomputing Research Center performs predictive modeling for military research, development, test and evaluation programs.
1. How impressive is it? Its five supercomputers have collectively achieved one petaflop — or 10 to the 15th power — per second. What takes the lab two days would take your desktop computer thousands of years. Army computers are among the best: IBM’s ‘Roadrunner’ supercomputer was the first to reach one petaflop in 2008, and last year, the world’s fastest computer performed at 17.59 petaflops.
2. Why did the lab move? Eighty thousand processors packed into 10,000 square feet gets hot and requires a massive water cooling system. The lab once occupied the former home of ENIAC, the world’s first electronic digital computer, but the building’s electrical system was too old, according to Tom Kendall, the center’s technical director. The center’s new facility once housed Future Combat Systems and is better equipped to power the supercomputers and their super cooling system.
3. What has it done? The lab runs complex bomb and missile simulations that have led to fine-tuned armor configurations on Humvees and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. The computational power of high-performance computers led to faster armor upgrades, said Raju Namburu, chief of the Computational Sciences Division, Computational and Information Sciences Directorate.
“One of the breakthroughs is the new armor kits that have started saving lives on MRAPs and Humvees, where we used to lose more lives because the armor didn’t protect against under-body blasts very much,” Namburu said. “The number of casualties decreased because of that.”
4. What is it doing now? Through materials and aerodynamic modeling, the lab is helping study plans for the joint multirole helicopter, of strategic importance to the Asian-Pacific pivot, said Dale Ormond, director of Army Research, Development & Engineering Command. The military wants a helicopter with more endurance, lift and power, so researchers are examining everything from engine efficiency to propeller design.
“This is about understanding the art of the possible,” Ormond said. “These supercomputers allow us to build very complicated and in-depth models and simulations to test out new ideas, new material solutions, new projects.”
5. What’s next? Researchers are using complex modeling to study and create novel multiscale materials for lightweight, blast-resistant electronics. They are also studying the effects of blasts on brain tissue. The lab also analyzes communications networks and may one day perform cybersecurity modeling, Namburu said.