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Wright-Patterson AFB debuts 'supercomputer'

Jul. 23, 2013 - 11:28AM   |  
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DAYTON, OHIO — A $25 million “supercomputer” up and running at an Air Force base near Dayton is the most powerful in the entire Defense Department, officials said.

The research laboratory computer was unveiled Monday at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base inside the installation’s new information technology complex.

It has the capacity to calculate 1,500 trillion calculations every second, making it the seventh most powerful computer in the U.S. and 14th in the world.

The high-density computer — dubbed “Spirit” after the stealthy B-2 bomber — covers 9,000 square feet and weighs more than 30 tons, The Dayton Daily News reported Tuesday. A water-pump system cools the mainframe to prevent overheating of hyper-fast electronics and thousands of miles of copper wiring and fiber optic cables.

“This is just a barn burner of a computer,” said Maj. Gen. William N. McCasland, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Some 2,000 Defense Department users across the world will have access to the U.S.-made computer. Researchers from every branch of the military and other federal agencies will use it to explore problems perplexing scientists, said Lloyd Slonaker, chief of the advanced technology branch at the research lab’s Defense Supercomputing Resource Center.

The supercomputer will virtually research and test the capabilities of weapon systems, such as bomb detonations and how cargo aircraft parachute supplies to earth. It’s expected to also delve into scientific research, such as the exploration of the hidden world of subatomic particles to hurricane forecasting.

“We can try different things with this that would cost millions of dollars just to try once,” Slonaker said.

The supercomputer is the second at Wright-Patterson, and a third is planned for the complex next year. The Air Force research lab typically keeps a supercomputer four to five years in the ever-changing world of high-speed computing, Slonaker said. Once it acquires a replacement, the older technology is shipped to other Defense Department branches, federal government agencies or universities.

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