Network Digital Twins for 21st Century Wargaming

June 7, 2021 by Leslie Provenzano

Effective integration of professional wargaming in military force design, education, and training will be essential to charting our course in an era of strategic fluidity and rapid change. Wargaming is a set of tools for structured thinking about military problems within a competitive framework – in the presence of that “thinking enemy” who lies at the heart of our doctrinal understanding of war. Successful military innovations of the past, from our own naval services’ development of amphibious warfare doctrine to Tukhachevsky’s formulation of “Deep Battle,” rested on a foundation of properly integrated wargaming. Effective wargaming must be harnessed within an integrated process of generating tangible, defensible results [1]. Generating these high-fidelity results for 21st-century wargames requires accurate modeling of networks and their behavior to predict scenario outcomes correctly.

Why Network Fidelity Matters in Wargames

While many wargaming simulators excel in platform mobility and behavior, most assume perfect communications and do not account for the threats and consequent degradation affecting network performance. When they do not assume perfect communications, they can rely on overly simplistic models using simple ranges or sacrificing communications fidelity for the sake of speed. In the future, military battles will increasingly involve efforts to affect information technology systems which are key components for communication and proper operation of weapons systems. Nearly every situation in modern warfare is dependent on timely communications, and when these are not accurately modeled, it leads to incorrect wargame conclusions. This creates the requirement for wargaming platforms to model true-to-life networking and communication effects as well as cyber attacks to support the development of effective Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs). This would ensure that any impact from cyber vulnerabilities or poor network performance in a multi-domain battlefield can be accurately modeled and properly accounted for in determining the wargame’s outcome.

How Do Network Digital Twins Relate to Wargaming?

To enhance the wargaming experience and value, live hardware and software applications can be interfaced with, or integrated into, a network digital twin and executed in real time. A network digital twin provides a realistic network platform for war games to model all aspects of the mission. The wargaming platform then handles the platform mobility and the kinetic missions, while the network digital twin handles the underlying communication network and cyber effects.

Testing cyber effects on live systems can be a time consuming and challenging task. A network digital twin can be a cost-effective tool to assess the cyber resilience of systems and missions represented in wargaming scenarios. Many of the challenges with cyber resilience testing can be overcome by using a network digital twin, such as:

Large-scale wargaming: It is difficult to deploy live large-scale wargame scenarios or missions due to time and resource constraints. Using a network digital twin, it is possible to recreate the whole or a segment of the scenario, making large scale wargames easier to conduct. This facilitates at-scale testing of new tactics and strategies for future conflicts.

Cyber threats: Network digital twins can make it easier to scale the scope of cyber resilience tests by allowing many cyberattacks, for example, vulnerability exploitation, virus/worm propagation, or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), to be executed on models without the risk of damaging or compromising the live system.

Extending a test: Often, post-test analysis and After-Action Review (AAR) identify further tests that could lead to a more thorough understanding of the system’s operation and potential means to mitigate threats. For example, the results of a test may highlight the need to investigate what might happen if a compromised system were removed from the network and traffic allowed to travel through an alternate route and the impact of this change on the flow of mission sensitive data. This test can be performed swiftly and with minimum effort when using a network digital twin.

Effective test planning: When using a network digital twin, multiple configurations or profiles can be examined to set a priority for tests or scenarios to run and help select the most effective scenarios.

Network digital twin analysis can also integrate easily into machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to help bring the data and the context of the data together, allowing the scenario designer to test alternatives and possibly find issues in the scenario before they arise. This can be done using faster than real time execution of the wargaming platform in conjunction with the network digital twin and feeding the results into a machine learning algorithm and allowing the algorithm to recommend modifications to the parameters being examined.

SCALABLE’s Wargaming Interface

SCALABLE Network Technologies’ (SCALABLE’s) network simulation/emulation platform EXata provides an extensive library of network and cyber models and several semi-automated tools to create high-fidelity network digital twins. EXata also provides the capability to efficiently interface network digital twins with wargaming platforms. Using this interface, wargaming scenarios can be jointly run on EXata, and many wargaming platforms, in both autonomous and interactive modes.

In autonomous or scripted mode, all actions of all platforms are pre-configured and do not require human input. This mode is useful when investigating what-if scenarios where multiple configurations, behaviors, or operational conditions are being examined; multiple pre-configured scenarios can be automatically run as a batch.

In interactive mode, human actors, such as analysts or trainees, can interact with the scenario via a Human-In-The-Loop (HITL) interface and perform actions on scenario platforms which can impact how the scenario proceeds. This mode is particularly useful for training Red or Blue Forces: trainees can inject cyberattacks directly into the scenario (Red Force training) or respond to scripted cyber attacks by performing appropriate actions to ensure mission success (Blue Force training).

Figure 1: Interface between Network Digital Twin and Wargaming Platform

An effective and resilient command and control system is critical to warfighting success in environments characterized by distributed operations across wide expanses of battlespace. Critical to understanding in advance how effective and resilient any command-and-control system is to adversary action is the fidelity of its modeling in future wargames. EXata enables the network digital twin approach to add the necessary fidelity to wargames and operational analysis.

More details on using network digital twins for performance analysis can be found in the complete White Paper, including two what-if scenarios:

Impact of Cyber Attacks

In the first what-if scenario using the network digital twin, the Red surface action group was equipped with a jammer. The jammer and wireless communication models in the network digital twin can accurately capture the effect of jamming attacks, such as signal degradation, which can cause delays in message transmission or even total communication breakdown. In this scenario, the jammer effectively kept the helicopter from communicating with either the USMC missile batteries or the USN ship. This resulted in the Red surface action group removing both the helicopter and the ship.

Impact of Communication Failure

In the second what-if scenario, one of the USMC node’s communication was disabled, while the other was left alone. In this scenario, when the Blue helicopter detected the surface action group, the network traffic passed to only one of the missile batteries. This caused only one of the missile batteries to engage the surface action group. As a result, the entire group was not disabled and allowed the surface action group to destroy the helicopter.