“We created a ‘fog of war’ environment,” says Sondra Laughlin, the Deputy Project Lead for Silent Swarm at NSWC Crane, “and ran sessions multiple times where organizations worked together to accomplish tasks within this environment.
Laughlin says Silent Swarm is not your standard Department of Defense (DoD) experimentation event.
“We would run sessions to test resilient communications and then run sessions trying to break their communications, for example,” says Laughlin. “Then the next run would build up to a dozen technologies acting in partnership to meet a goal. We wanted to see the technology in action in a less-than-pristine environment but in collaboration with each other.”
NSWC Crane led a technology experimentation event bringing in more than 150 Electromagnetic Warfare (EW) subject matter experts (SMEs) from industry, academia, and civilian and military personnel. The inaugural Silent Swarm was a two week-long event this August and took place at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center (NADWC) in Michigan. Participants tested more than 17 EW technologies which were employed on small multi-domain unmanned systems (UxS).
Laughlin explains the Silent Swarm team built room for failure into the event experimentation environment.
“We encouraged them to try something they’ve never tried before and that we embraced learning from failure,” says Laughlin. “For instance, there was a radio technology and we wanted to play with one portion of its capability in a way they hadn’t been able to test before; many technologies hadn’t been tested on water or unmanned platforms before. We wanted to participants to show us what they do best, but then try something new. Our SMEs would provide constructive feedback, and participants could alter their code or tactics in the next iteration. Ultimately, the environment we created helps learning to happen more quickly.”
Rob Gamberg, the Project Lead for Silent Swarm, has led the event from ideation to experimentation.
“It started as a small, unmanned table top exercise in December of 2021, focusing on kinetic warfare,” says Gamberg. “We started bringing in more EW capabilities and saw it had significant impact—so we thought, ‘If it works well in a wargame, how can we bring it out into the battlefield?’”
Silent Swarm was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Integrated Sensing and Cyber (OUSD R&E (IS&C)). The NADWC environment allows for a variety of testing across all five warfighting domains: land, air, maritime, cyber, and space. Silent Swarm also had military and civilian EW experts onsite across the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy to provide direct feedback to industry about the operational challenges warfighters face.
Gamberg says Silent Swarm provided a rapid learning environment for attendees.
“Silent Swarm provided the experimentation event, venue, and spectrum environment for initiatives to experiment with their capability, deliver EW, and a leverage our team of assessors who were great resources for operational and technical expertise,” says Gamberg. “They could provide valuable insight into how the tech was performing and how it could be better. Participants were working together, adjusting capabilities, and attacking the next problem set. We really encouraged people to stretch their comfort zone—the environment was a tremendous opportunity to accelerate development and capabilities. You had what would have been nine months of development packed into three hours at Silent Swarm. From start to finish—we created an event where people could explore and experiment which gets us better capabilities.”
For EW capability, Gamberg says they recognized the standard technology acquisition process can be slow.
“We recognized we needed to use all the tools available to us to achieve superiority in the spectrum—and the standard programs of record, which could take 10, 15, or 20 years, won’t get us where we need to be,” says Gamberg. “Ultimately, we’re accelerating the developmental timeline and putting companies in a better place for a real, fielded capability.”
Gamberg says one key aspect of Silent Swarm that accelerated the rate of learning was the use of Modeling and Simulation (M&S). NSWC Crane had several M&S SMEs onsite to run experiments using software.
“M&S was the crown jewel of success for reducing risk at Silent Swarm,” says Gamberg. “NSWC Crane’s M&S team was integrated into the live event; they developed new techniques onsite. They ran hundreds and hundreds of experiments which helped participants step into the live executions with more knowledge. They provided the quick ability to run a test and help teams come up with a game plan before they wasted time and energy testing on the range.”
Laughlin says the M&S team was creative in working with the participants.
“They continued to show value, share data with the participants, and provide a service to them,” says Laughlin. “They provided risk buy down on the fly, helped participants troubleshoot challenges, and created a greater depth of understanding for participants. They brought technical rigor to the fog of war, which is a really challenging thing to do—we could not have been successful without them.”
Silent Swarm is planned on continuing next summer as a large-scale event, but there are plans for smaller-scale events to take place throughout the next year.
“We’re continuing to learn and grow,” says Gamberg. “We have a great team and efficient planning process. I’m excited for this team and for what Silent Swarm holds moving forward.”