U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center U.S. Coast Guard

A one-of-its-kind modeling and simulation center that will be used to help the Coast Guard request funding for new vessels and technology will be inaugurated Tuesday at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center.

The creation of the 3,200-square-foot Modeling and Simulation Center of Expertise on the first floor of the Research and Development Center means that the U.S. Coast Guard will be able to rely more heavily on in-house staff instead of costly private contractors. It will also be the first-point-of-contact for strategic questions from the Coast Guard's departments.

"It's basically getting the resources all under one roof, and you know the capability of the center itself is to basically buy down risk for our operational Coast Guard," said Capt. Alan Arsenault.

The center will be able to answer questions about which fleet mix is most effective and affordable, which vessel is best for a particular region of the country, what size a ship needs to be to get the job done and which types of engineering technology are most effective on a particular vessel. To answer these questions, the center will collect data and use computers connected to high-capacity servers to run models and simulations.

The results, in combination with a cost analysis from the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., will be used to request funds from the federal government.

"This is valuable in that we can explore some concepts without having to spend a lot of money running a lot of cutters and aircraft around," said Michael Lehocky, an operations research analyst and the acting managing director of the expertise center. "We can create models of those and actually operate them in a virtual sense."

Placing modeling activities that were previously done by private contractors under one roof in New London and using the modeling to find efficiencies is all being done in the name of federal budget belt tightening, said Lehocky and Bert Macesker, executive director of the Coast Guard Research and Development Center.

Previously, when a contractor was hired to complete modeling, one study could cost $1 million and might take six to 12 months to complete. Under the center, a study could be completed in three to four months and cost $100,000, said Macesker. The expertise center will provide space for the center's eight-member staff - expected to grow to 12 - along with additional contractors and huge servers.

At the center, experts will import data files into a "main control" computer and run a model or simulation. The main control computer will distribute tasks to multiple "cores" inside servers, which function as high-capacity personal computers, and produce results, Lehocky said.

A "model" can be as simple as a mathematical equation in an Excel sheet or it can involve a "physical process" and be considered a simulation. A simulation typically involves putting data through a challenge to determine what the results are, Lehocky said.

The center might run a model that would involve increasing the number of migrants expected to arrive to the U.S. by ship to determine if there are enough Coast Guard vessels to prohibit migrants from entering the U.S.

"What we do is called sensitivity analysis, where we crank up the demand to see if, in fact, we are kind of just on the edge of a cliff and, if things change just a little bit, we might be well short of what we need," Lehocky said.

At this time, the Coast Guard has designed a plan that calls for acquiring eight 418-foot National Security Cutters, 58 154-foot Fast Response Cutters and 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters to replace 90 aging cutters and patrol vessels. Combined, the program costs about $21.1 billion, according to a 2014 Congressional Research Service report. The National Security Cutters and Fast Response Cutters are already being built, while the Offshore Patrol Cutters are in the design phase and will undergo more rounds of modeling at the expertise center in New London once three companies submit their designs in the next 12 to 15 months.

"One (design) will be selected probably based on some modeling that we will do and some cost estimating that our cost experts will do at headquarters, and a best value alternative will be presented to Congress," Lehocky said.

He said that the center doesn't have a hint from the competing companies as to what to expect but that there were initial thresholds in the request for proposals, such as the cutter's speed, which should be within 22 to 25 knots.

The center's staff have been examining whether the Offshore Patrol Cutters at approximately $484 million each could run at 22 knots instead of 25 knots in order to save money, he said.

"Do we need ships as large as we have, or can we settle for slightly smaller, slightly less capable ships?" Lehocky said.

The inauguration on Tuesday comes after a three-year effort to centralize the modeling and simulation resources.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Coast Guard admirals and government officials are expected to attend Tuesday's ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. in New London. The center brings a concentration of maritime expertise to New London, a career path for the Coast Guard research community, and new learning opportunities for members of the Coast Guard Academy and the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate Office of University Programs, according to the center.

©2014 The Day (New London, Conn.)