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Air Force's newest supercomputer supports game-changing research

Air Force Research Laboratory's new Cray XC30 supercomputer, nicknamed "Lightning." (U.S. Air Force photo by Mikee Huber)

Air Force Research Laboratory's new Cray XC30 supercomputer, nicknamed "Lightning." (U.S. Air Force photo by Mikee Huber)

From left: Ms. Christine Cuicchi, Associate Director for DoD High Performance Computing Centers, AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello, Mr. Jeff Graham, Chief of Air Force Research Laboratory's DoD Supercomputing Resource Center, and Mr. Peter Ungaro, CEO Cray Inc. cut the ribbon in a ceremony unveiling the new Lightning supercomputer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth)

From left: Ms. Christine Cuicchi, Associate Director for DoD High Performance Computing Centers, AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello, Mr. Jeff Graham, Chief of Air Force Research Laboratory's DoD Supercomputing Resource Center, and Mr. Peter Ungaro, CEO Cray Inc. cut the ribbon in a ceremony unveiling the new Lightning supercomputer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth)

AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello discusses the major impact that the Lightning supercomputer will have on AFRL and DoD research and testing, during the September 23 ribbon cutting ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth)

AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello discusses the major impact that the Lightning supercomputer will have on AFRL and DoD research and testing, during the September 23 ribbon cutting ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth)

The Air Force Research Laboratory invited distinguished visitors and news media to a behind the scenes peak at the Air Force's newest supercomputer, a Cray XC-30, nicknamed Lightning, Sept. 23 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Mikee Huber )

The Air Force Research Laboratory invited distinguished visitors and news media to a behind the scenes peak at the Air Force's newest supercomputer, a Cray XC-30, nicknamed Lightning, Sept. 23 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mikee Huber )

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- 1.28 PetaFLOPs (floating operations per second) is equal to 1.28 quadrillion calculations per second, which is also the speed of the Air Force Research Laboratory's new Cray XC30 supercomputer, nicknamed Lightning, officially unveiled Sept. 23 during a special ribbon cutting ceremony at Wright-Patt.

Lightning joins a second supercomputer, Spirit, at AFRL's DoD Supercomputer Resource Center (DSRC), effectively doubling the resource center's computing power and enabling it to meet the increasing computational demands of the Defense research community.
 
The AFRL DSRC at Wright-Patt is one of five in the DoD.  Lightning's high performance computing and advanced computational methods will further assist AFRL to research, develop, and test new warfighting systems and capabilities, allowing for the investigation of solutions to problems that are too hazardous, time-consuming, or expensive using traditional approaches.  It also facilitates research that is often too encumbered with massive amounts of data.

Among the featured speakers at the ceremony were AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello and Christine Cuicchi, DoD associate director for High Performance Computing Centers.

According to Masiello, Lightning will assist with calculations used in the development of AFRL game changers, including hypersonics and rocket propulsion.  It will also play a large role in calculations vital to space situational awareness.

The shared computers can perform modeling to enable breakthroughs in computational fluid dynamics, chemistry, nanotechnology, electromagnetics, acoustics and advanced materials and structures. Beyond their speed, they are a cost-efficient, safe alternative to actual physical testing, such as wind-tunnel or volatile chemical tests.

Lightning was named in honor of the Air Force's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  It ranks among the world's fastest distributed memory platforms with a total disk space of 4.5 Petabytes.  To put this number into perspective, one petabyte of memory is large enough to store the DNA information of the entire population of the United States - twice.
 
The $20.8 million supercomputer is part of a larger investment of the DoD High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP). 

"In 2014, HPCMP is acquiring over $150 million worth of supercomputing assets, and the first of these to actually provide compute cycles for our Research Development, Engineering, and Test community is Lightning," said Cuicchi.

The AFRL DSRC is the largest high performance computing center (HPC) in the Air Force, and it currently houses the largest HPC system in all of the DoD.  Lightning will additionally enable AFRL and DoD researchers to perform highly complex calculating tasks in weapon system design, warfighting systems, and modeling and simulation studies. 

"[Lightning] is a key cog to help us remain the greatest Air Force in the world," said Masiello.

In addition to Lightning and Spirit, AFRL also operates an IBM iDataPlex supercomputer, nicknamed Riptide, located in Maui, Hawaii.  Under the DoD's modernization program, these machines typically operate for four to five years until a new generation replaces them.