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Digital Engineering

Digital engineering (DE) is a Department of Defense (DoD) initiative that will transform the way the DoD designs develops, delivers, operates, and sustains systems. DoD defines digital engineering as an integrated digital approach that uses authoritative sources of system data and models as a continuum across disciplines to support lifecycle activities from concept through disposal.

Digital Engineering: Transforming the DoD's Engineering Practices

In June 2018, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD(R&E)) released a Digital Engineering Strategy built on five foundational elements necessary for a Digital Engineering Ecosystem to thrive:

Cover of Digital Engineering Strategy

  1. Formalize the development, integration, and use of models to inform enterprise and program decision making
  2. Provide an enduring, authoritative source of truth
  3. Incorporate technological innovation to improve the engineering practice
  4. Establish a supporting infrastructure and environment to perform activities, collaborate, and communicate across stakeholders
  5. Transform the culture and workforce to adopt and support digital engineering across the life cycle

See also the memos from USD(R&E) to the Military Departments and to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

The Digital Engineering Strategy goals and focus areas are summarized in a brochure.

Digital engineering evolved to the current concept through increased application of models and simulation efforts in traditional acquisition engineering activities, coupled with increased use of advanced tools and techniques in computational science. Previous and ongoing efforts of the Defense Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office (DMSCO) and the related Acquisition Modeling and Simulation community are still valid within a range of uses and in many cases are evolving to be a part of digital engineering. The use of models and simulation in engineering, or in engineering support to acquisition, is now covered by digital engineering.

To collaboratively further the digital engineering effort, ODASD(SE) has chartered the Digital Engineering Working Group (DEWG) whose participants represent different segments of the engineering and acquisition communities (e.g., Program Executive Offices, Program Managers, engineering, and science and technology proponents). The DEWG promotes digital engineering principles throughout the Services and other government agencies and can assist those elements in advancing the digital engineering practices within their organization. The DEWG is collaboratively assessing, promoting, and appropriately increasing the use of digital engineering in multiple areas related to acquisition. It relies on implementation instances to further increase the guidance, support, and use of products out of digital engineering – digital artifacts. The DEWG, in concert with its internal exploration, retains a close tie to the industrial sector, for advice, advocacy, and for challenges in the areas of using the digital artifacts as cohesive elements across the government-industry boundary. The DEWG is also responsible for promoting and facilitating improvements in the expertise of the digital engineering stakeholders in the acquisition workforce.

Evidence across the Services and industry has affirmed digital engineering as a contemporary practice necessary to support acquisition in an environment of increasing global challenges, dynamic threat environments, and increasing life expectancy of our systems currently in operation. The DoD must continue to practice systems engineering efficiently and effectively to provide the best advantage for successful acquisitions and sustainment. Digital engineering updates the systems engineering practices to take advantage of computational technology, modeling, analytics, and data sciences.

In October 2018, ODASD(SE) will convene a Digital Engineering Summit to guide the DoD services in developing their own digital engineering implementations to ensure that the concepts of digital engineering are cast in a manner familiar to their stakeholder base.

Challenges and Goals

Defense programs are increasingly complex. Large systems and systems of systems may involve multiple geographically distributed stakeholders, sometimes with competing priorities and interests. Programs involve ever-greater levels of technology, software, and requirements for both capability and security. The operational and threat environments are dynamic, and current practices are not keeping pace with advancements in technology and technique.

To stay ahead of the demands for new and upgraded weapon systems, the Department of Defense must continually scrutinize its approach to acquisition and systems engineering, including its methods for the use of models, simulation results, contemporary techniques, and tools that support the acquisition process. Using models is not a new concept; however, digital engineering will address long-standing challenges associated with complexity, uncertainty, and rapid change in deploying and using U.S. defense systems. By providing a more agile and responsive development environment, digital engineering supports engineering excellence and provides a foundation to fight and win the wars of the future.

Programs may accumulate multiple versions of data, or stakeholders may have questions regarding the most current definitions of different forms of data. Programs may need to share data across engineering and non-engineering functions, leading to potential duplication of effort or work products that conflict with one another. In addition, programs and organizations may take varying approaches to preserving knowledge from program to program or among phases of the acquisition life cycle for a given program.

In addition, there is an emerging challenge of exchanging digital information between buyers and sellers in the aerospace and defense industry’s global supply chain. This challenge is the result of historical contracting language that explicitly specifies technical data using a document-based tradition. We can overcome the challenge by shifting to digital artifact conventions that take advantage of digital technologies to facilitate the exchanges. By overcoming these challenges, government and industry can offer, request, and exchange digital engineering information contractually with greater speed. Thus, ODASD(SE) is serving as an adviser to International Council on Systems Engineering and National Defense Industrial Association on the global Digital Engineering Information Exchange Working Group (DEIXWG). The purpose of this collaboration is to form the foundation for an agreed-upon approach to exchange digital engineering information across the aerospace and defense sectors’ government, industry, and academic interfaces.

Government and industry are also challenged to train, maintain, and retain engineers and related stakeholders who understand and are able to implement, as well as develop, digital engineering practices. Assistance in this challenge area must come from DoD, industry, tool vendors, and academia. As cohesion is a key element of implementing digital engineering, it is imperative that the different elements developed not conflict, and if possible that the elements be complementary.

All of these challenges are here today and understandable given the natural fluidity of data and the rapid pace of change. ODASD(SE) promotes digital engineering concepts as a way to harness the power of the digital information and computational capability available to the Department and to make that data more useful and more readily accessible across all the elements of the Department.

Please see the below links to explore additional information related to the evolution of Digital Engineering in the Department of Defense.

For additional information about the DoD digital engineering initiative, contact the ODASD(SE) DE staff.