The U.S. Air Force is leveraging digital twins to optimize the acquisition process as part of a larger, Defense Department-wide digital transformation strategy that uses digital engineering and advanced modeling technology to achieve data centricity.
Part of this strategy is developing product lifecycle management, or PLM, systems that can link multiple facets of the acquisition process into a holistic, accessible and secure digital environment, according to Air Force officials.
Lynn Eviston, director of plans and programs for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, said PLM systems serve as the foundation of the digital enterprise.
The Department of the Air Force’s newly-established Digital Transformation Office is “really now looking at how do we link across the entire ‘Big A’ of acquisition to ensure that we have the ability to ingest data in a digital format, utilizing model-based systems engineering tools, into a PLM system,” Eviston shared during the Digital Twins Forum hosted by ExecutiveBiz Events.
She continued, “And then how does that data now get accessed and pushed or pulled into other aspects of the initiatives such as into our logistics complexes, into our supply chain, ensuring that our engineers, logisticians and others have the right data to make informed decisions at the right points in time, enabling our test community to go faster in a new digital world. Then, how do we link all of these things together to inform senior leaders on perhaps what it is we should be doing to meet the near peer threats.”
PLM data has already proven itself as a cost reducer and development accelerator through its use in the Air Force’s A-10 program, said Richard Billings, the A-10 PLM implementation lead for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
The Air Force used a Computer-Aided Design, or CAD, methodology – in tandem with a PLM system to manage it – through its purchase of new wings for 100 of its A-10 Warthog attack planes in 2019.
“When we went out for procurement, it was obvious that having CAD models, having this technical data, lowered the cost by several hundred million,” Billings said, noting that it also significantly shortened the delivery timeline.
Through the Air Force’s contract with Boeing, Billings said his eyes were opened to the possibilities of optimizing business with PLM and CAD data.
The Air Force’s push for a PLM system is not a new effort. Chris Garrett, a senior level executive and technical adviser for systems engineering at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, pointed to the slow speed of change across the Air Force – and the larger Defense Department enterprise – as a key obstacle in the service’s long pursuit of a PLM system.
Garrett said the key problem is that the Air Force is “very siloed,” causing service members to work within those silos, and preventing them from successfully building an open, agile data environment.
“It’s not an A4 issue, it’s an Air Force issue,” Garrett said, noting that the service’s Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection office is not hampering the process. “A4 is doing their part, the logistics people are doing their part. The big Air Force needs to see the point of this connectivity across the lifecycle from the very beginning to the very end.”
An enterprise-wide embrace of digital threads throughout the lifecycle of a product is a necessary component of overall modernization, echoed Matthew Peterson, vice president of innovation in engineering for SAIC.
“This digital transformation has to be ubiquitous, it’s got to be everywhere,” Peterson commented. “It can’t be three computers in a lab somewhere that the entire team has to access.”
As organizations work to achieve digital transformation, Peterson has noticed a significant increase in transitioning from desktops to cloud environments.
“Moving to the cloud allows us to get more people access to the applications and the authoring tools so they can interact with the models and the data,” Peterson said. “Then, once an organization is there, you can really start talking to them about moving towards being data centric.”
Join ExecutiveBiz Events for its Defense Software Modernization Forum on May 17 to hear from federal and industry leaders on the Defense Department’s new software modernization strategy.
Robert Vietmeyer, director for cloud and software modernization for the DOD’s Office of the CIO, will serve as keynote speaker for the forum. Register here.