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Is Digital Engineering Right for Your Defense Project?

“In short, digital engineering gets you to better systems, faster. And the greater the complexity, the greater the benefits.”

Enabling IT Systems Engineering Transformation

One enterprise-level reason to consider digital engineering is to experience the benefits of open architectures. We use a non-proprietary approach allowing clients to standardize architecture, models, processes, software, and other elements—resulting in fewer errors, auto-generated artifacts (digital byproducts such as reports and visualizations), and real-time updates. Still, it's a big decision whether to consider the practice for a particular initiative.

Does Project Size Matter?

Leaders of large new government programs readily see the benefits of using model-based systems engineering (MBSE) and related activities, as digital engineering delivers benefits across the acquisition lifecycle. But the driver is primarily not the size of the program, but its complexity, says Kevin Weinstein, Booz Allen’s East Coast digital engineering lead.

"Complexity by definition is that you don't have a clean decomposition from your problem to your requirements," he says. "With the traceability of a digital thread, you understand how your requirements trace to functions and system components." 

Integration is also a major factor, especially as programs prepare for initiatives such as Joint All-Domain Command and Control. "In today's programs, disparate stakeholders and vendors typically develop one component of a greater system," he explains. "MBSE helps people see the borders between what someone is doing and what someone else is doing—so the client realizes efficiencies very quickly." 

For Smaller Programs: Consider Complexity 

Just as for larger programs, the main consideration for medium-sized and small programs would be complexity rather than size. "You don't need a rocket launcher to kill a fly," says Kevin. "If it's a simple project, you can get by with a traditional approach. But if the system is integrated, dependent on external factors, or on an accelerated timeline, digital engineering can deliver payoffs in cost savings and higher performance—even for small-scale projects."

4 Scenarios for Considering Digital Engineering

Below are some situations where we've seen defense organizations benefit from digital engineering. Do any look familiar? Now may be the time to consider a digital-first approach. 

1. You want to accomplish research and development (R&D) objectives faster, with greater accuracy.

R&D focuses on fast-track exploration such as testing hypotheses, discovering insights, and experimentation. Starting with a digital architecture allows you to speed progress and tackle "what-ifs" up-front.

  • Create prototypes faster and adapt them rapidly for iterative improvement.
  • Supply a digital model in your request for proposal (RFP) to receive more precision in your responses.
  • Create a model to evaluate prospective vendors with speed and accuracy.
  • Understand the impact of decisions from first steps through critical design review (CDR).

2. You're working with disparate partners.

In today's development environment, you may be working with teams around the world. Moreover, stakeholders like program managers need a bird's-eye view over the entire program, whereas other stakeholders have specialized roles. MBSE keeps you on the same digital thread, at the correct permission levels.

  • Ensure every partner receives up-to-date information to inform decision making. 
  • Create a digital twin so all can assess real-world impact before and after a system is fielded. 
  • Provide visualizations showing each type of stakeholder a view of the data tailored to their interests. 

3. Your system needs to integrate into a larger ecosystem.

More and more programs today require interfaces to subsystems or larger networks. A digital record allows traceability across connections and ensures all components work together. 

  • Plan ahead for integration with other systems in development—for the Artemis space program, for example, we're preparing interfaces for the Deep Space Gateway to integrate with the Human Landing System.
  • Receive updates that ripple through the systems model in real time for accurate, fast updates.
  • Gain speed and agility with reusable reference architecture—with fewer errors.

4. You have to upgrade a legacy system, including updates and maintenance for units in the field.

If you need to modernize a system that's already in operation—even if it's an older system—digital engineering will extend the lifespan of that system. "It requires investment up-front, but once you see the benefits of standardizing devices, systems, or equipment in the field, you'll begin to reap the benefits," says Kevin. 

  • Set up an open architecture to manage updates.
  • Use model-based product support to simplify upgrades and maintenance.
  • Employ the model to explore additive manufacturing possibilities.

Insert new technologies rapidly, across cycles if needed.

Delivering Flexibility, Survivability, and Maintainability—with Efficiency

It's one thing to include some digital engineering activities in a project; it's another to build a practice that embeds digital benefits into every stage. Whether working on a new or operational system, Booz Allen amplifies advantages by looking at the whole lifecycle. "Booz Allen engineers include information in the digital model early on to facilitate maintenance and sustainment," says Kevin. "As far as I know, we were the first to use the term 'model-based product support.' We focus on the system end to end."

He explains model-based product support is a holistic approach that uses analysis and modeling to improve system availability and reliability. It also enables predictive maintenance while managing risk. "You can say, 'Well, this aircraft needs maintenance within the next month because of the amount of flight hours it's had.' Or maybe there's an operational communications system that needs to remain in the field—you track them using a model instead of incurring the risk of taking those devices out of operation."

Explore Our Approach

Grounded in decades of MBSE best practices, our digital engineering services encompass multicloud capabilities and emphasize flexibility—including the ability to use varied toolsets depending on client preferences. We tailor our approach to each client's goals and digital maturity, offering training and advice on avoiding common pitfalls. And as one of the world's largest cybersecurity solution providers, we provide proven strategies like distributed capabilities to ensure not only agility, but survivability.

"Digital engineering helps not only in making decisions, but also in understanding the impact of those decisions once made. With each project, you're maturing your team's capabilities for the future," says Kevin. 

He summarizes the advantages: "In short, digital engineering gets you to better systems, faster. And the greater the complexity, the greater the benefits." 

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