Digital engineering can save about 20 p.c in money and time over the approaches of only a few years in the past, however its advantages have been exaggerated and it’s not a revolutionary technique that can radically reduce improvement time and price, Air Power Secretary Frank Kendall mentioned Might 22.
“It was over-hyped,” Kendall advised reporters at a Protection Writers Group assembly.
As a substitute, Kendall mentioned whereas digital engineering works finest with applied sciences which are already properly understood, it requires at the least as a lot real-world testing when it’s utilized to all-new issues.
Kendall’s remarks provide a word of warning after protection and Air Power officers alike have hailed the follow of designing new methods totally within the digital realm as a revolutionary change in how the Pentagon will do enterprise.
Whereas the advantages of digital engineering are inarguable, Kendall mentioned—equivalent to permitting business and authorities design specialists to see “precisely the state of a design or a program” on the identical time—there are limits.
“I’ve tried to get cheap knowledge on how a lot” digital engineering saves in value and schedule, he mentioned. “My finest really feel for that’s, it’s on the order of 20 p.c, as a ballpark quantity.”
Whereas that determine is critical, it’s not on the order of ten instances or extra, Kendall famous.
“With the capability of contemporary computing capabilities, knowledge storage, and communications to deal with massive quantities of knowledge, we’ve been in a position to combine our fashions,” Kendall mentioned. “So, fashions that labored independently and needed to be correlated—considerably manually—can now speak to one another. And so that you get a fully-integrated digital design, whereas earlier than you’d have needed to do completely different components of the design individually.”
This method is paying dividends with the Subsequent Technology Air Dominance fighter, he mentioned.
“This system workplace for NGAD resides in the identical design area, if you’ll, because the NGAD bidders,” he mentioned. “They’ve direct entry into the database that’s getting used for the design.” Visiting this system workplace at Wright-Patterson Air Power Base, Ohio, Kendall mentioned he noticed “a authorities engineer, who was very succesful, working straight with one of many two contractors—he was on one of many groups—and interfacing with them on the design.”
Such an association decreases back-and-forth and reduces misunderstanding, Kendall mentioned. However the Air Power needs to be cautious to not let these efficiencies go to waste.
“One of many issues that’s been true in engineering endlessly is that in the event you give an engineer extra time, he’ll simply do extra design iterations as a result of no engineer is ever fully proud of what he’s designed,” Kendall famous.
“So there’s a threat that we’ll simply benefit from the effectivity … to do extra, proper? What we have to do is get to the place we’re comfy with it, after which go ahead with the subsequent stage of improvement.”
Business, he mentioned, is motivated to get designs into manufacturing, so digital engineering “hopefully … will assist us get into manufacturing extra effectively, extra successfully.”
However he scoffed on the notion that digital engineering can drastically cut back the quantity of testing required of recent methods.
“Again within the F-35 [design] days I keep in mind business coming in and saying, ‘we’re so good at engineering now, we don’t must do testing anymore,’” Kendall mentioned. “That’s not true. And it’s notably not true while you push the envelope outdoors of stuff you’ve completed earlier than, the place … you don’t have as a lot confidence in your fashions.”
When designing a system that represents “a small incremental enchancment,” the Air Power and its contractors may be assured that its digital mannequin is correct, Kendall mentioned.
“However while you’re doing one thing that’s going to be radically completely different than prior applications, you’ve received to get into testing to validate … your design efforts,” he famous.
A main instance of that’s the T-7 Superior Coach, being developed by Boeing. After being digitally designed and flying simply three years after its conception, the plane is now two years delayed in reaching Preliminary Operational Functionality, due largely to the ejection/escape system not performing as anticipated, notably with pilot manikins on the low finish of the vary of physiques the jet should accommodate. Boeing has additionally faulted provide chain and workforce points as contributing to the delay.
“You see this on a regular basis,” Kendall mentioned. “Hypersonics are a great instance: In case you haven’t completed it earlier than, you’re going to need to go and really do it.”
Maybe the largest check of digital engineering so far is likely to be Northrop Grumman’s B-21 bomber, a mission typically considered having had few main hiccups in improvement. Kendal mentioned he’s being “cautious” in his remarks about this system, although, for a easy motive: “We haven’t flown but.”
Famously quoted as saying the F-35 was an instance of “acquisition malpractice,” Kendall mentioned the primary difficulty with that program “was the too-early begin of manufacturing, and we had a variety of design adjustments we needed to make after we began manufacturing.” He doesn’t wish to repeat that with the B-21.
“There’s a steadiness, there,” he mentioned. “There’ll be some concurrency between each B-21 and NGAD, between improvement and manufacturing, however you wish to do this in a rational approach that doesn’t take extreme threat.”