WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is using digital engineering to develop the next generation of its ground combat vehicles, including an optional manned fighting vehicle.
In its simplest form, digital engineering moves the design process from 2D schemas into 3D virtual models, which can then be connected to a realistic simulation of performance testing.
At the US Army’s annual conference on October 12, Army officials said they plan to use a digital engineering approach to develop the OMFV, which is being designed to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
“We intend to use digital engineering in a model-driven environment, and that’s in the next phase, Phase 3, where we’ll award those contracts to design vehicles. We’re currently working on exactly what it looks like, but we want access to a cloud-based tech stack so we can have access Get there and look at the designs as they evolve in real time, and then take a look at those designs and the data that comes with them and connect them to models and simulations so that we can run them while they’re still digital, and we can use this technology to avoid costly failures at the test range,” Shermer said.
He added that while physical testing cannot be completely ruled out, digital testing can significantly reduce risk throughout the development process.
The military is still working out how to implement digital engineering. The service looks at the cloud environment it will use, whether it wants the model to be hosted by a contractor or the military, and what type of contract language it will use.
“There are some tough questions that the military has to take early on,” Shermer said.
A draft Request for Proposals outlining the Army’s digital approach to OMFV will be released early next year.
While Shermer said Phase 3 would mark the beginning of the service’s digital engineering effort with OMFV, the Army’s acquisition plan already uses digital concepts.
First, the Multi-Functional Team for Next-Generation Combat Vehicles has rolled back its highly restrictive and specific platform requirements, replacing it with a more flexible “need characteristic”. This has enabled the five contracted teams – Point Blank Enterprises, Oshkosh Defense, BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems and American Rheinmetall Vehicles – to innovate in developing products that meet the needs of the Army.
“We just received delivery concepts from the five contracted industry teams. We take the data from those, we plug it into models, and then we run them through some simulations to kind of see how they’re going to perform and what the impact is on the battlefield,” Shermer said.
The feedback from this simulation will enable the military to improve requirements, creating a full and open competition to select three contractors who will build actual prototypes.
“That’s different. That’s not how we’ve done things in the past,” Shermer said.
Contracting five teams to produce digital designs has allowed the Army to work more closely with the teams that build their designs than some previous projects, Maj.
“Because they’ve been chosen, we can have open, frank and honest conversations between two people. We can look them in the eye and say, ‘Hey, let’s explore this trade and see what it does to your car’s design,'” Kaufman explained.
Kaufman added that if the current design phase is a competition, the military will have to ensure that its communications are standardized and shared globally.
Michael Cadio, director of the Center for Ground Vehicle Systems, said the Army also wants to use digital engineering to develop its robotic combat vehicle. Specifically, he said, the service is looking into virtual environments to test and change the automated system to make sure it works and meets the needs of the military.
The Army is not the only organization in the Department of Defense embracing digital engineering, an approach that has seen varying levels of adoption in the commercial world. In his 2020 Digital Engineering Statement, Mr. Will Roper, former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. He said only three programs within the military were fully digital: the T-7A Red Hawk, the Ground-based Strategic Deterrence Weapon System, and the Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter.
But in the year that followed, there was a massive rise in the number of digital engineering initiatives run by the Pentagon. While individual programs such as the Missile Defense Agency’s Ultrasonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor have used digital engineering features, there have also been significant service-level efforts to drive digital engineering through acquisitions. Specifically, the Space Force stated earlier this year that it wants to be the world’s first fully digital service, and has begun to implement that vision.
Shermer said the Army is looking to the Air Force’s major digital engineering efforts to develop its own curriculum. This tour helps the service identify issues such as the size of the team it needs to implement a model-based systems engineering program.
It’s possible the Army won’t get it right on the first try, Shermer admitted, but it will use contractors to fill in the gaps and adapt its operations over time.
Nathan Strout covers space and unmanned systems and intelligence for C4ISRNET.