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NEWS | June 8, 2021

NSWC Dahlgren Division Applies ‘Digital Engineering’ to Deliver Vital Combat Capabilities to the Fleet Despite Pandemic

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

How can Navy engineers develop and deliver integrated combat system products to the fleet on time in spite of mandatory telework requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Eric Schroeder and Penny Graninger answered the question posed by senior Navy officials curious about the ability of Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) to produce high quality warfighting technologies from home.

In each and every case, their explanations included two words – “digital engineering” – which enables effective management of large-scale, complex systems that are continually increasing in complexity.

The NSWCDD combat system integration engineers briefed Navy officers and civilian leaders via Microsoft Teams on the digital engineering capabilities supporting the Integrated Combat System (ICS) more than 100 times since April 2020. The officials asked how Schroeder and Graninger would be able to leverage digital engineering and its model-based methodology to rapidly design, develop, deliver, operate and sustain warfighting systems, including the Navy’s complex ICS for the current and future fleet.

So did the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).

That’s when the streak of virtual briefings to Navy leaders on the use and value of digital engineering broke.

Instead, CNO Adm. Mike Gilday’s helicopter landed on Dahlgren’s airfield on Nov. 17, 2020 for face-to-face meetings with NSWCDD experts on a variety of programs from high-energy lasers to digital engineering and integrated combat systems.

“Our message on the importance of digital engineering to the development and integration of warfare systems for the surface Navy resonated with the CNO,” said Schroeder. “He understands that advanced digital engineering provides the process, tools, information sharing and structure that enables us to manage the complexity of the Integrated Combat System, which is vital to the future fleet’s capabilities.”

The CNO met and spoke with NSWCDD scientists and engineers where it all takes place – in the labs where digital engineering is applied to Navy integrated combat systems and where innovative technical solutions are pursued to enable and enhance distributed warfighting.

Schroeder explained to the CNO how the growing Integrated Combat System portfolio at NSWCDD supports the development and technical maturation of warfighter capabilities, which are empowered by increased exposure to information resources via digital engineering.

 “As we develop the fleet of the future, it’s important that we invest in weapons that are more precise, have longer ranges, and give us the ability to make our ships more survivable,” said Gilday after his NSWCDD tour. “The development and fielding of new technology like directed energy and high-velocity projectiles are not science fiction – they’re happening today – and the workforce here in Dahlgren is making them happen.”

Moreover, the workforce is using digital engineering coupled with a model-based systems engineering approach to make this happen.

The model-based systems engineering approach is the “formalized application of modeling to support system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation activities beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later life cycle phases,” according to the International Council on Systems Engineering in its Systems Engineering Vision 2020 publication.

“We’re applying that digital engineering approach to a specific project with the development of the Integrated Combat System,” said Schroeder. “The patterns and approach that we’re using for digital engineering can be applied across programs and we’re encouraging that.”

In the months following Gilday’s visit, Schroeder, Graninger and their team continued to inspire, educate and influence Navy leaders concerning digital engineering.

They are also applying the digital engineering and model-based systems engineering approach to other technical projects that involve complex systems of systems while encouraging their colleagues in the NSWCDD Integrated Combat Systems Department to adapt this methodology in their projects and programs.

The “Naval Digital Systems Engineering Transformation Strategy” defines digital engineering as an integrated computation-based approach using authoritative sources of system data and models across disciplines to support lifecycle activities from concept through disposal.

“Our integrated computation approach with its tools and models are key to managing an ever increasing complexity of the Navy’s warfare systems,” said Joey Wilson, lead scientist at the NSWCDD Future Combat System Capabilities Branch. “Digital engineering facilitates a single source of truth to enhance communication, improve productivity and transform technical and business processes.”

It requires the digital interconnectedness of tools, models, and data necessary for mission success as well as a workforce with relevant skills and experience, according to the NSWCDD 2021-2025 Strategic Plan’s goal for the command to accelerate its transformation to a digital model-based and data-driven organization. The strategic plan states that a quick transformation will enable NSWCDD to continue to meet urgent national needs in the face of accelerating system and environmental complexity.

Meanwhile, the Dahlgren team’s digital transformation is impacting how organizations such as the Program Executive Office Integrated Weapon Systems (PEO IWS) 1 track their technical work.

“We’ve helped PEO IWS 1 to start managing their tasking and workflows with Agile methodology using tools like the Atlassian suite of products to plan their technical and programmatic work related to the Integrated Combat System and to some of the broader efforts within IWS 1’s portfolio,” said Graninger. “What they saw in our work was the ability to manage complexity and get products out the door quickly at high quality. The program office saw the beneficial results of our digital engineering approach with the methodology and tool suites that support it. We have a lot of Dahlgren people who have been key influencers in making that happen.”

The Dahlgren engineers attribute their success and influence throughout the Navy to the timing of their transition from a paper-based to a digital system prior to the pandemic. They defined digital methodologies for project execution and replaced paper products with model views before maximum telework began across the Navy Warfare Centers in March 2020.

“Digital engineering enabled us to keep our momentum and meet our due dates with high quality products, such as the Integrated Combat System Top Level Requirements,” said Schroeder. “Once COVID hit, we were already executing using an Agile methodology – we had our Confluence and Jira sites up and we were executing using an Agile methodology where we continued to access the same unclassified artifacts from home. Our work really wasn’t disrupted to the same degree that it would have been if we had not transitioned to a digital engineering approach.”

The seamless transition was based on capabilities that were already in place before the COVID-19 pandemic. Face-to-face working sessions gave way to working and collaborating via virtual platforms such as Microsoft Teams, the Atlassian tool suite and the Naval Integrated Modeling Environment.

“Our design information is available to us digitally through the Naval Integrated Modeling Environment, our Confluence sites and Jira sites to manage tasking and share information across the teams,” said Schroeder. “Our challenge was simply an adjustment to new ways of collaborating remotely. We did not have to worry about accessing hard copy documents locked on base or requesting an exception to work in our lab.”

Once the pandemic is over, it won’t be necessary to revert back to hard copy documents and traditional engineering processes and methods unsuited to managing the complexity, interconnectivity and interoperability of current and future systems of systems. The dynamic nature of the threat environment requires NSWCDD to continue its transition from manually assimilating the vast amounts of document-based data, necessary to understand such complex designs in their totality, to the new digital engineering methodology.

“This transition is about getting incremental capability out to the warfighter faster and with higher quality than we’ve been able to do in the past, and it’s also about being adaptable to the changing operational environment,” said Schroeder. “It’s a big win that we can take changes to the operational environment in terms of threats or in terms of new systems that need to be a part of the operational environment. We rapidly assess their impact and make adjustments to the system design in a much shorter turnaround cycle than has been possible in the past with long, monolithic application development.”