WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army plans to release a strategy by the end of the month to establish a digital engineering environment meant to speed the pace, lower cost and reduce risk in weapons systems development, Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo told Defense News.

Already, the defense industry is using digital engineering, including using digital twins, to develop future vertical lift aircraft, combat vehicles and even hypersonic weapons.

“There’s a lot of advantages and benefits to doing ... development in this fashion,” Camarillo said. “First and foremost, it reduces costs. Secondly, it gives you a chance to make trade-offs in terms of requirements and get a better capability whether you’re designing the next commercial car or you’re designing a future Army platform.”

And digital engineering also allows different players in the acquisition and development processes to work together in a more integrated fashion, Camarillo said. “The idea would be, for example, that you could develop a requirement and visualize and conceptualize how it would interoperate with other Army systems in the future.”

He noted a digital environment would also make it possible to test and evaluate performance before getting weapons out to range.

“It would have the potential to not only save you a lot of resources, it gets you a better capability,” Camarillo said. “It is the wave of the future, it is a direction we need to go in.”

The forthcoming strategy will include five lines of effort: developing a workforce, creating a digital engineering environment, continuing to engage industry, establishing engineering data governance and creating policy.

Part of establishing a digital engineering environment, Camarillo said, would be creating digital engineering centers of excellence that would be organized around major commodity areas like aviation, ground combat systems and sensors. Using those, the Army would focus on developing a suite of tools, building a workforce and helping the service adopt digital engineering practices in an incremental way.

The Army recently issued a request for information and has conducted several industry days to get a sense of the digital engineering technologies companies are using.

“Every prime that’s out there in the public sector space is already doing this to some extent,” Camarillo said. “We want to understand how far along they are, what tools they use. How do we interoperate with their tools to make sure we can collectively work together on this in a secure way?”

The Army plans to experiment with the “best-of-breed sets of tools,” Camarillo said, and to begin working on requirements for the technology while enabling a way to continuously ingest new techniques and technology as it becomes available.

There are three key areas where the service plans to use a digital engineering environment.

The first is to identify cost drivers and potential trade space in the design of systems under development. “There are certain performance specifications or subsystems and components that disproportionately drive your technical risk and your cost. Being able to represent that and know that early will help inform decision making on the requirements side much better,” Camarillo said.

The second is understanding in a digital environment how systems and platforms are supposed to perform in an operationally relevant environment. “If we can begin to model and represent that digitally, I think it will enable us to understand from a user perspective, how well it will work before we even get it into the hands of an individual soldiers in a test environment,” he added.

And, lastly, the Army wants to better understand how these different systems, even at the subsystem level, work with each other, “so if you have a platform, for example, could be a radar or a sensor system, it has interdependence on power systems or something that will cue, for example, to understand how that works in a virtual environment,” Camarillo said.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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