A 6th-Generation stealth fighter has already taken flight, a new class of ICBMs will soon fly through space, hundreds of new Low Earth Orbit satellites are shooting up beyond the earth’s atmosphere and emerging hypersonic weapons are moving from design to production in record time--all because of fast-moving digital engineering innovations.
Digital engineering, a method of using 3D virtualized representations and engineering models of new high-end platforms and weapons systems is already changing the Pentagon’s acquisition paradigm and exponentially accelerating the pace at which new systems become ready for war.
China and Russia are already claiming to fire operational hypersonic weapons, anti-satellite missiles, and AI-enabled systems propelled by quantum computing. China is raising alarm bells with its industrial capacity to build new carriers, amphibious ships, and destroyers in rapid succession, at a staggering pace. This may not mean that rival weapons systems and platforms truly rival U.S. ones, yet the pace of development continues to cause alarm at the Pentagon, further inspiring this massive push to accelerate the development of new weapons through digital engineering.
Air Force Acquisition Executive William Roper, one of the early leaders and proponents of implementing digital engineering, describes the process as a “digital trinity,” consisting of software development, computer modeling, and the integration of common technical infrastructure standards. Roper articulates his vision in a well-known essay he wrote called “There is No Spoon: The New Digital Acquisition Reality.”
“This 'digital trinity' — digital engineering and management, agile software, and open architecture — is the true successor to stealth: the next big paradigm shift for military 3 tech dominance. Rather than just building better systems, it builds systems better — opening doors to faster design, seamless assembly, and easier upgrades — and not a moment too soon!,” Roper writes in his essay.
These new, already proven innovations, were put to the test with the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance 6th-Gen aircraft which has already taken flight as well as the service’s Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program to build a new class of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles; both programs are moving at lightning speed, bringing new unprecedented measures of efficiency, speed, accuracy and effectiveness to an acquisition process typically encumbered by multi-year, bureaucratic milestones and procedures.
“With digital acquisition, the digital lifecycle must become as real as the physical one, and then eventually, even more real. One day we should design particular eSystems and view “printing” them in reality as unnecessary, even wasteful, as printing electronic documents today,” Roper’s paper explains.
As part of this effort, the Pentagon and all the military services are working with industry to refine and implement digital engineering methods throughout the entire sphere of scientific and technologically-focused new weapons programs.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.