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Digital Engineering is Too Important to Be Left Alone to MBSE Practitioners

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Weapon systems critical to national security are increasingly becoming more complex and expensive. The cost overruns alone are estimated to be about half-a-trillion Dollars, making it the second largest defense budget in the world. To address this problem, DOD introduced the Digital Engineering initiative in 2018. Even though its vision and scope are laudable, not all the areas/disciplines involved in realizing these weapon systems are excited. There is a certain poverty of imagination in naming the vision as “Digital Engineering.” Most people misunderstood it to be an engineering initiative (in particular Systems Engineering). This paper redefines the term “Engineering” in Digital Engineering as a process (e.g., engineering a political coup rather than like Mechanical/Electrical/Systems Engineering), which then addresses all the five pillars of Digital Engineering. Another disturbing trend noticed by the author is that the Systems Engineering community equated Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) to Digital Engineering. This prevents new thinking and thereby limits or negates the vision of Digital Engineering. This paper also touches upon the origins of Systems Engineering at Bell Labs, obsession with the term “Model” to mean anything and everything, including a text document or a static picture, and Digital Twins. It gives practical and useful definitions of “Model” and “Digital Twin” and provides examples and some best practices followed in developing them. It also lists some of the disruptive technologies like ChatGPT which could potentially even eliminate the need to write computer programs. These systems can fuse Unstructured, Uncertain, Incomplete, Imprecise, and even Contradictory (UUIIC) information from all sources. This will make the current processes obsolete, including Systems Engineering. Finally, it presents the lessons learned and makes some recommendations for the near-term, including how to prevent Digital Twins from becoming “Evil Twins.”


* Presented at AIAA AVIATION Forum, 12-16 June 2023, San Diego CA DOI: 10.2514/6.2023-3772