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Systems Thinking in Digital Engineering - Experts: Digital Engineering Can Help Field New Weapons Faster Than Acquisition Reform


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If you drill down in that article from Air & Space Forces Magazine, you will find the following perspectives: DoD needs digital engineering because our people don’t have the patience or attention spans to work with details. Neither of the expert authors of the Mitchell Institute paper referenced have degrees in systems engineering, nor have ever worked directly in hands-on engineering of physical systems. Yet they and scores like them are published as authorities on digital engineering policy, espousing the benefits of things like digital twins, digital threads and a digital engineering credential.

Good systems thinking practice tells us this is normal in systems analysis; the client doesn’t understand their own problem. However, never have we seen this writ so large and plainly as in current DoD policy - but never before has DoD policy been so completely based on marketing, a state that has evolved over 43 years. It is a result of DoD and the services outsourcing their knowledge and for-profit and quasi-for-profit corporations stepping into the gap. This all makes the need for sound systems thinking even more valuable in a world where stakeholders truly believe that the model will behave like reality – because the experts told them so. 

Building on 4000 years of documented use of models in engineering, we show how systems thinking can overcome the hype and hubris surrounding the digital engineering culture. We address the dichotomy/disconnect of software engineering practices as espoused in ISO/IEEE 15288 and 24641 and what the Chief Engineer at MITRE called “Honest to God Systems Engineering.” The saving grace exists in the program budget and the need to decide where resources will be allocated to have measurable, positive impact on program outcomes. Policy comes from the top-down, but engineering impact rises from the bottom-up and engineering usually proves correct.