F-22
Pic Credit : nationalinterest

Our clunky, Cold War-era process of defense procurement is in need of a major refresh. While it still produces world-leading military systems, its escalating timelines and cost are unsustainable byproducts. The stark contrast with commercial industry warns the U.S. military may have peaked, unless we find a better way—soon.

Right on cue, then, here comes digital engineering, a new commercial technology that’s lending a legitimate art form to military weapons-buying with revolutionary, even stylish results. (Yes, we just used “art form” and “weapons-buying” in the same sentence.)

The Air Force and Space Force recently created an “e-Series” designation for digitally designed aircraft, satellites, and munitions. (The U.S. military currently uses a variety of upper-case letters designating aircraft: “F” stands for fighter, “A” stands for attack, “B” stands for bomber, “T” stands for “trainer,” and so on.)

But computerization is only part of the e-Series equation. The real art is observed in the real world. Just as architects capture physical structures, our digital engineers are capturing physical processes virtually—learning, perfecting, even automating them—so that costly trial and error can happen cheaply on computers.

et 7a red hawk

The eT-7A Red Hawk.U.S. AIR FORCE

Having a virtual rewind button seriously fast-forwards real-world program success. Take our first e-Plane, the digitally designed eT-7A trainer jet, which we designed and built in just 36 months—a feat not accomplished since the 1950s with third-generation fighters! The new eT-7A Red Hawk is designed to prepare pilots to fly advanced F-22 Raptors and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

The same digital approach also birthed our newly-designated second e-Plane, our most advanced sixth-generation flight demonstrator, years ahead of expectation. Last September, I revealed that the Air Force had already secretly designed, built, and flown a prototype of the sixth-gen fighter jet.

Our sixth-generation program, the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, entails what you might expect: cutting-edge warfighting technologies, collaborative teaming with autonomous “Skyborg” drones, and a lot of necessary secrecy.

What you might not expect is that it’s equally about how we build future systems. Cold War-era procurement is dead on arrival against today’s threats and technology speeds. Digital engineering is blowing the lid on what’s possible—and not just for building better airplanes, but building airplanes better.This content is imported from {embed-name}. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Science-fiction movies, like The Matrix, help us explain the underlying digital engineering technology we call authoritative virtualization. But art history also lends an interesting perspective about the innovative intersection of architecture and engineering.

Not surprisingly, history is replete with architectural giants who harnessed science and technology to improve engineering execution. Filippo Brunelleschi, considered the founding father of Renaissance architecture, used mirrors and geometry to generate 3D drawings with perfect linear perspective. Leonardo da Vinci meticulously studied physics to create modern technical drawings of complex systems. Frank Gehry, dubbed by Vanity Fair as the most important architect of our time, employed computer-aided fabrication to achieve his physics-defying, Daliesque buildings.

Digital engineering takes computer creation technology to the next level, rendering not just the design of complex systems, but their assembly, environment, and even physical performance in high-powered virtual reality (VR). Prominent modern architect Mies van der Rohe once observed that “whenever technology reaches its real fulfillment, it transcends into architecture.” Digital engineering is transcending into a type of four-dimensional architecture—one that designs 3D systems and time-driven processes governing them in realistic VR, long before their physical twins are built.