Pentagon updates digital engineering guidance

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The Pentagon’s new guidance for implementing digital engineering into defense systems covers the development and sustainment of weapons systems, software, business systems and the acquisition of services.

Digital engineering, the practice of using computer models in the design, development and testing of complex physical and digital systems, is being integrated into Defense Department practice across multiple acquisition categories in different ways, under a policy document that took effect in late 2023.

The document — which went into effect on Dec. 21 — said DOD will use digital engineering “methodologies, technologies and practices” in support of its effort to conduct “a comprehensive engineering program for defense systems,” including “across the life cycle of defense acquisition programs, systems and systems of systems.” 

The guidance document was approved by Heidi Shyu, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. 

The Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition University Glossary defines digital engineering as “an integrated digital approach that uses authoritative sources of systems' data and models as a continuum across disciplines to support lifecycle activities from concept through disposal.”

DOD said digital engineering “must be addressed in the acquisition strategy, including how and when digital engineering will be used in the system life cycle and expected benefits of its use.” It noted that this approach “requires planning and providing financial and other resources for digital methods” — such as model-based systems engineering and product life-cycle management — to support necessary program activities. 

The Pentagon previously issued a digital engineering strategy in 2018 that it said “describes how the application of digital engineering can modernize how the DOD designs, develops, delivers, operates and sustains systems.” 

The new guidance builds on the department’s 2018 strategy by developing digital engineering capabilities that, in part, “connect the phases of the acquisition life cycle, allowing feedback and flow of information across acquisition activities and processes.”

This also includes the creation of a digital engineering ecosystem that enhances collaboration between all related stakeholders, including “government to-government, contractor-to-government and contractor-to-supplier.”

The document also outlined the digital engineering-related responsibilities of a variety of Pentagon officials, including the DOD chief information officer and the chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, established in the new guidance document and laid out in previous memorandums and department directives.