Part of the new way of doing business at the Pentagon is to simulate
the features and performances of weapon systems in computers before
contractors actually bend metal. This method, known as simulation-based
acquisition (SBA), has been successful for some of the Defense Department’s
more bankable programs, such as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and
the DD-21 surface combatant. But unless the Pentagon changes the
way it pays for systems and forges more trustworthy working relationships
with its vendors, SBA may be doomed before its full potential is
even realized, experts asserted.
The Pentagon may have to switch to “incremental procurements”
to fully reap the benefits of SBA, said Harold L. Jones, technical
director of the Information Management Strategic Business Unit,
at Litton TASC, in Boston. Those benefits include improved communications
between designers and engineers and, ultimately, lower costs.
For the JSF and DD-21, the government funded the SBA technology
as part of the programs, said Jones. But for smaller programs, it
has been less successful. To get the best results from SBA, Jones
suggested that the Defense Department provide dollars for SBA throughout
the life of a program, not just during the initial development phase.
“Incremental acquisition will make SBA more useful,”
he said in a recent phone interview.
Jacques Gansler, the recently departing undersecretary of defense
for acquisition, technology and logistics, in November, released
the Pentagon’s new systems acquisition policy. The acquisition
strategy states, “Modeling and simulation shall be applied,
as appropriate, throughout the system life-cycle in support of acquisition
activities, such as requirements definition, program management,
design and engineering, manufacturing and logistics support. In
collaboration with industry, program managers shall integrate the
use of modeling and simulation within program-planning activities;
plan for life-cycle application, support and reuse of models and
simulations; and integrate modeling and simulation across the functional
The new rules, according to Gansler, are intended to provide the
most efficient, least expensive means for systems acquisition. But
the military services may not have enough funds upfront to pay for
new systems, said Jones.
“It is difficult, by nature, to estimate the cost of a new
weapons system,” said Jones. Nowadays, the majority of cost
for a system comes not from acquisition, he explained, but rather
from maintenance. A weapon’s life-cycle costs are difficult
to predict. That is why Jones believes that the Pentagon will make
a move toward buying in increments.
“A lot of cost implications will not come until the [system’s]
out-years, after the vehicle is acquired” he said. “You
can model [those costs], but it is a challenge. ... The government
does not have the money up front to pay for SBA.”
The whole idea of SBA is to lower costs by providing better communications
between designers and engineers, so that operational considerations
are taken into account early in the design process. Improved communications
are supposed to lead to faster turnaround times, and the services
will be in less danger of over- or under-budgeting for their systems.
By incorporating simulation into the acquisition process, all individuals
involved in bringing these systems to bear will have a common database
to keep tabs on progress. And they will be notified when their work
is affected and when they need to take action.
Designers vs. Engineers
“There is a tremendous gulf between the design and engineering
world or the design and simulation world,” said Jones. “The
connection between the simulation world and how [a weapon system]
is built is a tremendous gap to bridge. There are ferocious separations
between people who design things and people who put them together.”
SBA is intended to let those individuals involved know what the
other side is thinking, said Jones. “There’s distinction
between simulation vs. designing performance.” SBA especially
is valuable when multiple contractors are developing a system, for
it allows them to communicate across corporate cultures or barriers,
SBA intends to foster a strong working relationship between the
military and industrial sectors. The military services and contractors
work together to simulate all aspects of a weapon system, such as
design and performance, leading up to the development of a prototype.
The military customer tells the contractor what properties it wants
the system to have, and the contractor incorporates those into the
simulation. The contractor then can offer suggestions to improve
the system. Throughout the entire process, different entities are
involved, whether it be designers, engineers or financiers.
For instance, if the Army is deciding between diesel and electric
drive for one of its trucks, the simulation is supposed to determine
which is the better option, said Jones. Or if the Army is choosing
a particular type of armor for the truck, a simulation is used to
predict the armor performance.
The practice of simulation-based acquisition has been in place
for more than 10 years, said Jones, but the Defense Department did
not adopt a clear SBA policy until 1997. At that time, then-Vice
President Al Gore, in his National Performance Review, set a goal
for cutting delivery time for new systems by 25 percent. The Defense
Department then set its own goals of reducing acquisition cycle
times by 50 percent and lowering total ownership costs. Though progress
has been made in the SBA arena, the Defense Department has yet to
choose a definitive system.
SBA recently has experienced some ideological roadblocks. Defense
officials claim that there has been a lack of model or database
sharing among the military services, and the commercial proprietors
of potential SBA systems are unwilling to part with the intellectual
data that supports the technology—something over which the
services want full reign.
Jones seemed surprised that the military services are perceived
as unwilling to share information with each other. “The services
are not necessarily protecting things,” said Jones. “They’re
just protecting the way they do them.”
Getting commercial companies to give the military complete control
of their intellectual data is a bigger challenge, Jones offered.
“This is a classic relationship between industry and government,”
The Defense Department plans to rely mostly on digital designs
for source selections, said Jones. Digital designs are “an
emerging art,” he claimed. Because companies are developing
their own digital designs, they believe they are at a competitive
advantage. “Many contractors feel they have a proprietary
art advantage,” and do not want to lose control of it.
Litton TASC offers its own digital design, called “Domain
Engineer and Director.” The company is working with the Navy
on some next-generation platforms, which Jones declined to discuss
The Defense Department currently does not have a definitive SBA
model, said Jones. One of the problems is that as the Pentagon evaluates
these models, it is unable to look at them side by side. “They
are not interoperable,” said Jones.
Data security is another issue. If the Defense Department is to
have a definitive SBA system that is capable of transferring or
submitting data across multiple locations, it must have guaranteed
“Proprietary data security is a problem,” said Jones,
“but it is maintainable.”
On the other hand, the military services handle a huge amount of
classified intelligence data that they are not permitted to share
with industry. This has frustrated both the commercial and federal
sectors, because they constantly are stressing their need to collaborate
with each other.
Some Pentagon officials believe that SBA will not thrive because
those who handle the data are unwilling to share it (National Defense,
November 2000, p. 32).
“From the standpoint of execution of SBA, it has to be a
joint effort between the government side and the industry side,”
said Bill Chen, vice president for engineering, at United Defense
Armament Systems Division, in Minneapolis. Chen’s company
has experienced success in the SBA arena with the Army’s Crusader
program and the advanced gun system for the Navy’s DD-21.
In sharing data, “you have to have the right working relationship,”
said Chen in an interview. The question of who owns the data depends
on the contract, he said.
Usually, the data is shaped and provided by the government, said
Chen. In an integrated data environment, the government may own
the data, but the contractor may maintain it, he explained. In contracts
where the contractor owns the data, the government has access to
The source of funding also has to be established upfront. “The
government can’t say, ‘I want to do SBA,’ without
realizing there has to be money upfront,” said Chen.
In the Crusader program, United Defense has been able to implement
SBA processes, said Chen, because “there has been recognition
that we can’t do this without the tools, the facilities and
United Defense officials have praised the Army’s SMART—simulation,
modeling, acquisition, requirements and training—model, which
is designed to provide a seamless working environment for the Army
But SBA, as it has been applied to Crusader, will be different
in the future, said Chen, if it is to be successful.
“A lot of emphasis today is on individual weapon systems,”
In the future, he explained, the Defense Department will have to
use SBA to “simulate a system of systems.” Chen cited
the Future Combat System (FCS) as an example of this.
For FCS, each part of the model will be a separate, simulated entity.
All of the simulations are to be interoperable, where multiple contractors
can correspond from multiple sites.
Chen said SBA will become “a more advantageous method”
as the government becomes able to transmit highly classified data
over communication wires. “As [security] technology improves,”
he added, “that [will make] SBA a more valuable resource,”