WEB EXCLUSIVE: Pentagon to Release New Mission Engineering Guide

By Jon Harper

Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Shawn Stewart

The Defense Department will soon release a new guide to help engineers and the acquisition community as they pursue new capabilities for the military.

The initiative comes as the Pentagon is trying to implement the 2018 National Defense Strategy and engage in great power competition with China and Russia.

“The department has been really sorting through how do we get more intelligent and mindful about the things that we're investing in and how all of those things play together to accomplish the missions that we're going to need them to be accomplishing,” said Sandy Magnus, deputy director for engineering in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.

That’s where mission engineering comes in, she said in a Nov. 3 interview with National Defense.

While systems engineering involves using analytics and quantitative investigations to understand how systems work and how to build them, mission engineering takes that concept to another level to examine “systems of systems,” she explained.

“Now we're trying to take that same paradigm, if you will, and apply it to missions and break down the missions into piece parts, understand how the systems of systems have to work together, and then try and take that information about the relationship between those piece parts and understand those rig issues so we know we're investing in the right things,” she said.

Mission engineering is a complement to systems engineering, not a substitute, she noted.

Mission engineering isn’t new to the Defense Department or industry, Magnus said, but a better common understanding is needed.

“What the department is really trying to do now is to take this method and sort of create a discipline around it that’s standardized across the department, so that when we now talk about mission engineering, we're all on the same page,” she said. “That's really what the guide is all about.”

After taking her post at the Pentagon, Magnus realized not everyone was using terminology in the same way, for example.

“As I wandered around talking to people about, ‘Tell me how you're doing mission engineering, tell me what is your view of mission engineering,’ … they were using the word mission engineering in slightly different ways with slightly different twists on it,” Magnus said. “When we're trying to make coherent decisions and have clear conversations, that lack of specificity in definitions — and what people were thinking in their heads about what mission engineering was — is problematic.”

Earlier this year, the Pentagon created a working group of officials from across the services to get after the problem. The group, which has been at work for six months, has come up with about 75 definitions of key terms that will be part of the guide, she said.

The document is expected to be released by the end of November.

While the new guide was primarily created for engineers, it could also aid the acquisition community.

For example, mission engineering studies could help acquisition officials understand how their “chain of widgets” can be put in sync as they manage their portfolios, Magnus said.

“If for some reason one of the widgets — one of the systems in the system of systems — can't really be realized the way it needs to, you can immediately understand the impact on the whole mission and adjust the other pieces of the system accordingly,” she said. “It's a very powerful tool.”

The studies could also help operators grasp how the various systems being delivered to them can best be employed to achieve their missions, and aid strategists and policymakers in understanding how the broader ecosystem of capabilities “plays together,” she added.

The guide will be released at a time when the military services are pursuing a new joint all-domain command and control, or JADC2, initiative to link their various sensors and shooters in preparation for a potential high-end fight against advanced adversaries. Mission engineering could be an important tool in this effort, Magnus said.

“You can look at something like JADC2 and your brain just blows up because it's so complicated,” she said.

JADC2 is about having the ability to do command and control and move data across the operating environment where it needs to go, she explained.

“There's layers to that,” she noted, including determining what data will be moved, how it will be transported, and how it will be managed network-wise.

“Those are all elements that have to be solved across any particular mission space to make JADC2 work," Magnus said. "If I was going to design a mission engineering study around JADC2, what I would do is I would break it down into a very simple problem first in order to get to the whole."

For example, analysts could look at how an aircraft carrier would operate alongside other assets.

“You've got the carrier, you've got the airplanes, you've got what other ships are in the battle group. You might have some other comm assets in the scenario flying overhead. So there's your physical platforms," she said. "Now you think about what kind of a battle might ensue. And now you can start playing with an analysis on what kind of data needs to move, where, when, with what feed. And … at the end of that study, you've slowly defined a little piece of JADC2 for a specific scenario."

That mission engineering effort could yield important information for defense officials trying to design systems-of-systems architectures, including the most effective means and processes of transmitting data.

“It feeds right into what capabilities you need to build and what requirements your systems have to meet," she said. 

While the guide is primarily intended to get defense officials on the same page, it could also enable a “more coherent conversation” across the Pentagon and industrial base workforces about mission engineering, Magnus said.

Additionally, it could help contractors, including nontraditional partners, pitch their products to the Pentagon, she added. “If it's something that they're using as a tool to explain to the DoD why their particular technology can be brought to bear to satisfy mission needs, it gives them a vocabulary to match the vocabulary that the DoD is using.”



Topics: Defense Department

Comments (1)

Re: Pentagon to Release New Mission Engineering Guide

ME is not new to the System Engineering (SE) process for those of us who have designed Control Systems that our weapon and space systems are. Like with System Security Engineering (SSE), we again are sub-optimizing engineering rather than treating ME as a sub-discipline of SE. Whether aircraft or surface vessels, and since 2006, my SE experience has always been to see the total System-of-System (SoS) view aside from a SSE perspective as with any Control System (aka. Cyber Physical System [CPS]) with its architecture of meshes, branches, nodes along with its interfaces and adapters. ME is an academic exercise rather than a updated view and emphasis on what SE should have been doing along from pre-RFP through testing and support of our DoD National Security Systems (NSS), and their Mission Essential and Supporting Systems.

The ME Guidebook is a great resource for the narrowly engineering disciplinary trained, recent college graduates; but, for those of us with Mechanical and Electrical/Electronic practical experience dating back to the Cold War era, ME has always been a part of the systems perspective from which we asked for, proposed and designed DoD systems, before we let the major defense contractors write our requirements.

Time to go back to zero and revisit what our SE should be doing, and rethink our rush to contract mentality and limiting the Measures of Performance and Effectiveness we are forced to attempt to use in a useful Technical Evaluation of proposals. With the use of COTS, the time and costs needed to think outweighs the costs of not doing so later in these hybrid to solely code-dependent SoS.

Time for the DoD to revise hiring practices and recruit the ME and EE graduates who understand CPS and Control Systems theory. And long overdue, it is time to integrate SSE and ME along with the new Digital Engineering (DE) into their parent SE workflow process.

JD Yuna at 10:06 AM
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