SERC Researchers Push the Boundaries of the Systems Engineering Domain
At the 14th Annual Research Review, the SERC’s national network of systems engineers presented cutting-edge research projects that advance priorities for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the defense industry.
The 2022 review took place in person and online at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Faculty from eight universities in the SERC network presented during 19 technical sessions. Government sponsors joined several sessions to provide context on problems needing systems engineering solutions, highlighting the critical partnership between sponsors and research teams.
Following an introduction from SERC Executive Director Dr. Dinesh Verma, Mr. Thomas Simms welcomed attendees in his remarks as Principal Deputy Director (Acting) in the Office of Systems Engineering and Architecture within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)). Simms cited the criticality of the SERC’s creative research projects in systems engineering modernization, digital engineering, and workforce development. He further commended the SERC researchers, highlighting their consistent and continued engagement with government sponsors.
In an opening keynote, Dr. Charles Clancy shared an insightful industry perspective through his role as Chief Futurist with MITRE. Clancy displayed fractal images with infinite depth to establish his call to keep thinking over the horizon about technologies such as machine learning. In an afternoon keynote, Ms. Kristen Baldwin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology and Engineering, urged the audience not to be satisfied with long-term processes and stressed the need for accelerating operational capabilities to stay ahead of global competition.
The technical presentations spanned the SERC’s four defined areas of expertise: Digital Transformation, Enterprises and Innovation, Models and Data, and Human Capital Development.
In a notable presentation on Digital Transformation, SERC CTO Mr. Tom McDermott spoke about “Systems Engineering Modernization Policy, Practice, and Workforce Roadmaps” alongside sponsor Ms. Nadine Geier, Director, Systems Engineering, OUSD(R&E).
McDermott (Stevens Institute of Technology) collaborated with SERC researchers from Georgia Tech, Penn State, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Virginia Tech, as well as government colleagues including Dr. Kelly Alexander, Chief Engineer, Systems Engineering Modernization, OUSD(R&E).
After conducting interviews and workshops within the DoD, McDermott and his partners noted a need to integrate efforts in applying systems engineering modernization. Their solution adopts a new lifecycle model with data at the core.
“We need improved interoperability and connectivity across this ecosystem,” McDermott said. “We realized the mental models that have persisted from the 1950s into the 2000s aren’t right anymore. A new model has to make it easy to drill down from decisions to data and back up again.”
In the Enterprises and Innovation area, Dr. Michael Orosz (University of Southern California) presented on “Space and Missiles Center Production Corps – Mission Engineering and Integration of Emerging Technologies,” a project funded by the US Space Force Space Systems Command Military Communications and Position, Navigation and Positioning Directorate.
“We’re looking at improving space-based software acquisition,” Orosz said. “Can we do it faster, better, cheaper? We’re looking at using agile and DevSecOps and digital engineering technologies and processes to make that happen.”
Orosz’s recommendations include performing upfront engineering to identify dependencies; addressing intellectual property, certification, and other programmatic issues; and establishing early a near operational environment for horizontal integration and testing.
“When I talk about horizontal, I’m talking about the whole constellation,” Orosz said. “I would argue that in a statement of work to a contractor, the very first deliverable should be in your operational environment for integration testing.”
In the Models and Data area, Dr. Peter Beling (Virginia Tech) presented on “Developmental Test and Evaluation and Cyberattack Resilient Systems” alongside sponsor Ms. Sarah Standard, Cybersecurity and Interoperability Executive Director for Developmental Test, Evaluation, and Assessments, OUSD(R&E).
There is a risk that many defense programs are not sufficiently testing for cyberspace threats, often due to a failure to understand those threats, an absence of requirements, and a lack of funding.
Beling outlined two SERC research products: FOREST (Framework for Operational Resilience in Engineering and Systems Test) and TREES (Testable Resilience Efficacy Elements), each of which supports improved cyber resilience engineering and testing. In this framework, each TREE of the FOREST involves a process such as sensing an attack and informing system operators; addressing operator roles and anticipated performances; making resilience decisions; and post-event and lifecycle retesting.
“Every system is going to be different, but we could think about common elements that have to do with operational resilience,” Beling said. “That’s the idea of FOREST, to provide a way of looking at resilience so you’re writing requirements that are covering some of the ground that has to do with these resilience mechanisms working the way you hope they would in the context of an actual system.”
In the area of Human Capital Development, Dr. Payuna Uday (Stevens Institute of Technology) presented on “Policy Options to Promote DoD-Defense Industry Collaboration in STEM Education and Workforce Development Programs, Activities, and Outreach,” work she conducted with Dr. Ruth David of the SERC Advisory Board and Mr. Jeff Wilcox (Stevens Institute of Technology).
Uday explained that both the DoD and the defense industry are engaged in STEM education activities, though not always in concert. She recommended steps such as encouraging the DoD and industry to partner on pilot programs that tap into universities and community colleges to address emerging fields underserved by existing workforce development efforts.
“This particular task came from a Congressional mandate,” Uday said. “Our task was to find any collaborations that exist and to identify opportunities where new collaborations might be forged. Our conclusion is that for real partnerships where both parties are in it together, we need to have incentives that are aligned to create a supportive environment.”
Several projects presented at the Annual Research Review will continue, and many are entering the phase where the research can transition to applicability. SERC experts will build on their explorations to develop further systems engineering breakthroughs for the defense community.
“The SERC is committed to supporting the defense community with dynamic systems engineering research,” McDermott said. “Our network is looking to the future, already building and refining roadmaps that will help shape our research portfolio going forward.”
The Annual Research Review spanned three days and included the SERC Doctoral Student Forum and remarks and technical presentations by AIRC (Acquisition Innovation Research Center). Follow the SERC on LinkedIn for regular updates on systems engineering research.