Transforming the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command, with thanks to MIT

For the past three years, the Department of Defense’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) organization has committed to a different kind of mission than any it has pursued before — to transform their engineering acquisition capabilities to a model-based design. Their goal is to shorten the timeline from beginning to delivery without lacking quality or precision.

Since early in 2017, an essential part of implementing that transformation has been NAVAIR’s participation in the MIT program, “Architecture and Systems Engineering: Models and Methods to Manage Complex Systems,” a four-course online course on model-based systems engineering.

“It is taking way too long to develop and deliver the next generation of war fighting capability to our war fighters,” says David Cohen, director of the Air Platform Systems Engineering Department at NAVAIR, referring to the current design and development processes based on systems engineering practices and processes from the 1970s. “We need to shorten that timeline dramatically. We have a national security imperative to be delivering the next level of technology to our warfighter to continue to try to maintain our advantage over our adversaries.”

NAVAIR views the shift to model-based systems engineering as an essential step in shortening and modernizing its abilities to deliver high-quality, state-of-the-art programs. They enrolled their first cohort of 60 engineers and managers into the MIT program in March 2017. The third group will soon complete the four-month program, which has become a key piece of the NAVAIR transformation by building the awareness and skills needed to successfully implement model-based systems engineering.

Procuring naval aviation assets

NAVAIR procures and helps sustain all of the Navy and Marine Corps aviation assets — helicopters, jets, transport aircraft, bombs, avionics, missiles, virtually any kind of weapon used by U.S. sailors and Marines. Their responsibilities include research, design, development, and systems engineering of these assets internally and with contractors; acquisition, testing and evaluation of these assets, as well as training, repair, modification, and in-service engineering and logistics support.

“We are the organization that receives requirements from the Pentagon for a new program, puts them out on contract, does the acquisition of that project and also provides the technical oversight and programmatic oversight during the development of that project to be sure it is maturing as expected and delivering what is needed,” says David Meiser, Advanced Systems Engineering Department head, who is helping to lead the systems transformation effort at NAVAIR.

NAVAIR employs more than 10,000 engineers, plus logisticians, testers, and specialists in a variety of different areas from software, to engines, to structures.

“We are kind of like the FAA for naval aircraft,” says Meiser, referring to the Federal Aviation Administration. “We go through the whole test and certification process and also provide the air-worthiness authority. Once the system is tested and does what it needs to do, we also provide the support mechanism to have ongoing logistics and engineering support needed to maintain these aircraft for 20-50 years.”

Design changes needed

It takes approximately 15 years to build a new weapons system, such as a fighter jet, […]

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