How Synthetic Environments Improve the Centrality of Data

synthetic environments

Whenever discussing the challenges pertaining to the defense enterprise in advanced economies, a few key attributes are mentioned: innovation, experimentation, speed, and alignment. While these elements are crucial to modern defense, they are often found to be in short supply.

The lack of these attributes is rooted in the fact that large organizations often move slowly, and never completely as one. This also means that data, which is at the core of most decision making, is being siloed by organizations when it’s not required. Of course, good governance requires factors like resource allocation, priority identification, goal-setting, and risk management, all of which can also slow down the innovative process.  It can have negative impacts when scaled up to the size of defense departments, and the complexity of its contractual arrangements. Yet, this doesn’t have to be the case for all endeavors.

While no one would advise to decrease accountability and risk blurring vision and the ability to track progress, there is a need in Allied countries to create secure places to allow for out-of-the box thinking. These innovative, secure places would have a few defining characteristics:

  • They would take small steps into the unknown
  • They would move through and analyze challenges
  • They would include the brightest minds from industry and academia to figure out new potential future architectures and capabilities

Synthetic environments, or more precisely digital engineering, simulation, and modeling are among the first places to start. Often, the length of time to refine Concept of Operations (CONOPS), define requirements, and develop platforms can take too long and often is too expensive. Yet, it appears that the inherent portability of data that comes with the concepts of digital twins and mixed reality gives it a central role in many key defense functions.

While we have yet to figure out the full potential of this dynamic – it is not currently unreasonable to think that data and synthetic environments can break the linearity between the defense capability gap and the training of warfighters.

What if we could define CONOPS, and at the same time, be able to assess their impact on training and readiness?

What if there could be digitally aided feedback loops between each platform design, their requirements, and the larger picture – where capability would be best informed based on how, where, and when it will be integrated into the broader architecture?

Digital engineering can help answer those “what if” questions in a responsible manner and in a virtual format – that is, at increased speed and reduced cost, to help sketch out what pathways should be.

For example, in recent research that Collins Aerospace Canada participated in, we looked at how digital twins and models can address emerging skill gaps among operators and maintenance personnel, allowing for remote and non-damaging operational and maintenance training. This increases retention rates and informs sustainment models.

Moreover, with emerging technologies, such as 5G, Quantum, and AI, we are starting to realize their potential to augment current defense capabilities. But we are just scratching the surface with respect to how best to leverage their force multiplier effect in a digital engineering environment. All while we are trying to go faster, cheaper, and push the envelope of talents and innovate as organizations.

There are more examples coming to light indicating that digital engineering and these emerging technologies will converge into a significant driver in force development. And industry experts are poised to leverage emerging technologies through broader adoption of digital engineering – and an increasing need for data centrality.

If data is the new currency, then we should be able to follow the data through its life cycles and maximize value where needed. This is what synthetic environments enable in a scalable way, driving many future battlespace outcomes out of the physical world.

I/ITSEC 2021