WASHINGTON: The Air Force Research Laboratory’s WeaponONE effort to develop “digital twin” technology will put “real hardware in the loop” and test how the return of a real-world weapon can be used by its doppelganger to quickly resolve issues and / or upgrade capabilities, says James Sumpter, AFRL Program Director.
Digital twins are virtual representations of something in the real world, like a weapon system, that can be linked via software to their physical counterparts. They are one of the tools used in modern “digital engineering”. The WeaponONE program “aims to develop and evolve a set of tools / practices to enable digital transformation” of any weapon in the future, Sumpter explained in an email.
WeaponONE also serves as a scout program for the Air Force Materiel Command’s digital campaign. AFMC’s campaign aims to integrate digital tools into all of its functions, “from acquisition to maintenance and beyond, not just engineering,” according to the AFMC website. The campaign kicked off with a Virtual Industry Day on September 21, hosted by then Air Force Acquisition Czar Will Roper.
As Breaking D readers know, Roper was a big believer in digital design, digital engineering, and digital manufacturing. In September, he published a broad “digital acquisition” strategy, arguing that the Air Force must invest heavily in these technologies to overtake its Russian and Chinese competitors in developing next-generation capabilities.
As a benchmark for WeaponONE development, AFRL is using its Gray Wolf project to develop a low-cost cruise missile prototype that could be deployed in swarms to counter enemy air defenses. Gray Wolf was first tested by the 416th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB in July.
Sumpter explained that Gray Wolf was chosen as the baseline for a number of reasons, including the fact that the two are currently in the AFRL portfolio, so no inter-organizational coordination was necessary.
Additionally, Gray Wolf “is a recent build with modern hardware / software interfaces” using an open system architecture, “which means it fits perfectly into the Digital Twin framework,” he said, and “all of our design documents are readily available”. Plus, Gray Wolf’s flight test data is at hand to help flesh out its digital twin WeaponONE.
The first test of the WeaponONE digital twin prototype in virtual space was announced by AFRL on January 21. at the speed of relevance, ”said Craig M. Ewing, Senior Scientist in AFRL’s Weapons Modeling and Simulation Branch.
Sumpter would not be pulled from the budget or schedule for the WeaponONE program, noting only that it is “a multi-year effort.”