How Digital Twins Can Impact Naval Aviation
Naval Air Systems Command’s Airborne Electronic Attack Systems Program Office (PMA-234) is turning to digital technology to improve readiness, explore new capabilities and expedite training.
PMA-234 is in the early stages of using digital twins, which are virtual models designed to reflect a physical object accurately. PMA-234 has developed digital twin technology with an industry partner for the past six months.
The program office selected the pod interface unit on the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS), first used in the 1970s, as the initial capability on which to test the new technology. The jamming system is unique as an older technology that converts analog signals to digital signals. By using an older system, the team members can test the bounds of their creativity and exploration.
“We wanted to prove to ourselves we could take an existing piece of hardware and develop a digital twin that would be useful,” said Capt. David Rueter, PMA-234 program manager. “We picked something fairly easy as a starting point.”
Digital twin technology can enable the sustainment, upgrade and evolvement of systems over time.
“From a capability perspective, if I have a digital model of a system that requires improved processing, I can now figure out what that upgrade is and test it out digitally before I even purchase new hardware,” said Rueter.
The commercial industry has used digital twin technology for some time. For example, many new cell phones were developed digitally in a lab before consumers could purchase them.
“There are multiple uses for digital twins, including designing, troubleshooting, simulating and enhancing. Digital twins replicate the real-world performance and have a huge utility,” said PMA-234 Chief Engineer Christie Agamaite, who leads the program office’s digital twin efforts.
She explained how a digital twin can aid in troubleshooting.
“There is a plethora of signals from a platform and an integrated system; if you are using a digital twin, you can vary those signals at myriad different rates and see the resultant behaviors in real-time,” said Agamaite. “The resultant behaviors are where we find the problems.”
The digital twin approach provides the Naval Aviation Enterprise with increased resiliency, efficiency, adaptability and autonomy to accelerate learning on old and new systems.
Rear Adm. John Lemmon spearheaded the idea of using digital twin technology during his tenure as Commander of Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). This initiative invested in workforce development to apply “Get Real, Get Better” principles to utilize technology to benefit the warfighter.
Now, according to Rueter, the program office is providing subject matter experts to build the twin. It hopes to boost readiness as the NAWCAD workforce learns from this endeavor.
The potential future benefits of digital twinning expand to more capabilities. For example, digital twin provides massive learning potential to work with Airborne Electronic Attack systems.
Furthermore, Agamaite explains that “digital twins can benefit maintainers. By building a virtual model of a capability and using virtual reality goggles, technicians can touch and feel the system virtually. This will quickly increase the learning curve by starting the training earlier. It puts you virtually in the world before you get the hardware in your hands.”