A Boeing T-7A Red Hawk pilot training jet. The plane was designed and building using digital engineering technology.

A Boeing T-7A Red Hawk pilot training jet. The plane was designed and building using digital engineering technology. Boeing

USAF Goes Commercial for Project-Management App

The service aims to accelerate its digitization by adopting product lifecycle management software already used by industry.

Borrowing another page from industry’s digital playbook, the U.S. Air Force will use a commercial app to manage its various programs, from creating new weapons to buying fighter jets to ordering parts.

The Jan. 8 order, one of the last signed by outgoing Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper, requires program managers to use Siemens Teamcenter, a product lifecycle management app used throughout the aerospace and defense industry. The mandate is the latest in a series of moves taken by Air Force leaders in recent months to digitize the way the service designs, builds and repairs weapons.

“Threat uncertainty imposed by peer competitors like China —  driven by accelerating commercial technologies and, more generally, democratization of innovation on a global scale — creates unquestioned imperative for acquisition speed and agility,” Roper wrote. “New digital design technologies and processes are how we achieve them, but they require consistent application across the Department of the Air Force.”

The Air Force chose Teamcenter "to provide consistency in the way our models and all associated data, software, and functional support integrate and interoperate to produce a digital thread throughout the system lifecycle," Capt. Jake Bailey, an Air Force spokesman, said in an email. 

“Siemens’ Teamcenter’s adoption of open standards enables data portability and integration with other [product lifecycle management] solutions already in use by programs and our industry teams,” Bailey said. 

The Air Force is already using the Siemens software in its logistics and engineering directorate at the Pentagon. It’s also in the early stages of being used by Air Force officials overseeing high-profile weapons projects, including the F-15EX fighter, Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, and Combat Rescue Helicopter, Roper said in the memo.

“By providing the Air Force and other defense agencies with a robust enterprise [product lifecycle management] solution, time-sensitive and actionable data can be accessed across the earliest phases of a system lifecycle, resulting in lower operational costs, fewer down times, and overall improved readiness,” Tina Dolph, president and CEO of Siemens Government Technologies, said in a statement.  

More than 80 percent of the major aerospace and defense companies and 95 percent of the auto industry use Teamcenter, according to Siemens. Boeing, Huntington Ingalls Industries, L3Harris Technologies and General Dynamics are among the companies that use the technology.

Air Force leaders have been touting digital engineering as being key in Boeing designing and building the T-7 Red Hawk pilot training jet in just 36 months. The technology is being used in the Next Generation Air Dominance project, a secretive effort to field a next-generation fighter jet.

“Department-wide infrastructure to provide tools and connectivity, policies to democratize data and digital tools as underlying technologies change, training to employ those tools effectively, and the workforce culture to make it happen are all groundwork tasks,” Roper wrote in a Jan. 19 “Guidebook for Digital Engineering and the eSeries.” “Without them, there is nothing on which to build. Just like its physical counterpart, a digital architecture begins with a firm digital foundation.”