Developing Planning and Decision Support
Implementing a decision support framework in front-end systems engineering and development planning improves acquisitions for space programs.
Since its inception more than fifty years ago, The Aerospace Corporation has been supporting space system concept exploration, planning, and government decision-making in many programs and at different levels. Aerospace’s decision support includes architecture and concept development; utility, capability, and performance analyses; risk evaluation and program acquisition planning; and portfolio assessment. The backbone of this decision support is the objective technical analysis by subject matter experts using many tools, models, and methodologies.
Traditionally, multiple models and individual experts were employed. Customer demand for timely analysis and advances in modeling capabilities have led to the integration of numerous models into a decision support framework and the pooling of specialists into concurrent-engineering teams. The teams often use Concept Design Center (CDC) and concurrent program development environment processes and facilities to perform required studies. Through these practices, Aerospace is involved in systems engineering and architecting in support of the Air Force Space Command investment strategy and DOD space program decision-making.
The layered approach to capability evaluation. The grand strategy and policy constraints must be balanced with the needs of the military and warfighters. Costs, functional performance, and the operations architecture are considered along with schedule, risks, system design, and anticipated performance.
Current fiscal pressures as well as shrinking and uncertain budgets are increasingly challenging the national security space community to deliver affordable, resilient, and responsive space system capabilities. However, the introduction of rapidly evolving technologies and changing user needs into space architectures is constrained by lengthy space system acquisition cycles, growing system complexity, and the diversity of user needs.
These challenges and constraints have led to the Air Force mandate for better and earlier systems engineering on the front end of space program development. The emphasis of systems engineering has shifted toward the preacquisition stage, which precedes the materiel development decision and offers critical early information to milestone decision makers. The scope and requirements decisions made at this stage, which occur before program initiation, tend to drive subsequent development and production costs.
The opportunity to influence program cost, schedule, and risk rapidly diminishes as the acquisition process progresses. Improved early systems engineering enables the acquisition review authorities to evaluate the maturity of proposed technologies against acceptable program risks and decide whether technologies and concepts should be further developed before committing to system development and demonstration.
Such front-end systems engineering corresponds with recommendations by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to separate technology development from systems acquisition. The GAO has recommended committing to a program and product development only if a technology is sufficiently mature and has reached a threshold of technology readiness, the requirements have been stabilized early, and the systems engineering techniques have been fully applied.
Aerospace is in a unique position to play an essential role in providing early-decision quality information to acquisition authorities. Aerospace’s front-end systems engineering offers critical information on mission capability and requirement trades, concept creation, preliminary concept of operations, architecture development, performance and risk assessments, and cost scoping. Aerospace delivers alternative system concepts and architectures; evaluates them against performance parameters, capability attributes, and engagement scenarios; develops program strategies; estimates order-of-magnitude costs; and provides necessary evaluation models.
June 2012: An Atlas V readies for flight on the launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Air Force established a development planning process for all acquisition programs that occurs prior to the materiel development decision. Development planning is important to ensure a new program is initiated with the systems engineering foundation needed for success. Sound planning employs early systems engineering to connect defense strategy and joint warfighting concepts of operation with the materiel solutions that are available to address capability gaps. Development planning describes alternative courses of action by linking measures of operational effectiveness to system concepts and their implementation through the building, integration, testing, verification, and validation stages. The three phases of system concept development are trade space characterization, candidate solution set analysis, and implementation analysis.
According to the Air Force developmental planning guide, published in 2010, the trade space characterization phase occurs when the system concepts are defined and candidate solutions are evaluated. System concept definition begins with analysis of user needs, constraints, and assumptions. At this stage, the developmental planning team creates an initial work breakdown structure and researches applicable technologies and associated technology/manufacturing readiness, costs, and risks. A methodology is established to evaluate candidate system concepts, score alternatives, and rank candidate concepts. Operational views are developed to graphically depict the relationship of the architecture components, infrastructure enablers, and potential systems-of-systems interfaces.
Concept development phases from the U.S. Air Force’s development planning guide. Once a project has been identified and a plan of attack defined, trade space characterization, establishing candidate solution sets and their characterization, and implementation analyses become key phases to finalizing the approach.
Following the initial trade space characterization and review of candidate solutions with sponsors, the team further analyzes the more promising concepts. Such analysis includes a reexamination of ground rules and assumptions, development of additional architectural views and work breakdown structure details, systems interface descriptions, and cost updates. This is accomplished through modeling and simulation, and the ensuing analysis helps to determine if system capabilities can meet mission needs. Such early systems engineering serves to identify acquisition resources, helps to establish schedules, and assists with estimating costs for each candidate solution.
To ensure their sufficiency, the more promising system concepts undergo initial military capability/utility assessments at this point. The program leadership also reviews the reasonableness of lifecycle cost estimates, schedule, and risk assessments that are described in the concept characterization and technical description document produced by the development planning team.
A robust development planning and early systems engineering process relies on contributions from systems engineers who are knowledgeable about the domain in which the program is being developed. It is vital to have experienced engineers and managers in key positions during these early stages of program definition.
Aerospace is well suited to support these front-end, critical development planning and materiel development decisions. The company has personnel skilled in the depth and breadth of activities required for program development in all mission areas including architecture and concept development, capability and performance analyses, risk evaluation, program acquisition planning, and portfolio assessment. The Aerospace teams supporting development planning and early systems engineering processes encompass mission and architecture, system design, capability evaluation, and acquisition development.
The Decision Support Framework
Aerospace developed a framework in support of government decision making, front-end systems engineering, and development planning. The framework relies on analysis and persuasion to generate an interpretive story, which in turn generates action. The decision support framework embraces a larger scope than traditional models that are focused on how to buy systems for approved requirements. It addresses three parallel government processes: requirements, budgeting, and acquisition. Multiple models, tools, methodologies, and processes are employed to characterize cost, schedule, performance, and risk of proposed programs. This layered approach integrates policy and operational analysis models with system and program engineering models. A comprehensive framework for modeling national, enterprise, operational, programmatic, and technical layers is required to capture alternative courses of action. Analysis modules included in the decision support framework are briefly reviewed here.
The development planning and decision support teams.
The political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, and information analysis module helps one to understand conflict effects, national priorities, policy constraints, and boundaries for the mission and military utility analyses. Different conflicts may elicit various national strategies that employ diplomatic, information, military, and economic instruments of state power to find resolutions. The resulting courses of action may involve military conflict scenarios and operational architectures based on operational plans and military tactics, techniques, and procedures. The strategic (national command authority), operational (theater of operations), and tactical operational architectures are materially enabled by systems implemented through acquisition programs.
The mission analysis module translates capability goals into mission needs and concepts of operations for a set of conflict scenarios. This is facilitated by a qualitative evaluation of system concepts against conflict scenarios that span the entire capability space of systems under consideration. This evaluation provides operational context and enables initial system capability characterization in terms of end-user effects. In addition, it helps reduce the number of alterna-tive architectures, systems, and scenarios to be evaluated in the detailed military utility simulations.
While the decision support framework scope appears complex at first look, a closer examination reveals that it includes a standard strategy-to-task mission analysis, system and program engineering, and options for portfolio and enterprise analyses. The framework’s flexible (open tool) and evolutionary nature enables tailoring of a study processes flow and composition to meet individual customer needs. Another important attribute is that this framework can capture and assess sensitivity by considering alternate scenarios and outcomes. The decision support framework has implemented concurrent and repeatable decision support processes, tools, and teams that are organized into four engineering groups.
The critical contribution of military utility analysis at this stage is to assess the conflict outcomes in the presence of alternative architectures and systems and to elucidate their engineering performance goals. The performance goals tend to drive the system capability and cost, and with human-in-the-loop command and control policies, help to define levels of sufficient system capability. This insight enables decision makers to select more affordable, resilient, and sustainable system solutions.
The system and enterprise architecting module consists of the structuring and parametric phases that can be applied sequentially or individually, depending on the issues being analyzed. At this point, side-by-side qualitative and quantitative comparisons of alternative architectures alongside key evaluation criteria are used to iterate and converge on a small subset of solutions. The selection process involves expanding the trade tree, followed by pruning away the dominated/inferior alternative architectures. The pruning is based on the key architectural criteria of affordability, resilience, capability, and schedule needs. This iterative and interactive architecting process is performed via a systematic six-step process.
Structured architecting allows for a rational and transparent identification of candidate architectures. The trade tree pruning process reduces the number of options to be evaluated by orders of magnitude while preserving the decision maker’s insights into the key architectural choices. The architecture trade tree enables the architecting team to consider component-level implementation while addressing broad issues such as impacts on the industrial base, programmatic risks, and enterprise integration. The work product from the architecting module is the architectural vision and guidance for the system and program engineering.
In this overhead persistent infrared architecture trade tree, the hosted partial Earth starer appeared in all combined mission architectures as a theater complement to global sensors. Resiliency and a variety of constellations, sensors, buses, and communication/processing modes are considered at ground stations in the study.
There are many current challenges, opportunities, and strategies being considered for national security space within the context of shrinking and reduced budgets. Recent development planning studies have considered key factors in this mix including the disaggregation of integrated, multifunction, multiuser satellites, the exploration of payload hosting opportunities, and the use of commercial buses and launch vehicles. Other catalysts of affordable architectural transi-tion include technology advances that facilitate simpler, smaller, less-expensive payloads and architectures, freedom to accept and allocate mission requirements to better match available system implementations, and the ability to employ streamlined, rapid-acquisition approaches. Aerospace will continue to work closely with its customers to develop these next-generation development and planning approaches.
Developing alternative engineering concepts has long been established as a concurrent engineering activity at Aerospace’s CDC. The designs produced here serve as inputs for a number of evaluation tools that generate systemwide performance measures, which are used to evaluate concept performance against the spanning scenario set. This performance evaluation step reduces the requisite number of engineering concepts for detailed utility and program evaluation. The performance measures are also used to characterize system services.
A comparison of space services delivered by multiple systems in a portfolio allows a normalized valuation of disparate system features and can be visualized via a three-dimensional graph consisting of capability, cost, and schedule axes. Portfolio optimization is attained by being within the efficient performance frontier in the cost-capability plane, staying within the budgetary constraints in the cost-schedule plane, and decreasing the likelihood of a capability gap in the schedule-capability plane. The desired portfolio capability is derived from the conflict scenario outcomes that are generated through military utility analysis.
Contributions of disparate systems to an enterprise are evaluated using the concept of space services delivered to end users/consumers. For example, communication services include protected, wideband, and communications-on-the-move. Navigation services include position determination, navigation, and timing. Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance services include detection, tracking, identification, characterizing capability, and determining intent. These services are compared in the three-dimensional space of capability/services, cost/affordability, and schedule/risk. Portfolio optimization is attempted alongside the “efficient performance frontier” in a cost-capability plane, and within the budgetary sand chart constraints in the cost-time plane, with the goal of decreasing the likelihood of a capability gap in the schedule-capability plane.
Program definition takes place in the concurrent program definition environment activities typically implemented as companion sessions in CDC facilities. The subject matter experts use various acquisition planning, cost, schedule, and risk evaluation tools and databases to produce a draft acquisition strategy plan for each alternative system concept. Initial parametric cost and schedule estimates and technical risk assessments developed during CDC design sessions are correlated with relevant historical data and anchored in a specific program-acquisition strategy.
The effectiveness of the system or enterprise alternatives is summarized in a tailored table format using the major categories of capability, cost, schedule, and risk. Effective communication of decision options is enabled through side-by-side comparisons of feasible solutions. The decision display’s credibility is supported by full traceability to analysis assumptions and insights into modeling methodologies. Such insights and traceability are documented in technical reports.
P. K. Davis, J. Kulick, and M. Egner, Implications of Modern Decision Science for Military Decision-Support Systems (The RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, 2005).
P. K. Davis, R. D. Shaver, and J. Beck, Portfolio Analysis Methods for Assessing Capability Options (The RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, 2008).
Government Accountability Office, “Defense Acquisitions: Improvements Needed in Space Systems Acquisition Management Policy,” Sept. 2003, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d031073.pdf (as of Oct. 30, 2012).
Government Accountability Office, “Space Acquisitions: Stronger Development Practices and Investment Planning Needed to Address Continuing Problems,” July 2005, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05891t.pdf (as of Oct. 30, 2012).
L. Jocic et al., “Decision Support Framework: Architecture Development,” 2012 IEEE Aerospace Conference (Big Sky, MT, March 3–10, 2012).
L. Jocic et al., “Decision Support Framework Development and Application,” AIAA Space 2010 Conference (Anaheim, CA, Aug. 31–Sept. 2, 2010).
National Research Council, Pre-Milestone A and Early-Phase Systems Engineering: A Retrospective Review and Benefits for Future Air Force Acquisition (The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2008).
E. Pawlikowski, D. Loverro, and T. Cristler, “Disruptive Challenges, New Opportunities, and New Strategies,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, pp. 27–54 (Spring 2012).
J. Simonds and G. Sullivan, “CHIRP’s Potential to Introduce a New USAF Space Acquisition Paradigm,” 2012 IEEE Aerospace Conference (Big Sky, MT, March 3–10, 2012).
A. Wohlstetter, “Theory and Opposed Systems Design,” RAND Report D(L)-16001-1 (Aug. 1967).
About the Authors
Ljubomir B. Jocic
Principal Engineer, Developmental Planning and Projects, leads innovative concept development and program definition studies, architecture trade space characterizations, and early space system engineering studies for space communications, navigation, radar, and sensing missions. He joined Aerospace in 1983 and has more than 30 years of industrial and academic experience in architecting, designing, and evaluating complex space systems. He was introduced to electrical and complex systems engineering at the University of Belgrade and earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Santa Clara, California.
Principal Director, Developmental Planning and Projects, leads support to the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base’s Developmental Planning Directorate, including concept development, technology integration, utility and alternative analysis, and development of future space systems. He joined Aerospace in 1980, and among other responsibilities, provides corporate memory for Cold War–era survivability efforts. He is an expert in weapon effects, hardening, active countermeasures, and attack reporting. He has a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
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