February 26, 2013 --
By Jim Katzaman, MCSC Corporate Communications
Modeling and simulating the life cycle of equipment from cradle to grave is not a dream. It’s FACT – short for Framework for Assessment of Cost and Technology. Embedded in the Systems Engineering, Interoperability, Architectures and Technology directorate, the FACT team brings new capability to Marine Corps Systems Command reaching far beyond conventional application of modeling and simulation.
Typically, when people think of modeling and simulation, they think of simulations for training, according to Lieutenant Colonel William Yates, Modeling and Simulation Program Manager. “FACT does much more than that,” he said. “It looks concurrently at key performance parameters, procurement cost, operations and sustainment cost, disposal and use of visual simulations as a tool for explaining complex events. We use FACT to save time and money and improve survivability.”
Yates and Modeling and Simulation Team Lead Mike O'Neal said that FACT allows a number of models from different sources to run concurrently in a "federation." The federation of models calculates the expected values for various aspects of system performance, cost and reliability to the users in real time.
“The distinguishing capability of FACT,” Yates said, “is that it will show the user in a matter of seconds how changing a parameter such as armor thickness or engine size will impact not only survivability or mobility, but also second-order effects such as lifecycle depot maintenance cost or fuel consumption."
FACT promises to provide program integrated product teams with quick insight into how discrete changes to a system design may ripple through the various performance characteristics, operational and support costs, reliability, schedule and risk related to components of a system.
“Adding 2,000 pounds of armor to a vehicle may achieve the performance objective for survivability,” Yates said, “but it can affect other key performance parameters. The extra weight might make the vehicle too large to fit on a ship. It will also have an impact on fuel economy and maintenance intervals that may add up to a significant increase in sustainment cost over the lifetime of a fleet of vehicles. In the past, design changes were examined in isolation, and their impact on other system attributes was sometimes delayed or overlooked. We were forced to do that because we didn’t have the tools to examine second- and third-order effects of a design change concurrently.”
FACT brings aboard the power of modeling combined with the advantages of real-time high-performance teaming. In that concept, teams, organizations or virtual groups are highly focused on their goals and achieve superior business results.
“It’s elegant in its simplicity,” O’Neal said. “For starters, FACT analysis reports are color-coded, and we can save various versions of designs. Many people can work on the design at the same time. Any change is reflected on common screens so everyone can work in real time.”
As with most color schemes, green is good, red is bad. “What would happen,” Yates said, “if we change a vehicle’s wheel diameter from 16 inches to 20 inches? It’s illuminating to see how all things change in lockstep – good or bad – from that one difference.”
He emphasized that modeling and simulation is used throughout the acquisition process. “While Defense Acquisition University courses emphasize modeling and simulation support for program acquisition,” he said, “the specifics on how to do this are often lacking.”
To get specific, O’Neal and Yates presented a Modeling and Simulation Supporting Acquisition Short Course in 2012 that offered practical guidance on how to effectively apply modeling and simulation to an entire acquisition program. Scaling up from one vehicle to an entire fleet, FACT can project how an entire production of 500 vehicles would run for 20 years driving 5,000 miles per year. Factor in fuel efficiency and secondary repairables, and FACT can project lifetime cost impact based on changing a single design parameter.
FACT, as O’Neal explained, gives conditions to see if an item can meet requirements. “We can evaluate different equipment and performance to see if they meet our needs,” he said. “For any planned acquisitions, program managers want to know how well it will perform, how reliable it is, how much it will cost and how soon can they get it.”
This gets to the crux of “should cost, will cost” in defense acquisition. FACT provides cost estimates in a range constantly refined as more information enters the system. On one hand, this gives contract specialists data to question industry claims about product performance.
FACT can also produce unexpected positive results. Yates and O’Neal described how modeling and simulation was employed in the Fuel Efficiency Demonstrator, or FED, project that sought to achieve 30 percent greater fuel efficiency in its vehicle. Based on performance modeling now encompassed in FACT, the FED design blew past the goal with a 70 percent increase in fuel efficiency.
“Our team is designing a tool that can be applied to any type of system,” Yates said. “It could be a radio, a vehicle or a ship. FACT is built with open standards that enable reuse of some models that have commonality between dissimilar systems – for example, a wheeled vehicle and a weapons system – while applying other models that would be specific to certain types of systems. As the number of models and data sources brought into the FACT federation increases, program offices will be able to come to us, and 90 percent of the modeling they need may already be resident and ready to use. Each time FACT is used it will become easier and quicker for the next program to use it because the repository of data and models in FACT will grow.”
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has taken note of FACT, and discussions are ongoing to exchange information between DARPA and the Marine Corps. The welcome mat is already out for in-house organizations because, as O’Neal said, “everyone has a role to play in modeling and simulation.”
“Contracting is very important because they need to get the correct intellectual property rights in their documents,” he said. “Logisticians can use the models to see if they meet usability requirements. Lifecycle logistics can use data on speed, miles per gallon and repair costs to help manage the sustainment tail.”
Yates added, “If we can reduce the number of convoys needed to bring supplies to Marines by shortening the logistics tail of the system with which they are equipped, that many fewer Marines are placed in harm’s way. We’re using modeling and simulation to make a difference for Marines in the operating forces, and that’s the important thing.”