QinetiQ explores the future of digital test and evaluation 

Berenice Healey reports from a recent QinetiQ webinar  on how test and evalutation needs to be modernised digitally to support future military capability generation cycles.

// Image: QinetiQ

The challenges of modern warfare mean technology must progress from the drawing board to the battlefield quicker than ever, and digital test and evaluation (T&E) is an essential part of making that happen. At a recent webinar, QinetiQ experts explored how T&E needs to be digitally modernised to create a single thread of T&E evidence and provide a time- and cost-optimised through-life test plan, including the use of digital twins and incorporating live, virtual, constructive (LVC) training.

Opening the SMi webinar, Revolutionising Test and Evaluation in Defence: Why Digital is the Way Forward, QinetiQ global campaign director for integrated test and evaluation Cathy O’Carroll set out the context of why defence needs to revolutionise testing and evaluation and described QinetiQ’s top-level visions for digitally integrated T&E enterprise.

She explained that T&E is at the heart of QinetiQ’s company strategy to enable the delivery of effective military capability generation and assurance for its customers in the UK and internationally. Examples include QinetiQ’s long-term partnering agreement with the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Flight Physiological Centre in Sweden and the Queensland unscrewed aerial systems (UAS) range in Australia. She said T&E services which help programmes have a better outcome in an increasingly complex world can only be achieved by working closely in partnership with governments and companies.

“Threats are getting more complex and the speed that they do so is accelerating,” O’Carroll said. “A growing number of global states and non-state-based threats make for highly complex operational environments, with threats covering the spectrum of drones to hypersonic missiles and cyber.

“With the average timescale to develop a new platform being up to tens of years, frequently the threat the platform was designed to deal with has changed by the time that platform comes into service. As the pace of the threat changing and platform upgrades increases, the need to test and train against the threat similarly increases to confirm defence’s capability to respond.”

The need for T&E

O’Carroll explained that the need for modernising T&E falls into three categories: increasing threat complexity, increasing system complexity and increasing technological disruption.

“In response to these changing and increasing threats, defence systems are getting more complex,” she said. “No longer does a single platform typically operate on its own; instead, systems of systems are required to deliver an effective force, bringing together, for example, ship, manned air platforms, unmanned systems and weapons. Clearly, we should ensure these systems work effectively together to understand the vulnerabilities and risks between the interfaces, both when operating nationally and with coalition partners.

“Thirdly, the pace of technological change is accelerating, providing an opportunity to evolve defence capabilities faster to respond to the threats previously described. And this drives an increasing need for the defence experiment with evolving technology to rapidly but safely create new defence capabilities. Increasingly, this technological innovation is driven by the commercial sector with defence then adopting, meaning this technology needs to be proven safe and effective. This requires a much more agile approach to test and evaluation than historically.”

“The challenge in revolutionising the process is to create a T&E enterprise optimised across the end-to-end military capability generation cycles.”

O’Carroll explained that the purpose of T&E is to generate subjective evidence to enable decision-making, which contains two distinct and separate components. Testing provides data, and evaluation is the process by which raw data is analysed, and evaluation provides the value occurs.

The challenge in revolutionising the process is to create a T&E enterprise optimised across the end-to-end military capability generation cycles; an agile, digitally integrated activity that enables experimentation, supports certification qualifications, support training and can rapidly adapt to new needs.

O’Carroll identified three essential components to making digital T&E work. The first is establishing an evaluation digital thread, a single assured version of the truth, initially populated with model-based design then fed into with trials output and in-service evidence from training and operations.

Secondly, as confidence in the product performance comes increasingly from virtual, there should be a fundamental balance between live and model-based derived evidence for faster, more cost-effective decision making.

Thirdly, future T&E capability needs to integrate the right mix of digital experimentation, testbed, fixed calibration capabilities, and trial data from, for example, ranges.

QinetiQ’s Queensland UAS test range.

QinetiQ’s Queensland UAS test range. Image: Qinetiq

Digital evaluation for a changing landscape

QinetiQ global lead solution architect for integrated test & evaluation Dr Adrian Britton then took to the virtual stage to elaborate on the role of live, virtual and constructive (LVC) in T&E.

“As a T&E organisation, QinetiQ has spent a lot of time thinking around the facilities; things like weapons test ranges, large fixed environmental test chambers, signature measurement ranges, that sort of thing,” Britton said. “We're going to think holistically around how do I need to organise those for future systems. We start looking at testing evaluation being derived from model-based techniques.”

That means considering building a digital twin of a system from the very start of a programme and recognising that modern platforms are a rich integration of subsystems from multiple suppliers, requiring the process to be adopted in a federated way.

“There will need to be some behavioural changes and collaborative understanding about who can use that data for what purposes to allow us really to move forward in a way where people build trust.”

Sophisticated modern systems provide a dataset of through-life capability. A richer set of models will feed into LVC techniques with each stream of test evidence flowing through that digital thread.

“There will need to be some behavioural changes and collaborative understanding about who can use that data for what purposes to allow us really to move forward in a way where people build trust and move forward collaboratively,” Britton warned.

“That will clearly be underpinned by changing commercial practices, and that that leads also to the management of IP. Underpinning a lot of this will be the skills development piece because they'll be a lot more focused on the use and decision-making based on evidence from models.”

How to enable digital T&E

O’Carroll said that while training and technology were challenges to the wider adoption of digital T&E, there also needs to be a change in culture, collaboration and behaviour.

“We need a change in culture to drive T&E to be thought of all the way through life at the beginning of a programme,” she said. “We need to change behaviour to truly realise the benefits available here. And we need to take a much more collaborative approach to test and evaluation to share in the data, but with the ownership of data and IP maintained with the owning organisation.”

O’Carroll concluded by reiterating the key benefits of a future digitally enabled T&E enterprise. “The primary benefit is around improving and accelerating warfighting capability through increasing the pace of system development, certification, upgrades and tactics development,” she said. “It also supports manufacturing industry by getting equipment to market quicker and more competitively.”