NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Naval Air Systems Command’s Airborne Electronic Attack Systems Program Office (PMA-234) is embarking on a digital transformation to improve readiness, explore new capabilities, and expedite training. PMA-234 has recently integrated digital twin technology, virtual models that accurately reflect physical objects, into its operations.

Over the past six months, PMA-234 has collaborated with an industry partner to develop and implement digital twin technology. The program office has chosen the pod interface unit on the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) as the initial capability for testing this innovative approach. The ALQ-99 TJS, which has been in use since the 1970s, is a unique jamming system that converts analog signals to digital signals. By selecting an older system, the team aims to push the boundaries of creativity and exploration.

A U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler aircraft assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 131 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, takes off at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada Jan. 27, 2020 (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young).

“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 offers numerous advantages, including the ability to sustain, upgrade, and evolve systems over time. Capt. Rueter explained, “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.”

While the commercial industry has been utilizing digital twin technology for some time, its application in the military sector is relatively new. PMA-234 Chief Engineer Christie Agamaite, who leads the program office’s digital twin efforts, highlighted the versatility and utility of digital twins. “There are multiple uses for digital twins, including designing, troubleshooting, simulating, and enhancing. Digital twins replicate real-world performance and have a huge utility.”

Agamaite further explained how digital twins can aid in troubleshooting by varying signals and observing resultant behaviors in real-time. “The resultant behaviors are where we find the problems,” she stated.

The introduction of digital twin technology provides the Naval Aviation Enterprise with increased resiliency, efficiency, adaptability, and autonomy, allowing for accelerated learning on both legacy and modern systems. Rear Adm. John Lemmon, the former Commander of Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), played a crucial role in advocating for the adoption of digital twin technology. The initiative focused on workforce development and aimed to apply the “Get Real, Get Better” principles to leverage technology for the benefit of warfighters.

PMA-234 is now assigning subject matter experts to build the digital twin and hopes to enhance readiness as the NAWCAD workforce gains insights from this endeavor. The potential future benefits of digital twinning extend to various capabilities, particularly in the field of Airborne Electronic Attack systems.

Agamaite highlighted another advantage of digital twins for maintainers, stating, “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.”

As PMA-234 embraces digital twin technology, the Navy is set to transform its approach to readiness, training, and system development. By leveraging virtual models, the Navy can enhance system capabilities, troubleshoot issues more efficiently, and enable a more streamlined and immersive training experience for technicians. The adoption of digital twins represents a significant step forward in naval aviation and signals a promising future for leveraging digital technologies within the military sector.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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