The Department of the Air Force created a digital literacy core competency for its workforce which involves taking advantage of technologies such as high-speed information technology pipelines, cloud-hosted data repositories, cloud computing, the Internet-of-Things, artificial intelligence, and digital data management and visualization.
Key to this enterprise is a workforce that has the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to implement these technologies, and a workplace culture that embraces them. The Air Force Institute of Technology offers education, research, and consulting targeted to making the Department of the Air Force a digital enterprise.
Digital literacy education at AFIT is focused on six specific topic areas: digital engineering, digital acquisition, data science, cybersecurity, mission engineering, and Joint All-Domain Operations.
“AFIT primarily approaches digital engineering in the context of conducting technical activities for managing weapon systems,” said Richard Sugarman, head of the department of software and systems engineering management within AFIT’s School of Systems and Logistics. “This includes concepts like model-based engineering, model-based systems engineering, multidisciplinary design analysis and optimization, and model-based simulation and analysis.”
Sponsorship from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (SAF/AQ) and Air Force Materiel Command has enabled AFIT to expand offerings. “The Graduate School of Engineering and Management has more than doubled our online capacity for core systems engineering graduate courses,” said Lt. Col. Amy Cox, program chair and assistant professor of systems engineering. “In the last five years we have had well over 300 Airmen and Guardians participate in our graduate certificate program. The certificate courses provide fundamental model-based systems engineering tools.”
Digital acquisition is a larger category of activities associated with managing weapon systems that includes digital engineering technical topics, plus non-technical topics such as program and project management, life-cycle logistics, contracting and contract management, and financial management. “Beyond workforce development, our research on how to transition to digital is helping blaze the trail,” said Cox. “Much of the early focus has gone towards the programs that are digital natives, it has been exciting to see the transformative gains for legacy programs as they transition from document to model-based methods. Even partial and incremental adoption of digital tools has a return on investment.”
Data science uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms and systems to extract knowledge and insights from structured and unstructured data. “Primary Institute activities are the graduate data science and operations research degrees offered by the Graduate School of Engineering and Management, and the data analysis continuing education courses in the School of Systems and Logistics,” said Sugarman.
AFIT has a long history of cybersecurity education and has been designated as the Air Force’s Cyber Technical Center of Excellence since 2008. “With respect to AFIT’s role in digital literacy education, cybersecurity is largely in the context of securing information technology networks and cyber physical systems, and conducting offensive and defensive cyber warfare,” explained Sugarman.
Mission engineering uses mission?focused threat?informed analyses to evaluate capability solutions, advise on development of requirements, and inform technology investment decisions. Joint All-Domain Operations integrates mission engineering across the joint force in multiple domains including air, land, maritime, cyberspace and space domains, and the electromagnetic spectrum.
“As a military organization with an education mission, AFIT’s academics and research are tied to real-world Air and Space Force operations. The topics of mission engineering and JADO are widespread throughout the Institute,” said Sugarman. “As the Department of the Air Force moves towards a more digital enterprise, these warfighting activities will take place increasingly in a virtual environment.”
Partnerships with AFMC directorates and centers are strategically important to ensure AFIT is meeting the demand signal. “Specifically with respect to digital engineering, partnerships between AFRL and AFIT are incredibly important. One of the Air Force’s newest software factories, Hangar 18, is one such coalition focused on helping organizations adopt digital engineering, agile, development, security, and operations, and related competencies,” said Dr. Mark Reith, assistant professor of computer science within AFIT’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management and a liaison to Hangar 18.
“One of our key initiatives with Hangar 18 is to acquire tool support to promote more education, research and consulting to Air Force units. Think of it as a ‘digital engineering lab’ that provides direct experience with the tools, language and methodology associated with digital engineering,” said Reith.
With AFIT's recognition as a leader in graduate and continuing education, research, and consulting, it stands as a valuable asset to the DAF in improving digital literacy. For more information, including course and degree programs, please visit https://www.afit.edu/diglit/