Aerospace and Defense 2023 Industry Trends: The Age of Advanced Digitization
The 2023 Aerospace and Defense (A&D) industry’s shared goals focus on agility, productivity, growth, and sustainability. In order to meet these goals, however, the industry must focus squarely on digitization. To put this into perspective, for original electronic manufacturers (OEMs) to remain competitive within the A&D playground now and well into the future, digitalization is no longer an option—it’s a requirement.
Welcome to a reimagined 2023 where digital advancements and technical innovation generate economic growth, strengthen productivity, and help to protect our global citizens and our shared environment for generations to come. To that end, here is a look at Benchmark’s top three A&D trends we see continuing to unfold in 2023 and beyond.
TREND #1 DEFENSE DIGITAL TWINNING
In the commercial space, digital twinning is hardly a new concept. In fact, the commercial industry’s ability to digitally twin electronics has been around for at least 20 years, allowing OEMs to test, debug, and refine their products well ahead of manufacturing. In the defense industry, while digital twinning has several roadblocks to overcome, it is gaining traction. Defense digital twinning even appeared in the United States’ 2018 National Defense Strategy. As we move forward, we expect to see demand pick up for defense digital twinning implementation as more defense primes roll up their pilot projects using digital twin strategies.
“Congressional oversight needs to focus on incentivizing efficiency and sustainability at all levels of lifecycle costs. Industry has responsibility also to help government clearly appreciate practices over buzz words, results over rhetoric.”
However, along with regulations requiring digital twins for all new engineering undertakings—like many other U.S. Defense Procurement reforms—there come several challenges, including the ongoing debates over defense spending. Perhaps RealClearDefense (RCD), a reputable news outlet for military and defense professionals, puts it best, stating “congressional oversight needs to focus on incentivizing efficiency and sustainability at all levels of lifecycle costs. Industry has responsibility also to help government clearly appreciate practices over buzz words, results over rhetoric.” (RCD)
The Department of Defense (DoD) must also overcome additional organizational and technological obstacles. At the very basic level, digital twins require specialized sensors that support the virtual twin’s ability to simulate the attributes of its physical counterpart. And, if electricity allows the product to function, these specialized digital twin sensors must also be able “to accurately detect and represent the product’s electricity circuits.” (RCD) The main driver will be efforts on the part of defense companies toward efficiency and reduced time to market. The question for many primes will be whether to invest in sizable in-house digital twin capabilities, develop partnerships, or consortia.
TREND #2: DIGITIZATION OF TRAINING
In the coming years, specialized robotics used to train soldiers will only increase in number and advance in capabilities. One clear example is the application of robotics that do not require a rail system and the accompanying infrastructure to operate target dummies. This advanced technology offers realistic combat training opportunities in which soldiers are presented with real-life battle scenarios and aggressive human and vehicular robotic targets.
Since the training robots are not confined to a rail system, the training sessions are no longer highly repetitive and therefore, are less predictable, strengthening a soldier’s preparedness. Among the many sophisticated components these training robots require (control systems, actuators, power supply, etc.), sensors are of particular importance. Beyond acting as the robot’s eyes and ears, some of the sensors control the robot’s sense of touch and its movements. These specialized sensors quickly take in the robot’s surroundings and swiftly process the most critical data, allowing the control system to send commands to all other components.
Outside of the training environment, AI-controlled robots can now autonomously negotiate a wide range of real-life combat environments. These advanced robots are fully aware of their surroundings and can effectively communicate with each other to successfully navigate and conquer complex tactical terrains. Overall, these advancements help to reduce risk, decrease costs, and increase combat success rate. But many OEMs are focused on advances in AI for improving training and are choosing to partner with a company like Benchmark to get the right kind of specialized HW – sensors, sensor fusion and rugged enough for a training environment.
TREND #3: SUSTAINABILITY AND RESILIENCE
The more the world learns about the looming effects of climate change, the more ubiquitous—and the more stringent—green regulations will become. In fact, since the 2015 White House publication of “The National Security Implications of a Changing Climate” report, the Federal Government’s involvement in resilience measures have only intensified. As the United States Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III puts it:
No country can find lasting security without tackling the climate crisis. Climate change will continue to shape the context for military operations—for the United States and for our competitors—which is why we must ensure that our combat forces are ready to respond to future risks and equipped to operate superbly no matter the changing conditions.
Sea levels continue to rise, storm surges are becoming more frequent, and flooding is intensifying, all impacting the security of our critical infrastructure and military installations along our coastal areas. The effects of climate change also impact arctic regions, limiting the nation’s ability to advance national security interests, pursue responsible stewardship of the land, protect local communities, and strengthen international cooperation.
As electricity consumption increases, energy production, transportation, transmission, and distribution will also be negatively impacted. Now, more than ever before, we need to embrace innovative, sustainable alternatives and execute effective action plans to directly address the growing energy crisis. Some of these promising innovations and action plans include:
Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) at scale and new propulsion technologies such as electric, hydrogen, and hybrid can all lead to—at minimum—viable net-zero solutions (if not eventually, zero-emission solutions). “Electric propulsion could [also] be a potential zero-emission propulsion solution for decarbonization in the long term, particularly for short-haul flights and urban air mobility.” (Deloitte).
ADVANCED AIR MOBILITY (AAM)
Another growth industry gaining considerable attention involves Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)—fully electric, commercial air travel. Since these specialized aircraft can be manufactured much smaller—and cleaner—than traditional commercial aircraft, AAM technology will provide a more inclusive experience for commuters at large.
SUSTAINABLE ENERGY FOR DEFENSE FACILITIES
Through its efforts in building effective partnerships and incorporating environmental justice into their recent initiatives, the DoD provides a clear example of how to develop and execute an effective sustainability strategy. In their 2022 Sustainability Plan, the DoD sets some impressive goals, including 100% carbon pollution-free electricity (CFE), 100% zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) fleet acquisition, and net-zero emissions buildings, campuses, and installations. Read the entire Sustainability Plan to learn how they have met—or are planning to meet—these goals.
URBAN AIR VEHICLES (UAVS)
For cargo, UAVs offer a greener, safer, and more efficient commercial delivery alternative to delivery vehicles on the world’s increasingly congested roads and highways. The application of UAVs for inspection and surveillance projects also continue to increase.
While these growing technologies and initiatives are indeed promising, they do come with their own set of challenges. The cost of bio-SAFs, alone, can be as much as ten times that of conventional jet fuel. Consumer acceptance also remains a significant challenge, especially in the areas of alternative air travel. However, with increased awareness, public perception is starting to shift across geographies. A&D OEMs all need to keep their end customers’ sustainability goals in mind when setting strategies and developing new productions. The real trick to overcoming challenges lies in critical partnerships with key players within the A&D industry. Benchmark offers one such critical partnership for the A&D industry to consider.
Advanced technologies within aerospace and defense are constantly ramping up. As such, modernizing the A&D industry and moving toward the age of digitalization requires strategic partners like Benchmark. Our engineering design and manufacturing teams help to drive innovation. We collaborate with our partners to develop and maintain advanced infrastructures that increase operational efficiencies, ramp up production, lower costs, and support their commitment to sustainability.