Technically, Digital Engineering is the construction of digital (computer) models that represent every characteristic of a complex product or system that is to be developed. That modeling process creates digital data and digital connectivity that can be leveraged to integrate that product’s design, development, delivery, and full lifecycle support into a more agile, higher-performance product value stream than would be possible using a traditional Systems Engineering framework.

Behaviorally, Digital Engineering requires a team culture committed to the use of those digital threads created in the model as the single “Source of Truth” that all stakeholders adhere to and depend on to keep all work on track throughout development. It also requires a commitment to integrate into the process all stakeholders – such as acquisition teams, external development partners, end users, and director- or command-level decision-makers. These stakeholders must work together fluidly in order to deliver on the accelerating demand for new complex products and capabilities, including the shared data schemata each needs in their role for the entirety of the product’s lifecycle.

Why was Digital Engineering created?

An offshoot of Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), Digital Engineering’s goal is to accelerate the development of complex products, systems, and sub-systems by overcoming the established engineering disciplines, while addressing each engineering problem. When those separate approaches were applied to updating the highly complex products made today – products like modern aircraft, satellites, guidance systems, and more – progress got bogged down, or halted, by various interpretations of what “truth” was to be followed in their designs. Systems Engineering addressed that, but Digital Engineering honed, accelerated, and validated that process into a more fluid, consistent, workable approach.

Who uses Digital Engineering?

In theory, Digital Engineering can be used anywhere product engineers want to make the product development process more agile and responsive to market demands, but the most consequential force behind creation and widespread adoption of Digital Engineering is the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), which announced its Digital Engineering Strategy in 2018, saying “the strategy promotes the use of digital representations of systems and components and the use of digital artifacts to design and sustain national defense systems. The department's five strategic goals for digital engineering are:

  • Formalize the development, integration, and use of models to inform enterprise and program decision-making
  • Provide an enduring, authoritative source of truth
  • Incorporate technological innovation to improve the engineering practice
  • Establish a supporting infrastructure and environment to perform activities, collaborate and communicate across stakeholders
  • Transform the culture and workforce to adopt and support digital engineering across the lifecycle

As a result, every company who supplies products or develops systems with a department, agency, or unit of the DoD is today required to be aware of and incorporate digital engineering into its development processes for the lifecycle of the products and systems they create and/or acquire for the DoD.

For the DoD and each branch of the military – Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Space Force, and Coast Guard – the Digital Engineering Strategy is a game-changer. It has already led to greater efficiency and improved quality of all acquisition activities, making it easier than ever before to make informed decisions that save lives on day one when implementing new technology into weapons deployment or logistics chains. The same can be said about DoD development partners in that this strategy created a more uniform standard that allows those partner companies to optimize their own capabilities to fulfill and over-deliver on new products and systems with expertise, agility, and advanced resources.

Although Digital Engineering could improve and accelerate development of any complex product or system – military, industrial, or commercial – the strong support given the approach by the DoD’s Digital Engineering Strategy has seen it applied more as a product Development 4.0 approach to new weapons systems, electronic warfare (EW) systems, cyber security and resilience devices, unmanned aircraft and underwater vehicles, communications technologies, and more.

Related Topics to Explore

Adaptive Warfare Digital Engineering • Agile Digital Engineering (ADE) • Agile Enterprise and Systems Architecting (Agile EaSA) • Agile Systems Engineering (ASE) • Digital Engineering Principles • Digital Engineering Requirements • Digital Transformation • Electronic Systems Digital Engineering • Model-Based Agile Engineering (MBAE) • Value-Driven Digital Engineering


This information page is provided as a service to our readers by BAE Systems, Inc., a U.S.-based world leader in aerospace, defense, power, and intelligence solutions. Learn more about us here.

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