Managing the complex ecosystem of a new 5G DoD smart warehouse

This post first appeared on Federal News Network. Read the original article.

5G technology enables many new applications across commercial sectors, government and our military. This latest wireless platform is expected to power autonomous vehicles, smart cities, remote healthcare, next-generation agriculture and more.   

The Defense Department’s FutureG Office within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering is working to develop a 5G smart warehouse for U.S. Naval Base Coronado. The project aims to solve some of the Navy’s most complex logistics challenges while serving as a DoD testbed for multiple state-of-the-art technologies and applications. The smart warehouse project is intended to be a standard setter for how the DoD innovates with advanced technology. It fits into a broader set of initiatives to help improve the readiness of our fighting forces by circumventing human error to keep us all safer.   

The smart warehouse

The 5G smart warehouse is expected to increase efficiencies across inventory management, storage, receiving, shipping and delivery. It is also expected to reduce lost, stolen or damaged materials while fulfilling orders faster and more accurately.   

The 5G smart warehouse includes a private 5G network to provide reliable, high-performance and highly secure communications transport. The 5G network is designed to support multiple advanced technologies and applications, such as radio frequency identification, augmented reality, autonomous robots, and internet of things solutions.   

Interoperability, cybersecurity and operational resiliency across 5G network subsystems can be particularly challenging due to each subsystem technology’s diversity, interdependence and rapid evolution. An essential resource to ensuring all those elements work smoothly together is model-based system engineering (MBSE).    

MBSE has been around for years, but is relatively nascent within DoD. It has become required for projects like the Naval Base Coronado smart warehouse. MBSE is the process and practice of using digital models for the engineering design and evaluation of systems requirements, functions and architecture. MBSE can help to ensure interface alignment and interoperability across a 5G network, applications and other external networks and systems.   

Among the first benefits experienced by the development team was the ease with which MBSE could track and document requirements, behaviors and architectures. MBSE-generated deliverables have been crucial to ensuring risk management framework (RMF) compliance and helping to achieve the Navy’s rigorous authority to operate requirements. This is important because this smart warehouse is the first project of its kind to clear the Navy’s RMF accreditation process.   

Faster, more efficient milestone reviews

At first, the smart warehouse developers used the MBSE model primarily to capture requirements and generate documentation. As the model was built, it was set up to assist in creating Navy RMF artifacts stemming from the model. Project managers were able to save time by using the MBSE model to generate more than half their compliance artifacts so they could complete system engineering technical reviews in a few weeks instead of months.   

The model was adjusted to generate “fit for purpose” views to facilitate these technical reviews. Viewing the complex system of systems from multiple perspectives helped planners understand the interactions between changes to requirements, design or testing. MBSE helped project managers examine the system from numerous perspectives, including physical interfaces, ports, protocols, subsystems and IP addresses.  

A digital representation of the entire system

Because of the complexity of the smart warehouse project, traditional systems engineering processes were found to need improvement. In the past, separate workstreams for requirements gathering, requirements definition, and high-level and detailed design would each generate large volumes of artifacts in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Visio or Excel.   

Some documents would be organized and formatted to satisfy RMF requirements, while others related to form, function or business requirements. With the MBSE approach, a single cohesive model can enable developers to view the system of systems from any perspective. It becomes the single source of truth for all components, subsystems and capabilities. This means all stakeholders can know the project’s status, documentation can be accurately generated, and changes can always be traced. Large volumes of paperwork and discrete digital files are eliminated.   

Enabling smooth collaboration

The U.S. Navy has begun requiring MBSE on projects partly because it helps them orchestrate work across its broad range of contractors and subcontractors. Separate MBSE models for the 5G network and the operational warehouse applications enable the Navy to manage, orchestrate and integrate work across the different contractors and help to ensure the smart warehouse can securely interconnect to many other systems. 

The future is now

The development teams have also used the model to represent the system’s future state, anticipating how upcoming changes will affect it. This has been essential to ensuring the foundation and architecture can expand and scale to support the full vision of the project.  

Agencies across our federal government can use the smart warehouse as a blueprint for using 5G technologies to solve their constituents’ pressing needs. And MBSE can help ensure innovations can be developed quickly, efficiently and securely, whether they support our fighting forces or get smart cities working.  

Tracy Gregorio is CEO of G2 Ops, a digital engineering, cloud and cybersecurity services company serving government and commercial enterprises.  

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