Lockheed also thinks its digital tapestry approach can help accurately pinpoint the total cost of the system, estimates of which have varied widely within the Department of Defense. “The more you can mature a cost model the better,” John Karas, vice president and GBSD program manager told reporters at the Lockheed Martin facility Monday in Littleton, Colo.
Lockheed built its Collaborative Human Immersive Lab in 2010, and the company has already used it to refine the design and engineering of systems like the GPS III satellites and the Orion spacecraft, CHIL manager Darin Bolthouse told reporters. The lab consists of a full motion capture studio to create realistic digital environments that mirror the technical details of systems still in development, and a Cave System that uses 3-D glasses and holograms to place engineers within an immersive virtual experience of that digitally designed system.
CHIL creates a “virtual build environment,” Bolthouse said, that allows engineers to rehearse production, maintenance, and sustainment tasks on products that have not yet been built in the real world. Program engineers can then learn from the virtual experience and alter the program’s design before real world prototyping, reducing the time and cost of refining a program design.
In connection with remote locations outfitted with a smaller “package system,” CHIL can also create “shared virtual reality environments across the country,” Bolthouse said. Such remote VR systems could fit inside a “conference room or any 15 by 15 space,” Bolthouse said.
This VR network is where Lockheed imagines CHIL bringing unique advantages for GBSD development, said Karas. He said CHIL could help the GBSD be “operated and developed first in a very affordable environment.” CHIL’s network of VR environments and digital redesigns could be tailor-made for modernizing the infrastructure of far-flung missile silos and their sustainment apparatus, “site to site virtually and in real time,” Karas told reporters.
CHIL would allow Lockheed to “map the inside” of existing underground missile silos and ground control systems, using data from nuclear bases around the country, and manipulate those environments digitally to maximize the spaces for the new system design. Throughout the process, CHIL could incorporate networked input from “airmen in the field that have to maintain the system,” Karas said.
If awarded the GBSD contract, Karas said Lockheed would use CHIL to “lay out the whole manufacturing flow” of the program as they have already with other, fully-developed systems. He also said that Lockheed would like to make use of 3-D printing of some GBSD components. While 3-D printing was not included in the proposal Lockheed submitted to the Air Force in October 2016, Karas said the three years of technology maturation would be more than enough to fully incorporate 3-D printing into the GBSD design.
Boeing and Northrop Grumman also submitted proposals in October 2016 in response to the Air Force RFP to develop the next GBSD system. USAF expects to award as many as two contracts before the end of Fiscal 2017.