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Test and Evaluation to support enhanced operational availability


QinetiQ had many opportunities in 2022 to analyse and discuss how organisations across the Defence Enterprise are transforming Test & Evaluation to respond to emerging technologies and the changing threat landscape. We have turned some of the content in to a series of short blogs. Here’s the 2nd in the series:

You can read the 1st blog here.

As with numerous previous conflicts, what we've seen in Ukraine is the importance of adaptability: a readiness for known and expected scenarios, plus the ability to respond quickly to an adversary’s quickly changing tactics and capabilities - or even a changing adversary. To support such adaptability, test and evaluation (T&E) must be agile and flexible to provide operational confidence prior to and during the deployment of new, novel capabilities, and help in the assurance and adaption of existing ones.

The T&E enterprise face the continual challenges imposed by the increasingly high-tech nature of military capability, and the growing need for interoperability across domains and nations. But there is, however, a new challenge - a ‘need for speed’, driven by the increasing pace at which potential foes are developing and deploying sophisticated new systems, a risk that is greater now than in the last few decades. In addition, changes in strategy mean that some assets are now required to be forward deployed for longer periods - taking them away from test facilities.

Taking this all into account, we understand the need to push the pace. In the past, testing has always been constrained due to access to representative environments or threats – potentially resulting in critical limitations when the capability is deployed operationally. So, the aim is clear. We want to put promising new capabilities in the hands of the warfighter more quickly, creating the concept of operations (conops) and tactics development (tacdev) that goes with them - all whilst still providing the level of assurance required to use these capabilities safely and effectively. And we want to do this whilst reducing the amount of time that assets spend out of service for testing.

The aim is simple enough to understand, though of course, its implementation may not be. So, how can T&E help to introduce new, improved systems and enhance operational availability, considering growing availability demands and shifting geopolitical circumstances?

Part (…but not all) of the solution is digital. Digital modelling is an obvious opportunity, with the exploitation of digital models filling in increasingly for their real-world counterparts - allowing these physical counterparts to remain on station for longer. And the clear trend is towards these models growing increasingly capable over time. This is excellent news as far as T&E and operational availability are concerned, but probably is not enough on its own. In fact, there is another solution to explore, outlined below.

Training meets testing
With the trend of supporting increased readiness around the world, we want to build on the idea of 'deployment as training' – and extend it to use as an opportunity for simultaneous T&E and training & mission rehearsal (TMR). This exploits the natural convergence between T&E and TMR - moving us away from reliance on fixed ranges and training areas, which can require capabilities to be taken off of front lines for extended periods.

It follows then, that, when possible, T&E activity should provide training value - in order to make the most of (…often expensive) testing. An example that is commonly discussed centres on more deeply integrating Developmental T&E, Operational T&E and training. These respectively explore whether the equipment works as specified, how it works in operational conditions and then can we use the operational realism to provide training value. The key is to put an operational wrap around the test itself to allow a much wider test and training opportunity from the test event, but without compromising the fundamental aim of the test itself.

This idea of overlaying training with elements of trials and experimentation is promising. Such ‘frontline’ T&E/TMR could also be done simultaneously and in multiple locations, as opposed to the traditional, ‘serial' approach of testing - helping to break bottlenecks in the capability development process and accelerate it. Frontline T&E offers a degree of flexibility too - the flexibility to conduct T&E on deployments, to quickly build upon lessons learned in the operational environment (or contact with the enemy), to quickly feed those lessons back to the greater organisation and to empower frontline commands to adapt accordingly. A critical enabler to enhancing the utility of training for T&E will be the exploitation of low cost compact technology to allow people and equipment to be rapidly instrumented, allowing objective performance data to be captured alongside more qualitative measures.

Some have used the term “training as an engine for change”, and of course, it’s very difficult to change the processes of an organisation (especially a sizeable, well-established one) without first changing its culture. As such, for change to happen, T&E must be understood by decision makers - not as something that takes assets and systems offline - but as a vital enabler, especially in the context of an unpredictable and rapidly evolving geopolitical backdrop. So, assuming the usual element of scepticism around the introduction of new processes, can these sceptics ‘learn to love’ T&E?

The inevitability of risk and the impossibility of ‘100% 'solutions
Budgets often separate TMR from T&E, but we argue that this is a false dichotomy. Ultimately, a combined approach could yield training value for the warfighter, whilst collecting high fidelity data for capability development, assurance and tacdev.

Broadly speaking, there is an intent (and certainly a need) to drive change - from the top to the bottom of the enterprise. However, there is a legacy challenge of cumbersome and perhaps outdated procedures that, most agree, must be overcome. When facing such bureaucracy and tradition, some say that the system is not fit for purpose. However, instead of seeing it as in need of a total overhaul, perhaps we can see it as something to build upon and iteratively improve. As in many things, the desire for perfection, the mythical "100% solution” is more often a hindrance than not. There needs to be an element of risk acceptance - we’re unlikely to reach 100% today, tomorrow, or maybe ever.

Some have said that, as an enterprise, we have the ability to deliver exquisite capabilities, but 10 years after they are required. It’s clear that there is space for improvement, and we are starting to see some changes. We should continue to encourage them, and we should stay the course.