Build more of the same or create a new design
The majority of legacy systems are in what is called “sustainment mode.” This means that as parts on the A-10 aircraft become obsolete, and they’re replaced with other parts, the Department of Defense has the option to either build new parts of the same design or execute a new design. This is often referred to as F3 or form, fit, and function replacements. When engineers design new parts with the same form, fit, and function, most times they are doing so because the only system-level documentation they have available does not clearly define enough details to rebuild or redesign the entire subsystem to the original specifications.
We took a different approach to our legacy architecture challenge. Doing the necessary research, we were able to get detailed views of the system levels all the way down to the subsystem parts. This gives us visibility, and it impacts the way we approach obsolete systems. Having the broader context of how a system fits within the bigger pieces makes it possible for us to take advantage of an opportunity. We can pre-position future capabilities as we go through our modifications, and we are able to be much more flexible and much more agile in supporting the end user of the A-10 aircraft.
Finding the people with knowledge
Every project begins with research and education. We started by hunting down knowledgeable people, some of whom have been on the sidelines of this project for months or even years. We learned what we could from these sources on how things were done in the past, helping to overcome the obstacle of having a lack of complete documentation.
Education is another critical component of any legacy architecture project. In this case, we needed to help our knowledge sources understand the problem we were facing before we could work through the math, science, or even basic mechanics involved. Essentially, we were working with sources to dredge up old, detailed information and fill in the blanks of how the tool we were working on was intended to fit together. We were trying to answer the question: how did these pieces go together originally, and how do we construct them now?
Coloring Inside the Lines
In our field of work, there are rarely simple solutions. One of the biggest challenges in working to create systems engineering tools for the U.S. Air Force’s A-10 Systems Program Office was living within the limitations of the tools themselves. Anyone with an engineering background can design workaround solutions to mechanical problems, but it takes actual industry experience to reinvigorate obsolete systems without adding on new parts or technologies.More about our company
Making sure things match
One of the biggest challenges in implementing this legacy architecture project was negotiating data sources that didn’t always agree. We were dealing with requirements documents with many tiers of details, and when we crossed the boundaries from one document to the next, they frequently didn’t match. Design detail can be published in many forms, and when we tried to compare one document to the next, the names of certain elements frequently changed. One document may have focused on one part of the design, and another document may have ignored certain parts or elements altogether.
The implementation of this project is still ongoing. We continually mature and advance the architecture as the engineering baseline changes over time.
Over the course of four and a half years, we used the knowledge gleaned from sources and coalesced it together into a single tool. The tool we built was made from pieces of other projects, brought together in an effort to overcome preexisting conditions. The architecture tool we built was made compliant under the protocols listed in the DoDAF, which is published by the Department of Defense as a structure for architectural data.