The United States Air Force has introduced a new designation for digitally engineered equipment such as aircraft, satellites and munitions. The lowercase “e” will now be used to reflect the use of digital engineering in the design and testing processes, with the Boeing eT-7A Red Hawk trainer jet the first member of the new eSeries.
The new designation was introduced at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber virtual conference, with Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett stating that the intent of the new designation is to “inspire” companies to make use of digital engineering and the advantages it provides.
For 73 years, the entire history of the Air Force, X-planes have represented technological innovation,” Barrett said in a speech on the 14th. “Today, the e-plane and e-sat will join them in making history and ensuring Airmen and space professionals have modern tools to protect our nation.”
According to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek, the “e” designation will be issued by the service acquisition executive based on whether the acquisition program meets the digital acquisition threshold. The designation will only be used for the development and testing phrases, and will be dropped once the system moves to the production phrase.
The clarification follows questions from the public about the potential for confusion, with the uppercase E designation currently being used by the US military to designate electronic warfare aircraft like the EF-111 Raven and EA-18G Growler, airborne early warning aircraft like the E-3 Sentry, airborne command and control aircraft like the Boeing E-4 Advanced Airborne Command Post, and tactical data communications links for manned flight such as the Bombardier E-11A.
Boeing claims that the use of digital engineering for the eT-7A allowed for a more effective and efficient design process, with the first test flight of the eT-7A taking place just 9 months after Boeing won the contract. The first production T-7A is planned to be delivered in 2023, 5 years after the contract awarding.
The use of digital engineering to speed up the design process has been heavily pushed by Dr. Will Roper since he became the Air Force’s top acquisition official. Dr. Roper recently stated that the flight test of a tech demonstrator for the Next Generation Air Dominance program was facilitated by digital engineering. The approach still has much to prove, but it’s clear that Dr. Roper believes that his confidence is warranted.