Larry L. Gentry


Systems engineering and integration (SE&I) is the discipline that brings together technologies and hardware/software into an efficient product to satisfy operational needs. As such, it is an appropriate wrap-up of the foregoing chapters that have described the state of practice relating to underwater vehicles (UVs) and related subsystems and technologies. For the following discussion, SE&I is separated into four main topics that describe the process from emerging technologies through development of the overall system and finally to mission operations. In each of these topics the methodology and general state of practice are described where they could be observed, and unique features are presented. Where possible, comparisons and contrasts are drawn between the approaches employed in Western Europe, the former Soviet Union (FSU) and the United States. Value judgements of "better" or "best" are not appropriate in this comparison since both the West and the countries of the FSU have been successful in meeting their objectives in the development of subsea systems and technologies.

Numerous factors have conspired to limit the validity and scope of the team's understanding of how SE&I is practiced at the many locations visited. This is particularly the case in Russia and Ukraine, but is also true to a lesser degree in Western Europe. These factors include the lack of time at each site; the lack of common understanding of SE&I; the necessity for splitting into teams, so that the author of each topic in this report had to rely on data acquired by others on the panel; and the unevenness of the visits. Some of the visits focused on real hardware and others on general discussions. Some meetings were strongly orchestrated by the hosts, with little freedom for interchange. This was not due to the hosts' lack of openness as much as their uncertainty about the team's interests and the language barriers. The result is that very often perceptions were obtained, rather than solid evidence and facts. Consequently, the following discussions are more a starting point than a closed set of conclusions.

The Role of System Integration

SE&I is a somewhat arcane engineering discipline, but is one that is critical to the successful operation of any system comprised of multiple and interdependent subsystems and functions. It is practiced in different ways and on different levels by each developer of UVs and related technologies. In some cases the UV systems are sufficiently simple that SE&I is almost an unconscious part of the design, fabrication, and test process. In more complex systems, where larger teams of engineers are required and a broad range of advanced technologies are employed, the process is more formal and rigorous and often requires a separate systems engineering organization. In all cases it is the process that defines and controls the various technologies and disciplines that are required, and the interfaces that enable the subsystems and functions to work effectively together. Ultimately, the SE&I process must identify and resolve all conflicts and interferences that might otherwise render the system ineffective.

The Importance of System Integration

SE&I, which has evolved primarily in the United States, has become an important part of the development process. This is especially the case in projects conducted by and for the U.S. government, although SE&I is pervasive in the marine and offshore industries. Part of the reason SE&I has become a major emphasis in the United States is due to the following:

The result has been something of a "Catch 22." As the United States moves toward unmanned and more complicated operations, there is an attendant increase in hardware and software complexity and thus development and maintenance costs. This, in turn, fuels the search for more efficiency in the UV systems and the processes by which they are developed. The result is a spiralling of high technology, increased costs, and time-consuming engineering refinement and optimization. It is not uncommon for development of a new UV to cost from tens to even hundreds of millions of dollars, and to take four years or more to make it ready for operations. In some cases, due to rapidly changing economics, politics, and technologies, the need for the system and/or the technology base may be obsolete before the system is ready for use. SE&I has become one of the main ways of seeking improved development efficiency and lowered costs.

Early on, the WTEC panel decided that to obtain an end-to-end perspective of underwater vehicle capabilities, SE&I had to be included in the technology evaluations of Europe, Russia, and Ukraine. The topic is divided into four phases of SE&I: technology evolution, system design and development, assembly and test, and field test. The following sections describe the methodologies and provide an assessment of the tools and support systems that are available.

Published: June 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian