MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 22, 2011) -- Engineers have to change how they think and challenge every assumption if they want to develop the best equipment for America's fighting men and women, said Maj. Gen. Nick Justice at the Naval Postgraduate School System Engineering Lessons Learned Conference yesterday.

"Look at our vehicles. It's amazing the amount of equipment we put in a vehicle, and the only integration we do on that vehicle is to ask that 18- or 19-year-old Soldier to integrate it in his mind," Justice told attendees at the conference held 20-21 Sept. in Seaside, Calif.

"Those systems were designed to make things easier on those Soldiers, but we're complicating their lives instead of making them easier. Those engineers set out to do a good thing -- we all do," he said. "We are going to build a good system. But we do it in a vacuum. We do our little piece."

The lesson, Justice said, is that engineers need to make sure their systems integrate with the other systems -- and with Soldiers.

"When you're doing systems engineering you've got to think about people as part of that system, if not the system itself."

Putting Soldiers at the heart of the system is just the beginning of how the Army has asked engineers to challenge every assumption, he said.

"For example, our systems in the military today are bounded by the infrastructure. What does that mean? Take electricity. The light bulb was invented around 1880. It hasn't changed much. How does that limit what we do today? Some of our modern equipment draws very little power, but what kind of electricity do we plug it into? One-hundred and 10 volts, because that's what was needed in 1880.

"We have to think about the legacy systems we have to deal with and what they do to our thinking. You have to be careful how you define the problem, because that defines how you think about it," Justice said.

Army engineers are now rethinking how they design equipment for Soldiers, Justice said.

"How we equip Soldiers is really a great example of non-systems thinking. Look at the redundancies. They have a scope for their weapon and another set of optics in their night vision. They have a weapon that hasn't really changed that much since it was invented. If they're in charge they probably have a couple of radios, one for talking to up the chain and one for talking with the people around them, and so on.

"We need to bring that down to one set of optics and one radio. We're looking at radical infrastructure changes that will make that soldier's life better," he said.

Such changes also allow the military to have a system ready to adapt to new threats and new environments without having to reengineer systems from the ground up.

"Many of the challenges we face in DoD today are challenges over time. Many of the things we put in the field today are state of the art when they're fielded, but we have to invest over time. Look at the B52 bomber. It may end up having a longer lifespan than anyone in this room."

An example of how to address these issues is the Victory Architecture, a successful example of changing the infrastructure, Justice said.

"We wanted to get away from what we have now where we have multiple systems bolted on to a vehicle and to something unified with a set of standards we can design to so everything works together for the Soldier, instead of the Soldier working to make everything work.

"So we went out to industry and asked them to participate in looking at our vehicles," Justice said. "What we got was what we call the victory architecture. It took us about 3 years, but the victory architecture will allow us to go back to the beginning and design in integration and get greater capability and take burden off the Soldiers."