The Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC), a University-Affiliated Research Center (UARC) of the US Department of Defense, leverages the research and expertise of faculty, staff, and student researchers from more than 20 collaborating universities throughout the United States. SERC is unprecedented in the depth and breadth of its reach, leadership, and citizenship in Systems Engineering. Led by Stevens Institute of Technology and principal collaborator, University of Southern California (USC), the SERC has engaged more than 400 researchers since its founding in 2008 – a community of broad experience, deep knowledge and diverse interests. SERC researchers have worked across many domains and industries, including finance, telecommunications, computing, transportation, in addition to defense, enabling them to bring broad perspectives to their research.
The Need for Systems Engineering Research
Our ability to successfully build adaptive, resilient and secure complex defense systems is increasingly constrained by how well those responsible for conceiving, developing, manufacturing, and operating those systems can work together effectively. Such systems require cross-disciplinary teams who work together to understand what is needed and develop cost effective solutions. Systems engineers are responsible for integrating disciplines, balancing conflicting characteristics, and affordably delivering capabilities. Systems engineers have been constrained, however, by the limitations of their discipline, especially in four areas:
- Enterprises and Systems of Systems – We lack the foundational SE principles, methods, processes, and tools to enable the DoD to architect, design, analyze, monitor and evolve complex enterprises and systems of systems to provide the DoD with an overwhelming competitive advantage over its current and future adversaries.
- Trusted Systems – We need to achieve much higher levels of system trust by applying the systems approach to achieving system assurance and trust for the increasingly complex, dynamic, cyber-physical-human net-centric systems and systems of systems of the future.
- Systems Engineering and Management Transformation – We lack the systems engineering and management methods, processes, tools and practices to enable rapid, concurrent, flexible, scalable definition and analysis of the increasingly complex, dynamic, multi-stakeholder, cyber-physical-human DoD systems and systems of systems of the future.
- Human Capital Development – We need to dramatically accelerate the professional development of highly capable systems engineers and technical leaders in DoD and the defense industrial base and determine how to sustainably implement those findings.
The discipline of system engineering must evolve to meet these challenges through sustained strategically focused research and effective transition of that research to practice.
The Systems Engineering Research Center
The SERC was formed in 2008 to meet these challenges. The SERC has developed a strong research portfolio around the four areas identified above, drawing on the best minds across the nation. Over the six years since it was formed, the SERC has developed and disseminated research that is in use by all DoD services, published in over 100 papers and books, and is integrated into the courses of dozens of universities, affecting how systems engineering is performed around the nation and beyond. The SERC is a lean organization, with only a handful of full-time employees. Research is performed by faculty across its more than 20 collaborating universities, with support of research staff and students. A single project may draw on researchers from several universities, each of whom contributes to well-defined research goals achieved over multiple years. Since inception, DoD has funded nearly forty million dollars in research. Currently, there are more than 20 active research projects whose total past, current, and projected funding is well over twenty million dollars. A five year technical plan, approved in 2013 by the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, defines the SERC research portfolio, which is reviewed annually to respond to changing DoD needs and technological opportunities.