Building DOD’s Largest-Ever Digital Twin of Its Kind

The Challenge: Accelerate Hurricane Recovery Through Innovation

On October 10, 2018, the eye of Hurricane Michael passed over Tyndall AFB, which occupies 14 square miles of the Florida Panhandle. Ripping apart aircraft hangars and runways, the Category 5 storm’s 160-mile-per-hour winds caused $5 billion in damage throughout the home of the 325th Fighter Wing. As a result of one of the most powerful continental U.S. hurricanes ever, the Air Force faced the colossal task of cleaning up over 750,000 cubic yards of debris and rebuilding or repairing the nearly 500 buildings that once stood on the installation.

Instead of moving to rebuild the base to its former state, Air Force leaders sought to redesign it from the ground up as an Installation of the Future. This innovation hub would harness climate-resilient infrastructure and emerging technologies. It would take a digital-first approach to manage the immense design and construction efforts, while at the same time improving operational efficiency, cost control, and safety and security. And it would vet modernization insights for use across the Department of Defense (DOD).

To begin acting on this plan, decision makers first needed to provide Tyndall’s civil engineers with a better way to test infrastructure designs and fully assess rebuild risks and costs before pouring new foundations. To help meet the challenge of shaping a futuristic installation, the Air Force contracted with the Booz Allen team, including Ares Security, and our partner Unity to develop a first-of-its-kind installation-scale digital twin of a DOD installation.

Tyndall Airforce Base after Hurricane Michael Tyndall AFB student barracks after Hurricane Michael. (The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) visual information does not imply or constitute DOD endorsement.)

The Approach: Unlocking 21st-Century Infrastructure Management

Today’s U.S. military installations are critical infrastructure that enable safety and mission continuity. As a result, the redesign of Tyndall required leading-edge digital, artificial intelligence (AI), and engineering capabilities across the solution lifecycle—from design and construction to maintenance and operations. While conventional approaches to managing a project of this magnitude can be siloed and manual, often forcing decisions based on incomplete or obsolete data, the massive scale and rapid pace of Tyndall’s rebuild required a new approach. This approach used innovative technologies centered on the digital twin to provide the Air Force with an insight-driven step change in infrastructure management.

Working closely with installation leaders, we designed our digital twin approach specifically to enhance collaboration, increase situational awareness, and expand the Air Force’s ability to rapidly test and simulate decisions in the construction process in a risk-free environment before implementation. Tyndall’s digital twin can accurately visualize the installation in extended reality while preserving the engineering and technical data underpinning every object in the digital environment. Unity’s real-time development platform and Unity Reflect allow the digital twin to seamlessly import complex engineering models (e.g., BIMs) and make them easy to explore on desktops and in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). This approach positioned the client for benefits across key areas:

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Streamlined Planning

Sample Use Case: Through VR planning reviews, we provided concurrent users with the ability to navigate a building in VR while leaving comments and annotations on issues and equipment layouts.

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Flexible Design

Sample Use Case: Leveraging the ability of the digital twin to conveniently model a host of alternative solutions, we designed robust virtual training tools to provide security personnel with options for simulating security threats to the Tyndall facility or personnel.

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Low-Risk Operations

Sample Use Case: To increase asset visibility and simplify operations and maintenance, we enabled users to monitor live sensor data about installation infrastructure and processes through AR and VR tools.

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Climate-Resilient Facility Sustainment

Sample Use Case: We built simulations leveraging the reality-based physics of Unity to enable users to implement mitigations for future hurricanes and other events faster knowing they had already validated the best courses of action.

To help shape the "Installation of the Future," the Air Force contracted with the Booz Allen team, including Ares Security, and our partner Unity to develop a first-of-its-kind installation-scale digital twin of a DOD installation. Pictured Above: The Tyndall AFB digital twin on Unity's Reflect.

The Solution: From Hurricane Wreckage to a Military Metaverse

As a result of this project, Tyndall is accessing instant data insights continuously delivered by DOD’s largest-ever digital twin—a massive, interconnected, systems-of-systems platform that has already ingested massive amounts of information for analysis and use. The data reflects almost 29,000 acres of geographic information system layers; 32,000 square feet of road and airfield pavement; 14,000 acres of terrain and topography in a digital elevation model; approximately 2.4 million feet of water, gas, and other utility assets; and more than 100 facility BIMs. Integration of enterprise data systems, such as real property and sustainment management (i.e., facility condition assessment) systems, feeds key data sets that enable never-before-seen analysis and contextualized visualization of results to support critical decisions.

Booz Allen helped Tyndall realize efficiencies and harness innovation at every stage of the solution. This support included optimizing the overall data strategy to ensure that the system and approach would meet user needs, as well as implementing an advanced data capture and integration system. Data capture included the use of small, unmanned aircraft system (sUAS)-mounted, vehicle-mounted, and hand-held photogrammetry and LiDAR to create engineering-grade infrastructure models. Capabilities like these are essential for representing legacy structures and ensuring an accurate “as-is” state for the digital twin from terrain contours to asset condition assessments. The integration of these models with existing data systems enables new analysis capabilities, allowing leaders to make more informed decisions.

Our team also improved the processing of the data to speed capture and built task-specific features and simulations on top of a baseline capability to enable multiple applications across the engineering lifecycle. We deployed these capabilities to users after user testing and device configuration to help the installation’s engineers and operators accomplish their work with greater effectiveness.

Today the Tyndall digital twin accurately visualizes the base in extended reality (XR) while preserving the engineering and technical data underpinning every object in the digital environment.

This work is enabling the Air Force to implement a powerful, user-friendly, technically sophisticated engineering tool for stakeholders at all levels to explore in the Tyndall Hololab. Tailored user experiences now serve the needs of multiple functional teams. And this project's data analysis and decision-making advantages extend throughout the revitalized base. A few examples:

  • Reduced Change Order Costs: Early buy-in to designs before construction began is helping to prevent costly downstream change orders, potentially improving cycle times for critical design processes by up to 30%.
    • Virtual design review of future buildings identified four structural anomalies during a single hour-long demo that would have otherwise resulted in change orders during construction.
    • Another virtual design review enabled the correction of an equipment order before purchase when users recognized that the planned equipment would not fit in the allocated space.
    • Providing an interactive virtual BIM environment for stakeholders to perform virtual walkthroughs and annotate issues could avoid an estimated total of $183 million in change-order costs.
  • Optimized Crisis Response: With the capacity to simulate “what-if” scenarios using AI-powered modeling and simulation, base engineers can identify at-risk infrastructure during a flood event or simulate traffic movement to determine road and gate closures and optimize responses.
  • Increased Alert Context: The digital twin gives operators context to sensor alerts in a facility, helping them validate if, for example, a fire alarm is going off while thermostats throughout the building show normal temperatures, helping identify nuisance alarms more quickly.
  • Vast Range of Simulation Scenarios: The 325th Security Forces Squadron is using the open architecture of the COTS platform underpinning the digital twin to provide critical and accurate data to Ares Security to simulate multiple scenarios, including active shooter scenarios at the Tyndall elementary school; gate runner actions on the airfield; and sUAS attacks; to identify other threat vectors and mitigation strategies; and to evaluate new security technology before implementation.

Looking Ahead

According to the Air Force, “Team Tyndall is creating a stronger, more efficient, and innovative 21st-century base to serve as the new standard for DOD installations.” As this vision becomes reality through a blend of physical and virtual worlds, Booz Allen and Unity commit to continually expanding the art of the possible at Tyndall with intelligent systems that will enable the use of emerging technology to improve data accuracy and immediacy, among other enhancements.

In the future, we look forward to bringing the installation-scale solution produced through this project to enterprises across DOD to enable applications for digital twins that run at massive scale. Large-scale digital twins will serve as the foundation for the enterprise metaverse of tomorrow, where installations will operate at a new frontier of data integration, cloud platforms, and quantum computing to push the envelope for both scale and mission relevance. 

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Harnessing the Power of Real-Time 3D with Unity

Digital twins are technically realistic replicas of systems, processes, or objects. They work by directly connecting to, or twinning with, their physical counterparts through continuously updated data feeds. Booz Allen and Unity’s Government and Aerospace team collaborate to help federal agencies rapidly develop digital twins at enterprise scale across government sectors:

  • Booz Allen is the largest provider of AI services for the federal government, with a successful record of digital twin investment and deployment in the public sector since 2017.
  • Through the Booz Allen BrightLabs research and development group, we invest in digital twin, XR, 5G, cloud, quantum, and other emerging capabilities that enable the blending of physical and virtual worlds to support mission use cases and introduce a new paradigm of interaction.
  • With Unity Reflect, Unity is an industry leader in providing the software organizations use to create and operate interactive, real-time 3D content experiences.
  • Together, we deliver digital twins that are secure, automated, and scalable for applications such as built infrastructure, systems engineering, and aviation fleet sustainment.

Blending our technical and mission strengths, the government-customized platform we built for Tyndall integrates powerful Unity Reflect technologies with Booz Allen’s digital twin engineering baselines and accelerators to speed deployment while reducing client risk.