The Naval Postgraduate School’s Department of
Systems Engineering Approach to Mission
Engineering Education through Capstone Projects
Douglas L. Van Bossuyt * , Paul Beery, Bryan M. O’Halloran, Alejandro Hernandez
and Eugene Paulo
Department of Systems Engineering, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA 93943, USA
*Correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel.: +1-831-656-7572
Received: 1 July 2019; Accepted: 1 August 2019; Published: 4 August 2019
This article presents an educational approach to applied capstone research projects using a
mission engineering focus. It reviews recent advances in mission engineering within the Department
of Defense and integrates that work into an approach for research within the Systems Engineering
Department at the Naval Postgraduate School. A generalized sequence of System Deﬁnition,
System Modeling, and System Analysis is presented as an executable sequence of activities to
support analysis of operational missions within a student research project at Naval Postgraduate
School (NPS). That approach is detailed and demonstrated through analysis of the integration of
a long-range strike capability on a MH-60S helicopter. The article serves as a demonstration of
an approach for producing operationally applicable results from student projects in the context of
mission engineering. Speciﬁcally, it demonstrates that students can execute a systems engineering
project that conducts system-level design with direct consideration of mission impacts at the system
of systems level. Discussion of the beneﬁts and limitations of this approach are discussed and
suggestions for integrating mission engineering into capstone courses are provided.
Keywords: mission engineering; systems engineering; engineering education; capstone project
The Department of Systems Engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey,
California has been educating graduate students on the topic of mission engineering through hands-on
multi-term capstone projects for the last several years. While mission engineering is relatively
new as a topic, the underlying techniques and methods are familiar to many systems engineers.
This article deﬁnes mission engineering as an approach for simultaneously considering operations,
acquisition, and integration and demonstrates the process by which the mission engineering approach
is implemented and taught as part of the NPS Systems Engineering (SE) curriculum.
Educating students on mission engineering is of importance to the Department of Defense (DoD)
and other large organizations to prepare the workforce for tackling large, complex missions that
require multiple systems and assets working in concert. The demonstration of the student mission
engineering capstone project presented in this paper shows how a platform such as the MH-60S
helicopter is a multi-mission platform that is used to perform many different missions throughout
the ﬂeet. Understanding how altering the load-out of a MH-60S helicopter to achieve one mission
objective can erode the ability of the MH-60S helicopter from meeting the objectives of other missions
is an important and powerful learning opportunity for students.
Systems 2019,7, 38; doi:10.3390/systems7030038 www.mdpi.com/journal/systems
Systems 2019,7, 38 2 of 13
This article contributes a description of the position that the Department of Systems Engineering
at NPS has taken in educating graduate students on mission engineering through a capstone project.
In particular, we state that mission engineering education should focus on simultaneous operational
and system-level development to support warﬁghting mission effects, and system integration and
system acquisition. Lessons learned and guidance is provided for other educators to rapidly adopt
mission engineering into the curriculum.
2. Background and Related Research
The following section presents background and related research that deﬁnes mission engineering
in the context of systems engineering and discusses several relevant related educational approaches.
2.1. Mission Engineering in the Context of Systems Engineering
There are multiple candidate deﬁnitions of mission engineering [
]. The National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA) has deﬁned mission engineering in multiple forms [
], Wertz [
presents a succinct summary, stating “mission engineering is the deﬁnition of mission parameters and
reﬁnement of mission parameters and requirements so as to meet the broad, often poorly deﬁned,
objective of a space mission in a timely manner at minimum time and risk”. That deﬁnition has been
reﬁned in recent years, ﬁrst by Sousa-Poza [
] as an approach to coordinated the perspective of the
mission owner, the operator, and the engineer and again by Dahmann and Gold [
] as “deliberate
planning, analyzing, organizing, and integrating of current and emerging operational and system
capabilities to achieve desired warﬁghting mission effects.” Similarly, ISO/IEC/IEEE 21839 [
emphasized the importance of consideration of the mission and deployed context in the development
lifecycle. Speciﬁcally, increased focus is now given to not only the design of the system of interest,
but also to the role of those individual systems in enabling the mission effects of an associated system
of systems (SoS). In order to fully realize the beneﬁts of mission engineering we propose an approach
tailored for the use of modeling efforts throughout a traditionally implemented systems engineering
process to support system development focused on mission execution. Speciﬁcally, per the mission
engineering process presented by Hernandez, Karimova, and Nelson [
] and the Model-Based Systems
Engineering (MBSE) process presented by MacCalman, Beery, and Paulo [
] mission engineering
should be speciﬁcally focused on simultaneous operational and system-level development to support
not only warﬁghting mission effects, but also system integration and system acquisition. Figure 1
present a high-level description of the mission engineering strategy as presented in Hernandez,
Karimova, and Nelson .
2.2. The Naval Postgraduate School’s Systems Engineering Program
The NPS Department of Systems Engineering offers three resident master’s programs as well as
two distance-learning master’s programs. These programs are open to both active duty U.S. Navy
ofﬁcers as well as ofﬁcers from other services and DoD civilians. The programs focus not only on
development of technical skills and expertise, but also focus on development of leadership and
program management skills through operational use of those skills. In support of that goal, students
are expected to produce an individual thesis or participate in an applied capstone research project that
demonstrates the use of coursework concepts in an operational relevant subject.
Unlike many civilian institutions, the vast majority of NPS’s systems engineering students are
mid-career professionals with deep DoD experience. NPS has no undergraduate programs and thus
the Systems Engineering Department focuses exclusively on graduate education. While a small
PhD program exists with roughly 20 students enrolled, the primary focus of the program is on
Systems 2019,7, 38 3 of 13
Figure 1. Mission Engineering Process (from Hernandez, Karimova, and Nelson ).
2.3. Engineering Education
Several approaches are in use at NPS and other educational institutions to teach systems
engineering. Texts such as Systems Engineering and Analysis [
], System Architecture: Strategy and
Product Development for Complex Systems [
], The Art of Systems Architecting [
] serve as the
foundation of many courses in systems engineering departments. In the related ﬁeld of mechanical
product design, The Mechanical Design Process [
] is used extensively. In the case of each
textbook, the process of developing a system generally progresses as follows: identifying stakeholders,
deﬁning requirements, architecting the system, designing the system, prototyping, and testing the
system prototypes, reﬁning the system, manufacturing the system, ﬁelding the system, and maintaining
In the NPS systems engineering curriculum, some courses are homework-intensive and test-based
while others are more focused on a term-long project or on lab sessions. All students complete a two
or three term capstone project as part of a student team and under the guidance of multiple professors
and instructors. The projects are often DoD-sponsored and generally have sponsors who are actively
involved to shape the projects and participate in the in-progress reviews (IPRs). Before progressing
from one stage of a capstone project to the next, capstone teams must successfully complete speciﬁc
milestones and deliverables. This is similar to how some humanitarian engineering capstone and
project courses at other universities are run [
]. However, one signiﬁcant difference is that students
are required to complete the entire project to receive a passing course grade. Dean and Van Bossuyt [
advocated that a phase gate and sprint approach be used but with the ability for students to never
move past a phase gate during the class if they are not yet ready to move forward. In the case of
NPS capstone projects, this is not practical and would prevent students from having the full capstone
experience. On rare occasions, a capstone project may be extended an additional term if a signiﬁcant
issue occurs although such instances are exceedingly rare.
Based on the NPS System Engineering Department’s current trajectory, it is anticipated that
more courses will shift toward project-based curricula and portfolio-building activities will increase.
Hands-on experiences with lab experiments, working with real systems that students may be
Systems 2019,7, 38 4 of 13
familiar with from their prior work experience, and other improvements to the curricula are planned.
Already, several courses such as the systems architecture course have shifted to have expanded
3. Overview of Capstone Course
The capstone teams at NPS are comprised of between 4–8 students, each of which completes a
research project. Some students also complete a master’s thesis although not all programs require
this. The projects cover a range of topics, from system component integration analysis to early stage
operational concept development. The projects are associated with research sponsors who provide
direction and guidance regarding the speciﬁc subject matter and are advised by a team of NPS SE
faculty members, who guide the project execution. Traditionally, the projects either span the full
spectrum of a systems engineering process similar to the Vee model as deﬁned by Systems Engineering
and Analysis [
] or conduct an in-depth analysis of system development in a segment of that process.
Critically, to ensure relevancy and feasibility in a nine-month time frame the projects are focused
on production or analysis of a speciﬁc system or system component. The projects generally span
nine months and teams deliver three progress reviews to the faculty and sponsors. The projects that
speciﬁcally implement a mission engineering approach expand the focus from analysis of a speciﬁc
system or component to explicitly consider the impact that the design of that system may have on the
mission effectiveness of the broader SoS in which the system will be deployed. (It should however
be noted that focus in the capstone projects often remains on an individual system within a SoS and
with a mission engineering context rather than on the larger SoS.) This necessitates a focus on three
major areas: System Deﬁnition, System Design, and System Analysis. Figure 2presents a notional
capstone process consistent with best practices in SE that adheres to the general fundamentals of
Please note that the capstone process presented in Figure 2is intentionally generic to allow for
ﬂexibility in subject matter. The capstone projects adhering to this mission engineering approach
provide instructive feedback to the associated research sponsors in the area of System Deﬁnition,
Modeling, and Analysis. Typically, those results are used to inform further studies that may be
implemented in operational environments.
Mission Engineering Capstone Projects
While Figure 2presents a general approach to analysis that has been used for multiple capstone
projects at NPS, it has not been explicitly linked to the mission engineering concept. To achieve
that linkage, recent capstones have applied the process from Figure 2in parallel to each domain of
mission engineering. Recall that the capstone teams at NPS are typically comprised of 4–8 students.
This segmentation into operations, acquisition, and integration areas allows for parallel execution
of complementary System Analysis. Portions of the team may focus their efforts on development
of operationally focused models while other portions may focus on either acquisition or integration
considerations. Recall that the ﬁrst step in Figure 2is Requirements Deﬁnition; consistent deﬁnition of
system requirements across each of these domains is paramount for consistent modeling and analysis.
The focus on consistency and coordination is a direct application of the coursework completed by
NPS systems engineering students prior to commencement of the capstone project. Speciﬁcally,
students have recently completed the following courses: Capability Engineering (providing a
foundation in modeling and simulation as well as operationally focused system development),
System Architecture & Design (providing a foundation for development of system requirements and
functional/physical architecture fundamentals) and Systems Integration and Development (providing
a holistic approach to system development emphasizing the relationship between each step in the
Individual mission engineering-focused capstone projects often differ in the details of
implementing the mission engineering process outlined above. However, they all adhere to the
Systems 2019,7, 38 5 of 13
general process outlined in Figure 2. Students working with faculty tailor the mission engineering
methodology to the speciﬁc project topic and need. While this is more labor-intensive than a
cookie-cutter one-size-ﬁts-all approach that is sometimes implemented in undergraduate capstone
courses, NPS Department of Systems Engineering faculty generally feel that the beneﬁts to the
ﬁnal project deliverables and the students are worth the extra overhead. This allows for future
mission engineering capstone projects to more fully consider the larger SoS perspective than has been
demonstrated in recent capstones.
Figure 2. NPS Mission Engineering Capstone Process.
Systems 2019,7, 38 6 of 13
4. Example Capstone Report
As a demonstration of the Mission Engineering Capstone Integration, the authors present an
example capstone project by Broadfoot, et al. [
] that adheres to the process outlined in Figure 2.
The study focused on the operational impact of the introduction of a rotary-wing aircraft equipped with
a long-range standoff capability on the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations concept. Speciﬁcally,
the project focused on appropriate operational employment of long-range engagement capable MH-60S
helicopters in support of Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) missions.
4.1. MH-60S Capstone System Deﬁnition
The ﬁrst phase of mission engineering-focused capstones is Requirements Deﬁnition and
Architecture Deﬁnition, both of which comprise the general area of System Deﬁnition. Figure 3
presents the results of both of those process for the MH-60S project.
Figure 3. MH-60S System Deﬁnition.
Systems 2019,7, 38 7 of 13
Please note that the Requirements Deﬁnition process resulted in two major focus areas: Processing
of Target Data and Firing of a Long-Range Missile (LRM). These two major requirements are elaborated,
and the resulting decomposition is used to inform the functional architecture development. Speciﬁcally,
an iterative loop of Target Detection, Engagement, and Assessment for ASuW is deﬁned as a SysML
Activity Diagram. The key activities that enabled LRM use as a supporting system for DMO were
detection of a target, ﬁring of the LRM, and engagement of targets with the LRM. Accordingly, System
Modeling was initiated with the focus on development of a model capable of representing each of
those three primary activities.
4.2. MH-60S Capstone System Modeling
The second phase of mission engineering-focused capstones is System Modeling, deﬁned by
Baseline Modeling, Experimental Design, and Simulation Modeling. Figure 4presents the results of
both of those process for the MH-60S project.
Figure 4. MH-60S System Modeling.
There are several points of emphasis within Figure 4. First, the baseline system model is a direct
application of the sequence of activities presented in the architecture development phase. Speciﬁcally,
the model is focused on Target Detection, Engagement, and Assessment. System and range dependent
Systems 2019,7, 38 8 of 13
probabilities of success for each potential target were deﬁned and an initial model was created. After the
creation of an initial model, an experimental design strategy was developed to ensure appropriate
examination of the design space. Recall that the Requirements Deﬁnition process speciﬁcally called
out processing of target data and engagement using an LRM as the two primary system requirements.
To ensure adequate examination of those requirements within the model, eight system design variables
were identiﬁed: Number of MH-60S, Number of LRM, LRM Maximum Range, LRM Minimum Range,
LRM Probability of Hit, LRM Velocity, Probability of Target Detection, and LRM Ratio. Additionally,
the model varied the number of enemy fast attack craft and fast inshore attack craft. After the full
range of combinations was deﬁned, the operational model was ﬁnalized.
4.3. MH-60S Capstone System Analysis
The third phase of mission engineering-focused capstones is System Analysis, comprised of
Model Analysis, Dynamic Decision Support, and Reporting & Documentation. Figure 5presents the
results of both of those process for the MH-60S project.
Figure 5. MH-60S System Analysis.
Systems 2019,7, 38 9 of 13
During the Model Analysis phase, several major ﬁndings were developed, all focused on
appropriate use of the LRM in support of ASuW missions. First, the capabilities of the LRM (maximum
range, minimum range, velocity, and probability of hit), subject to the bounds established in the
experimental design phase (Step 4 of the process as shown in Figure 5), were not statistically or
operationally signiﬁcant. This is a particularly valuable insight given that the factor that had the largest
operational impact was the total number of LRMs. Succinctly, the team found that investment in larger
numbers of less capable LRMs had a larger operational impact than investment in smaller numbers of
more capable LRMs. Given the objective of the research was to inform development and use of the
LRM in ASuW missions, the team felt this was an actionable recommendation. To provide speciﬁc
context, the team developed tables and graphics that quantiﬁed the expected performance (in terms of
friendly survivability and enemy attrition) that can be expected in a mission based on the number of
LRMs employed by the friendly force.
The NPS Department of Systems Engineering has received positive feedback both from DoD
project sponsors and from students who have participated in mission engineering capstone projects.
While the evidence is anecdotal, the faculty involved in mission engineering capstone projects feel
that the deﬁnition of mission engineering being used and the approach to mission engineering
being implemented by students is a success. Project sponsors have indicated their approval of
the results of mission engineering capstone projects through repeated funding of new capstone
projects. Students have provided feedback through course evaluation forms and informally that the
mission engineering capstone projects were a highlight of their time at NPS and were useful in their
One limitation of the NPS Department of Systems Engineering approach to mission engineering
capstones is that the students are often not formally informed that they are conducting mission
engineering. Due to the emerging nature of mission engineering as a topic of interest to DoD and
systems engineers, NPS has been teaching mission engineering for several years without describing it
as such. In future mission engineering capstone project courses, the faculty is planning to more fully
and explicitly brief students on mission engineering.
Another limitation of the approach to mission engineering presented above is that students are
unable to complete the entire cycle of mission engineering as described by Dahmann [
]. Within the
conﬁnes of a two- or three-term capstone project, prototyping and/or experimenting outside of a
computer simulation is often impossible. For instance in the case of the MH60s helicopter capstone
project described above, while several of the students were helicopter pilots, students were unable to
test load-out conﬁgurations in the real-world.
The short duration of student capstone projects also adversely impacts the ability of a larger SoS
mission engineering analysis to be conducted. While aspects of the SoS in which a system of interest is
operating are considered, such as in the case of the MH-60S project where other ships and helicopter
assets were considered in the simulations [
], the larger vision of mission engineering looking across
the entire SoS has to date not been fully achieved. However, the ﬂexibility of the implementation of
mission engineering capstones in the NPS Systems Engineering Department allows for future capstone
projects to have expanded SoS scope.
Much like the discipline of systems engineering itself, mission engineering is a rapidly evolving
ﬁeld without a strong, agreed upon deﬁnition and framework. While the mission engineering deﬁnition
and framework presented above is the authors’ interpretation of mission engineering, others may
categorize mission engineering as a permutation of systems engineering. SoS engineering, model based
systems engineering, and other related topics also may lay claim to part or all the processes involved
in mission engineering. It is the authors’ expectation that how mission engineering is deﬁned and how
mission engineering is performed will continue to rapidly evolve over the next several years.
Systems 2019,7, 38 10 of 13
The outcome of mission engineering capstone projects in the NPS Department of Systems
Engineering is generally a report that details the analysis, conclusions, and recommendations
developed by the student teams in conjunction with the faculty. Often, simulation models and
other work products are also delivered in a ﬁnal work product package. Several IPR brieﬁngs and a
ﬁnal project brieﬁng are also produced. This information is then conveyed to the project sponsors and
is archived in the NPS library where the public may view the documents.
5.1. Outcomes to Date
An estimated 30–40% of capstone projects in the NPS Department of Systems Engineering
completed over the last ﬁve years have been mission engineering-focused. This translates to roughly
5–7 mission engineering capstone projects and approximately 30 students participating per year.
For several examples of mission engineering capstone projects, see: [
]. The vast majority of
mission engineering capstone projects at NPS have DoD sponsors funding the efforts. Interest in
mission engineering capstone projects has increased among project sponsors in the last 2–3 years and
is expected to continue to increase in the future.
5.2. How to Implement Mission Engineering in a Capstone Project Class
While no one-size-ﬁts-all approach exists to implement mission engineering in capstone courses,
the authors have the following suggestions:
Identify strong mission engineering capstone projects for students to work on. Allowing students
to deﬁne projects sometimes does not deliver desired results.
Explicitly instruct students on the nature of their capstone projects. Provide literature and lectures
on mission engineering. Speciﬁcally, ensure that students working on mission engineer capstones
are focused on analysis of trades at the system level that may impact mission performance at the
•If at all possible, ensure that there is a project sponsor who wishes to be actively involved.
Require weekly updates from the student teams to describe their progress, pain points, areas they
want help/guidance on from the faculty advisors, and other related information.
•Implement quarterly IPR presentations with deﬁned deliverables.
•Provide standardized IPR presentation and ﬁnal report templates to the student teams.
In addition to the above suggestions, we believe more explicitly addressing mission engineering
in other classes may be useful. For instance, the system architecture course (SE 4150), the systems
engineering introduction course (SE 3100), the system suitability course (SE 3202), and the combat
systems integration course (SE 4115) in the Naval Postgraduate School’s Systems Engineering
Department curriculum may all be good candidates for integration of mission engineering
modules. The authors teach these and other courses in the curriculum where natural ﬁts exist
to explicitly elicit discussion and instruction on mission engineering. Already in several of the
above-mentioned courses, elements of mission engineering are discussed in the context of SoS
engineering, design reference missions, and maintenance logistics. More explicitly weaving mission
engineering into coursework outside of the capstone class may be beneﬁcial to both students who
conduct mission engineering-focused capstone projects and students who conduct system-level or
SoS-focused capstone projects.
6. Future Work
The authors plan to develop mission engineering lectures to deliver to students at the start of
their capstone experience. A dedicated mission engineering class may be added to the curriculum
as an elective in the future. The authors also intend to reach out to other institutions and actively
solicit interested faculty at other institutions to contact them to build a mission engineering education
community to improve how mission engineering is taught.
Systems 2019,7, 38 11 of 13
This article presented an educational approach and example of an applied capstone research
project using a mission engineering focus. The mission engineering capstone projects that NPS
Department of Systems Engineering students have been completing over the last ﬁve years have been
well-received by students and project sponsors. A generalized sequence diagram and description
of how NPS faculty have run mission engineering capstone projects is provided. Discussion of the
strengths and weaknesses of the approach are provided and speciﬁc suggestions to have a successful
implementation of mission engineering into capstone projects is given. A student capstone project
of a MH-60S helicopter load-out is shown as a demonstration of a result from a mission engineering
D.L.V.B. developed, wrote, and assisted in revising the article, and was an advisor for
the capstone project; P.B. assisted in writing the article, revising the article, and was an advisor for the capstone
project; B.M.O. assisted with article preparation and was an advisor for the capstone project; A.H. assisted with
article preparation and was an advisor for the capstone project; E.P. assisted with article preparation and was an
advisor for the capstone project.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Conﬂicts of Interest:
The authors declare no conﬂict of interest. The views expressed in this document are those of
the author and do not reﬂect the ofﬁcial policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.
The following abbreviations are used in this manuscript:
ASuW Anti-Surface Warfare
LRM Long-Range Missile
MBSE Model-Based Systems Engineering
NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NPS Naval Postgraduate School
SE Systems Engineering
DoD Department of Defense
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