Pacific Fleet sails into cyberspace

HONOLULU - The "tyranny of distance" has continually confounded sailors since Magellan set out on his epic journey across the Pacific Ocean. Nearly 500 years later the U.S. Pacific Fleet based here has yet to find a way to shorten the sailing time across this ocean.

But the fleet has discovered that the World Wide Web is an electronic bridge that can span the 102 million square miles of ocean on which its 190 ships and 217 000 sailors and Marines operate.

By next October the Pacific Fleet plans to have developed Web home pages for all its units operating from the U.S. West Coast to Japan according to Journalist Chief Chris McIntire at the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet Public Affairs Office. Using the Web the command will disseminate information on a near-real-time basis to external and internal audiences.

Capt. Keith Arterburn director of the Pacific Fleet's Public Affairs Office believes the Web will play a key role in keeping ships' crews and their families at home in touch. Deployed units will be able to quickly upload electronic post cards to home as soon as they dock in a far-off port or on larger ships with high-bandwidth satellite terminals send those post cards while under way.

The USS Blue Ridge command ship of the Seventh Fleet already has this capability click on the "See Where We've Been" button on its home page (www.c7f.yokipc.navy.mil/c7fblu.html). Available is a list of the Blue Ridge's destinations from 1995 through 1997. Click on any of these and a smart link quickly takes you to the relevant section of the CIA World Fact Book while other buttons provide in-port and at-sea images.

Arterburn said the Pacific Fleet also plans to use the Web pages to compress the distances between its deployed units and stateside media. Referring to "Operation Tandem Thrust " an ongoing exercise in Australia involving 23 000 sailors and Marines Arterburn asked rhetorically "How do you get coverage for an exercise that's 10 000 miles from the U.S.?" The Web provides the answer the Seventh Fleet will maintain a Tandem Thrust site from Australia for the duration of the operation (www.c7f.yokipc.navy.mil/dwnundr.html).

The site provides background information on the exercise and a "News" button that offers daily information. The page allowed Navy commanders on the scene to quickly counter reports that the stateside press picked up from Australian media saying a typhoon had caused the cancellation of the exercise Arterburn said. A "People" page (www.c7f.yokipc.navy.mil/people.html) gives internal and external audiences snapshots and brief bios of some of the personnel participating in the exercise.

The Pacific Fleet home page (www.cpf.navy.mil) offers high-quality images that surpass many images found on other Web sites. Before randomly firing off digitized photos into cyberspace McIntire asked newspaper photo editors about the quality of photos they wanted. The result is an "Imagery" gallery that offers well-composed high-resolution images that are pleasing to the eye on screen and on the printed page. To sample the quality of images check out the digital photos of ships from the People's Republic of China's navy visiting Pearl Harbor (www.cpf.navy.mil/prcships.htm).

The Pacific Fleet still has a way to go before it meets its ambitious goal of setting up home pages for all its subordinate units but those already on-line have gone a long way in proving that digits can indeed reduce distances.

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