Navy tests the 'new world' of larger LANs

The Navy last week ramped up an experiment to test how information technology can improve the Navy's performance in battles.

In the so-called "Ring of Fire" experiment the USS Coronado two carriers and their air wings a three-ship amphibious-ready group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) tested how IT could improve the use of smart weapons.

"We're looking at how to control the next generation of smart weapons " including the advanced Tomahawk missile system and other munitions that rely on the Global Positioning System (GPS) for precision strikes said Lt. Ross Mitchell who designed the Ring of Fire experiment. "We're talking about an order of magnitude difference...from a handful of GPS-capable Tomahawks to 700 precision-guided munitions a day."

The first phase of the experiment was conducted last month when the Navy used what it calls a "battle" local-area network to transmit photos of a target that a fighter jet planned to bomb. In the experiment a team of SEALs the Navy's elite Special Operations Forces unit sent a digital photo of a bridge at the China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center in California to the Coronado. The ship enhanced and transmitted the image to a pilot in an F/A-18 aircraft who used the image to identify and attack the bridge. It was the first time the Navy transmitted ground-to-air digital photos of targets [FCW Sept. 1].

Ring of Fire is part of the larger Fleet Battle Experiment-Bravo (FBE-B) which designers say will test how the Navy fights wars in the 21st century. The exercise is similar to Hunter Warrior which the Marines conducted in March to begin testing how IT can be applied to battlefield situations [FCW March 17].

As an exercise in networked warfare FBE-B and Ring of Fire will "stress" existing Navy shipboard systems said John Dunn systems engineer for the Navy Pacific Fleet headquartered in Hawaii. "We are going to be doing many things simultaneously [during the exercise] that will make high use of our LAN " he said. "I don't know the throughput requirements but I do know it will put another stake in the ground for our requirements for [Asynchronous Transfer Mode]-based LANs."

Taste of the New World

FBE-B Dunn said will provide Pacific Fleet commanders with a taste "of the new world we are headed for with larger LANs more capable high-bandwidth satellites for even smaller ships and the migration toward Web-based decision-making."

The Coronado also can easily tap into national imagery sources such as satellite and aerial reconnaissance photos for real-time targeting data according to Rick Kirchner a China Lake-based system engineer for the Rapid Targeting System installed aboard the command ship.

"We [have] demonstrated the capability to provide extremely current cueing information and imagery products to a tactical aircraft to successfully guide the pilot to the target in a Joint Force Air Component Commander afloat scenario " Kirchner said.

In the latest experiments the Coronado will use the battle LAN off the Hawaii coast to help manage simulated forces the USS Nimitz and the USS Constellation and their air wings plus ground troops from the 13th MEU which will conduct amphibious landings on Oahu and the big island of Hawaii.

Marine Capt. Richard Sheehan 13th MEU communications officer said the Marines will field 30 Situational Awareness Beacon with Reply (Saber) units during the exercise which will feed track data into Marine systems as well as the FBE-B networks.

Saber provides the location of troops to commanders and units by disseminating GPS position location information via line of sight and satellite data links.

Sheehan said the MEU also will field a military satellite communications terminal the Marines call the "Enabler " which provides the ground forces with the same Secret Internet Protocol Rout-er Network connectivity available to the afloat forces.

Sheehan also said the Marine command center which is located aboard the USS Pele-liu an amphibious assault ship has recently been upgraded as part of the Navy's Information Technology for the 21st Century project. The so-called "green space" on the ship is packed with state-of-the-art computers including the latest generation of Navy Tactical Advanced Computer-4 workstations and a suite of Intel Corp. Pentium computers.

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