Navy's 'Smart Ship' passes tests

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - After a five-month voyage earlier this year, Navy officials believe its prototype "Smart Ship" has demonstrated the potential for reducing on-board manpower by rigging a ship with high-speed networks and using PC applications to steer the vessel and carry out other critical operations.

The Smart Ship, the USS Yorktown, a guided missile-cruiser that is docked here, was developed as part of an effort to find policy and procedural changes that might allow the Navy to operate its ships with fewer people, much as other agencies have reduced staffing by automating office operations with payroll and personnel systems.

For the Yorktown, the Navy has developed Microsoft Corp. Windows-based applications to monitor the engine, respond to fires and other emergencies and to maneuver the vessel at open sea using a satellite-based technology. Such automation makes it possible for the Yorktown to cut back on the number of people working in the engine rooms and on the bridge.

"The Smart Ship Project has demonstrated that shipboard workload reductions are possible while maintaining combat readiness and safety with significant net-positive return on your investment," according to the assessment prepared for the chief of naval operations by the commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. The Navy tested the Smart Ship concept by sending the Yorktown on a "counter-narcotics" operation in the Caribbean, with 12 percent fewer crew members - just 306 enlisted personnel and 22 officers, down from 350 and 26, respectively.

While it cost $8 million to develop and install the technology, such a reduction should save the Yorktown about $25 million a year, the Navy estimated.

But financial savings is not the only benefit, Navy officials said. "This system enhances the way we do business so much," said Cmdr. Eric L. Sweigard, commanding officer aboard the Yorktown. The key concern is "situational awareness," he said. "A commander has to keep aware of what is going on around his ship. These systems make it so much easier to keep that in the forefront."

Smart Ship applications run on ruggedized PC workstations from Intergraph Federal Systems with dual 200 MHz Pentium Pro processors, 256M of memory, a 4G hard drive and 3-D graphics accelerators.

But more important, the workstations, along with critical systems in the ships, are linked by a series of fiber-optic networks. The ship has a high-speed Asynchronous Transfer Mode network backbone with 10 megabits/sec Ethernet connectivity to the desktop. The network makes it possible for users throughout the ship to access any of the applications through any one of the seven consoles on the ship.

Rather than using a large team of people to constantly monitor critical systems, such as the engine or the air conditioning, the Yorktown relies on an application called the Standard Machinery Control System to monitor ship systems for potential problems and uses a smaller team to monitor the computers and react to problems. An application called the Integrated Conditioning and Assessment System automatically logs system performance based on various parameters, making it possible for the crew to monitor the overall health of its systems.

"It has made our jobs a lot easier," said Michael Garner, the gas turbine system technician (mechanical) chief and an engineer in the Yorktown's central control station.

Meanwhile, the ship uses the Damage Control System (DCS) to track the status of, and the response to, fires, floods and other events on board. Because DCS is on the network, people on the bridge and in the Combat Information Center (CIC) can monitor these emergency situations.

The CIC and Central Control Station both can take advantage of the Voyage Management System to get positioning information, and, if necessary, the Integrated Bridge System to actually control the ship (IBS).

The VMS allows the Yorktown to set a course for the ship by establishing points of arrival and departure and way points in between. Once set, the ship, using positioning information from the satellite-based Global Positioning System, will run its course without intervention, with an updated view of its course on an electronic map every 15 seconds. IBS provides computer-based operation of the ship's controls.

Having judged the Smart Ship a success, the Navy plans to freeze development of the Yorktown's technology infrastructure and begin deploying the technology and "lessons learned," on other vessels of a similar class, Sweigard said. Not only will other ships benefit from the Yorktown's experience, but the larger pool of Smart Ships will generate more new lessons, Sweigard said.

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