Navy, Marines ring in Year 2000

Sailors and Marines from the U.S. 7th Fleet and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) last week threw an early New Year's party festooned with streamers and balloons to celebrate the successful completion of a 10-day test to validate that all of its computer code is free from Year 2000 bugs.

The nine ships participating in the exercise - including the USS Blue Ridge, which is the 7th Fleet command ship, and the USS Belleau Wood, an amphibious assault ship, both equipped with advanced 155 megabits/sec fiber-optic local-area network backbones - advanced their clocks to Dec. 31 for the Year 2000 exercise, allowing for New Year's parties on the ships before the clocks rolled over.

Capt. Manuel Malagon, director of command, control, communications and intelligence for the 7th Fleet, said the sailors and Marines had plenty to celebrate following the test. The fleet and the 31st MEU, both based in Japan and key elements of the U.S. presence in Asia, experienced only two minor glitches in the 94 systems involved in the Year 2000 validation test, which included an amphibious landing on Kin Beach, Okinawa, on the last day of the exercise.

One of the glitches involved a controller for a weather tracking antenna on the Blue Ridge, which locked up as the clock rolled over, Malagon said. The controller unlocked after the rollover. Another problem occurred in a network server on the Blue Ridge: Its clock displayed the date "1/9/A1" after the rollover.

But the validation exercise - which included a practice assault landing by the 31st MEU with helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles on Sept. 25 - resulted "in no show stoppers," Malagon said. "We did a lot of preparation to make sure the software upgrades went well, and we had 120 [primarily Navy] systems developers on board to help us."

Testing 94 systems spread across nine ships during an amphibious assault was an important part of the validation test and the first time an entire MEU has participated in such a test, Malagon said. "Interoperability and the ability to integrate these systems are key factors," he said. "In an amphibious exercise, you have a cast of thousands. It's a battlefield where you have naval shore support fire coming in, helicopters operating and ordnance flying.... You need synchronicity, and this test gave us a chance to look at all of that."

The validation test provided a comfort level to sailors who still need to go through the real New Year's, according to Operations Specialist 3rd Class Lowell Jones on the USS Juneau, a landing platform dock amphibious ship. "Now, we know that [come] New Year's, we won't find ourselves looking at a bunch of blank screens - we've seen the system go to 2000 before," Jones said.

The fact that the 7th Fleet and the 31st MEU encountered only negligible Year 2000 problems, Malagon said, resulted from the "deep involvement of the systems commands" such as the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command "in getting us the right software patches.... They have done a great job."

Other ships in the 7th Fleet/31st MEU Year 2000 test included the following: the guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes; the guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain; the destroyer USS Cushing; the stores shop USNS San Jose; the fleet oiler USGS Tippecanoe; and the salvage ship USS Safeguard.

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