'Smart ship' a smart idea?
- By Dan Verton
- Mar 12, 2000
How many sailors does it take to save a sinking ship? If you ask the Navy,
they would tell you about 95. That is, of course, as long as the ship in
question comes equipped with the latest information technologies and global
By 2010, the Navy plans to deploy 32 of the most advanced warships to
ever set sail. Known as the "smart ship," the DD-21 Land Attack Destroyer
will rely on revolutionary changes in technology to reduce the number of
sailors needed on board by about one-third. Destroyers, which now require
a crew of more than 300, will need a mere 95 when the first DD-21s are launched
Good idea? The Navy thinks so. It retained the expertise of Aptima Inc.
this month to provide software that will help model and design the most
optimal crew for the new ship.
The company's modeling tool, appropriately called TIDE (Team Integrated
Design Environment), uses complex formulas to take into account advances
in technology and allocate functions between humans and machines.
But not all experts are convinced the reduction in personnel is such
a good idea, particularly some Navy destroyer veterans who served in past
wars and argue that conducting damage control, such as fighting onboard
fires, with only 95 sailors is wishful thinking.
"It is folly to jeopardize the safety of the crew and the ship by believing
that automated systems will handle any given situation," said Chic Sale,
a retired chief operations specialist. "Automated damage control? I do not
But the DD-21 will improve the crew's chances of survival because of
integrated electric power supplies and critical components that are more
modular, said Adm. Michael Mullen, director of surface warfare for the chief
of naval operations staff. At a recent Pentagon press briefing announcing
the Navy's commitment to the DD-21 concept, Mullen said those components
will help the ship avoid damage. "Not taking a hit has very profound warfighting
capabilities," said Mullen, who acknowledged that damage control "takes
a lot of people."
Sensors, intelligent interfaces and advanced computer systems "should
enable rapid detection, reaction and elimination of fires and other problems"
aboard DD-21s, according to briefing documents published by the Navy. "Automated
systems can assist with rapid reaction and containment capabilities," the
Aside from enhancing survivability, the Navy plans to use IT to determine
each sailor's responsibilities on the ship in a way that makes them more
effective than before.
According to the Navy, sensors and global connectivity will allow fewer
sailors onboard DD-21 to react more efficiently to maintenance problems
and work with experts in the United States via remote satellite links to
Requisitions for parts will be made via the ship's global communications
system and items will be delivered directly to the ship. Online shore-based
maintenance expertise will guide crew members through the most difficult
to solve problems, and online training support will be available 24 hours
a day to produce the most well-rounded, multifunctional crews ever fielded.
However, Thomas Randall, a former surface warfare-qualified machinist's
mate 1st class, said, "There are no automated systems that can replace the
resourcefulness, ingenuity and inventiveness of a man under the pressure
of the possible loss of life in a damage control situation."
Retired Vice Adm. Doug Katz, president of the Surface Navy Association,
said damage control has been the Navy's strength over the years and automation
allows you to do many things today that were not possible a few years ago.
But Katz added that it is important to balance low manning levels against
what the threat will be in 2010. "We still have to be ready for the big
war," he said. But "DD-21 is a technological leap forward. If we don't make
this jump with DD-21, we're in real trouble because we can't get there with
what we've got."
Martin Libicki, a defense analyst at Rand Corp., said one of the most
common ways to integrate damage control into a ship is through compartments
that can be sealed off from the rest of the ship. That's a well understood
concept that can be enhanced through the use of automated systems and remote
maintenance capabilities, he said.
John Leahy, director of communications for Sun Microsystems Federal
and a former Navy captain, said veterans should not think only of the older
ships they served on when considering the role of technology. Leahy said
he sees enormous opportunities for automated damage control, particularly
in things such as automated sprinkler systems to put out fires and hatches
to seal off flooding.