Navy, NGA set sail on paperless navigation project

Service will use digital maps to plot the course of ships by 2009

The Navy, with help from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), is deploying commercial and government-developed software to reach its goal of installing digital maps on the service's fleet by 2009.

In May, the Navy's Aegis guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George became the first ship authorized to navigate with the Electronic Chart Display and Information System-Navy. Within four years, the service wants to replace its paper nautical charts with the new system across its fleet of 286 ships and submarines.

The Electronic Chart Display and Information System-Navy is based on Voyage Management System software, developed by Northrop Grumman's Sperry Marine business unit, and the Global Positioning System. The system operates NGA's Digital Nautical Charts based on Integrated Chart Engine Version 2.7, software developed by the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

Capt. Zdenka Willis, the Navy's deputy navigator, said in a Northrop Grumman statement that the system represents a significant technological advance for the service.

"For centuries, the state of the art in marine navigation was defined by manual plotting of a ship's estimated position on a paper chart by projecting its course and speed from the last known location," Willis said. "With Electronic Chart Display and Information System-Navy, mariners can see their ships' actual, real-time, precise position and movement superimposed on a highly accurate electronic chart display."

The crew of the USS Cape St. George started using the system this spring following an extensive safety certification process. Navy officials also approved it for use in the service's Los Angeles-class submarines.

Lt. Tamara Lawrence, a Navy spokeswoman, said the service will spend $19 million in fiscal 2006 to equip 59 ships with the Electronic Chart Display and Information System-Navy. She said the system costs $195,000 each and $218,000 per ship to install.

NGA's Digital Nautical Charts are the core of the system, said Navy Rear Adm. Steven Tomaszeski, former navigator of the Navy who retired last month. He spoke at the agency's Maritime Day event July 20.

"The Electronic Chart Display and Information System-Navy and the Digital Nautical Charts provide improved safety of navigation, enhanced situational awareness, greater interoperability with joint and coalition forces, and significant cost savings," Tomaszeski said.

Since 1997, NGA and industry officials converted more than 5,000 paper nautical world charts onto a database of 29 CD-ROMs that will reside in the ship's bridge. Every 30 days, agency employees will make changes to the charts in the form of software patches that Navy navigators can download via a military network, said Eddie Schantz, a nautical cartographic analyst at NGA, during an interview at the agency's event. The agency makes maps and processes imagery for the military and the government.

NGA previously updated maps from the U.S. military and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by reworking typefaces, making plates and taking negatives, an arduous process done every few years. The agency then needed to fly, ship or deliver them to the Navy's vessels, which stored the maps in a big, gray cabinet on the bridge, Schantz said.

Navy navigators pulled out the big maps when needed and laid them on a flat surface in the bridge to guide their ships. If they came across a new buoy, lighthouse or shipwreck not on the map, they wrote it in and made a note to pass on the changes to NGA, he said.

Digital Nautical Charts "will allow for easier updates," Schantz said. "With Digital Nautical Charts, you know where you are now instead of where you were," Schantz said.


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