New ship electronics programs are prime candidates for COTS

March 1, 1997
Experience shows that shipboard applications below decks operate in relatively benign environments where mil-spec equipment can easily give way to commercial off-the-shelf on a surprisingly large components number of surface and subsurface vessels.

Experience shows that shipboard applications below decks operate in relatively benign environments where mil-spec equipment can easily give way to commercial off-the-shelf on a surprisingly large components number of surface and subsurface vessels.

By John Rhea

Two new U.S. Navy shipbuilding projects, the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock (LPD-17) and the Arsenal Ship to provide supporting firepower for troops and aircraft ashore, represent an opportunity to revolutionize Navy operations - and shipboard electronics.

The underlying rationale is to achieve interoperability among ships, other platforms (including airborne and land-based), services, and even allied forces in ways never before possible. Based on the lessons of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, top U.S. military leaders are placing a new emphasis on coastal, or "littoral," operations rather than the traditional open-ocean operations common during the Cold War.

This fundamental shift in the tasks of today`s Navy requires new tactics that embrace an expanded spectrum of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance plus the necessary supporting hardware to carry out these tactics.

In effect, an enhanced communications technology will overlay existing sensors and processors - which themselves will be progressively upgraded - to create a tightly coordinated striking force better able to carry out anticipated littoral warfare tasks than ever before.

And, since ship designers are locating most of the new hardware in the relatively benign environment below deck, this evolving military doctrine also offers opportunities for the insertion of affordable commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies integrated into open-systems architectures to make way for an almost continuous upgrade process.

Open systems

Open-systems electronic architectures that designers envision for shipboard use will be able to accommodate fast improvements in processors, solid-state memory, network interfacing, and application software with little or no bad affect on overall architecture. In fact, many open-systems architectures can accommodate improvements on the fly with so-called "hot-swap" printed circuit boards that technicians can switch out while the system is operating.

Of the two new projects, the Arsenal Ship is about as close to a "blank sheet of paper" design as shipbuilders and electronics suppliers could desire. This is a design-to-cost project, so COTS will play a major role. Framers of the project also aim at reduced manning requirements - the goal is to have no more than 50 crew members per ship - which means more electronics to do what sailors hitherto have done in their routine duties.

Although plans for the Arsenal Ship do not call for any sensors other than those necessary for navigation, including global positioning system receivers, it will be heavily communications- and computer-intensive to perform its mission. This leads observers to speculate that electronics could account for as much as half of the sail-away cost of the six Arsenal Ships - one demonstrator to be upgraded later and five operational ships.

The Arsenal Ship is a joint program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with participation by the Naval Sea Systems Command and the Office of Naval Research. The main purpose of the ship is to carry about 500 vertical missile launchers, which dictates its size: about 600 feet long, or roughly half the length of a supertanker.

The design-to-cost goal is $450 million to $550 million for each of the five operational ships and $390 million for the demonstrator, which will not initially have the launchers. Total research and development costs through completing the as-yet unnamed demonstrator are pegged at $520 million.

On Jan. 10 DARPA named the three semi-finalists to compete for one year before the selection of the prime contractor on the program. Each received a $15 million contract increment. They are:

n General Dynamics Marine/Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, as team leader, with support from General Dynamics Marine/Electric Boat in Groton, Conn.; Raytheon Electronic Systems of Lexington, Mass.; and Science Applications International Corp. of McLean, Va.

n Lockheed Martin, Government Electronic Systems, Moorestown, N.J., teamed with Litton Industries/Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Miss., and Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Va.

n Northrop Grumman Corp. of Sykesville, Md., with National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. of San Diego; Vitro Corp. of Rockville, Md.; Solipsys of Columbia, Md.; and Band Lavis & Associates Inc. in Severna Park, Md.

Making the most of COTS

"The goal in a perfect world is to maximize COTS," says Bill Parks, Northrop Grumman`s deputy program manager for the project in the company`s Bethpage, N.Y., office. Since the ship will not carry radars and sonars, its COTS electronic content will involve command and control - specifically connectivity to other offboard sites such as Army missile batteries.

Automation to reduce manning will be another electronics opportunity and a natural one for COTS. Parks says crew size will have to be somewhere between zero and 50. The hardware and software for that are readily available from commercial sources.

Yet another electronics challenge for the Arsenal Ship planners will be finding ways to reduce its vulnerability. A large, slow, valuable platform in the immediate vicinity of a combat zone would be an overwhelmingly tempting target for enemy aircraft, surface ships, and submarines, so ways will have to be found to reduce its visual, electronic, and acoustic signatures.

Active countermeasures such as chaff dispensers and passive electronic support measures developed for past platforms will have to be devised, including ways to identify and counterattack hostile sensors. And the vessel will likely require some protection from other platforms in the striking force.

The LPD-17

The LPD-17, for which the $641.4 million prime contract went in December to the Avondale Alliance, which consists of Avondale Industries Inc. in New Orleans, and GD`s Bath Iron Works, will also stress interoperability. Given the connectivity requirements and the bandwidth and space limitations inherent in ships, it will need a command and control suite capable of supporting its mission. This means the Joint Maritime Command Information System (JMCIS) as the gateway to the DOD-wide Global Command and Control System (GCCS) to provide data link and integrated voice communications.

In this case, interoperability means accessing the GCCS for such information as air tasking orders, logistics (within the Navy and with the other services), and up-to-date intelligence.

Another Navy project that may determine future electronics at sea is the "smart ship" experiment using the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Yorktown (CG-48), outfitted with a $6 million Integrated Control System (ICS) from the Litton Industries Sperry Marine Division in Charlottesville, Va. The ICS is designed to reduce the ship`s manning requirements.

"This is not just a science project. We`re using COTS and we`re saving money," says Hube Hopkins, a Sperry Marine engineer. The idea behind the Yorktown experiment is to see if the manning reductions made possible by automation can be scaled up to larger ships, where the savings would be more significant.

If so, this will require new thinking in the Navy. "It`s not just technology, but culture," Hopkins explains. "You have to re-engineer the way you run a ship." He explains that COTS always must match to Navy requirements and procedures. For example, upgrading a three-node Ethernet local area network to a 10-node system requires procedural changes. Software support is particularly critical in these applications.

The interoperability issue will be particularly critical for the Navy`s New Attack Submarine (NSSN), says Bob McCaig, technical director for Lockheed Martin`s portion of the NSSN program at Manassas, Va. "NSSN will be the first platform to have a deep need for interoperability" because of its need to work with a battle group in littoral warfare operations, he explains. And that means JMCIS interfacing with GCCS to achieve DOD-wide interoperability.

Furthermore, McCaig says he expects COTS equipment to satisfy 75 percent of these requirements. He cites the NSSN as an example, which has the Hewlett Packard 743 processor, SHARC 21060 for signal processing, the IBM Power PC throughout, BARCO graphic engines within displays, Unix software, and growing use of asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) for networking applications.


"Interoperability is the key," adds Russ Adamcajk, Navy and intelligence sector manager for the Mercury Computer Systems Inc. federal government office in McLean, Va. He says his company has already demonstrated dual-use technologies for viable command and control in airborne reconnaissance and integrated ship self defense systems. These technologies are to be validated in future Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration exercises.

The idea of interoperability among the services evolved out of the Gulf War, Adamcajk adds, noting that "the adversaries are not always obvious" and that emphasis on shallow-water littoral operations will require ships to implement new onboard electronics. This is particularly true of the LPD-17 and Arsenal Ship, he says.

"The Navy is attempting to exploit price-performance with COTS," he adds. This involves shipboard and platform-based upgrades with COTS to interface with the offboard command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence systems to get away from the "stovepipe," i.e., isolated, approach of the past.

Mercury Computer Systems, based in Chelmsford, Mass., last year won a job to provide its RACEway multiprocessing computers as part of an upgrade for the Los Angeles-class (SSN 688) attack submarines. Mercury engineers will supply the ruggedized signal processing computers to Atlantic Aerospace Electronics Corp. of Waltham, Mass., where designers will use a Fibre Channel interface to Mercury`s RACEway Interlink.

The idea initially is to upgrade the SSN 688`s combat sonar to keep them on a par with the Navy`s NSSN, which is due to begin construction in 1998. Based on sea trials, planned to begin later this year, Navy officials will decide what portion of the fleet will receive the upgrade.

"This is an important step in providing the latest technology to our submarine fleet," says Timothy Douglas, program officer at the Navy Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) at Newport, R.I. "By using COTS products, NUWC is able to bring this program to early sea trials quickly and economically."

Interoperability among aircraft and surface ships is also being pursued at Lockheed Martin Tactical Defense Systems in Eagan, Minn., where engineers are trying to demonstrate the cooperative engagement capability (CEC) on a P-3C aircraft using the UYK-70 architecture and common software and hardware. Testing with a CEC battle group is planned for April and May using a single aircraft with an advanced development system similar to systems currently installed on a U.S. Customs Service P-3.

Cooperative engagement

Michael Lulu, P-3C acquisitions manager for Lockheed Martin-Eagan, envisions similar CEC capabilities for the Navy carrier-based Northrop Grumman E-2C radar aircraft. That turboprop`s mission requires onboard CEC to broaden the horizon for sensor data, Lulu notes. The hardware would amount to three workstations weighing about 140 pounds each when the system evolves from advanced development to production models.

CEC would represent the next step beyond the current Link 11 system, Lulu says, which uses UHF and HF radio signals in a non-real-time mode to pass tactical information among ships and aircraft. This older system has been in the fleet for at least 15 years and is NATO-compatible, but it is due to be phased out and replaced with more modern tactical data links such as CEC and the Link-16 Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, better known as JTIDS.

Doug Patterson, marketing manager for the DY 4 Systems Inc. federal marketing office in Warrenton, Va., sees the industry converging on a mixture of COTS products for shipboard electronics. He cites the vertical launch system for the Aegis upgrade as an example of applying COTS correctly. "There`s no problem with COTS below decks or under sea," he says, but the salt spray and the wide swings of temperature above deck require special shielding in what he calls an "armadillo and cocoon" approach.

VisiCom Corp. in San Diego is supplying its Antares VME printed circuit boards to the Lockheed Martin (formerly Unisys) UYQ-70 program, and its Antares 4000 series of special-purpose I/O circuit boards enable commercial computers operating thorough the VME bus to interface with Naval Tactical Data Systems (NTDS) units.

Ozzie Monge, federal sales manager at VisiCom, explains that under the Navy`s Next Generation Peripheral program old NTDS peripherals will transition functionally into UYQ-70 chassis using COTS components. This is an open system architecture that can accommodate any COTS mass storage device, he says.

At the "wet end" of shipboard electronics - sonar hydrophones and signal processing - Bill Hamblen, manager of the applied physics department at BBN Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., makes the point that the whole field of sensing must not be overlooked in favor of the more glamorous advances in signal processing and electronics. "At any given time one of these is dominant [in Navy thinking]," he says, and the sensing side is a critical enabler to get the raw data to the electronics.

Hamblen cites a trend toward hull-mounted sonars as an alternative to towed arrays, such as the Conformal Array Velocity Sensor program, but he says the problem involves isolating the sensors from the ship`s noise by putting them in a "bubble" that is free of extraneous noise.

Click here to enlarge image
Click here to enlarge image

The U.S. Navy "smart ship" experiment on the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Yorktown uses a $6 million Integrated Control System (ICS) from the Litton Industries Sperry Marine Division to reduce the ship`s manning requirements. The Yorktown experiment is to see if automation can reduce crew requirements.

UYK computer replacement uses COTS

Engineers from Computing Devices International in Bloomington, Minn., are applying commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology in a new generation of shipboard computers to replace the venerable UYK-43 and -44 standard shipboard mainframe computers with less-costly and higher-performing models that have an open system architecture to facilitate future growth.

The Mk-162 computers, which company leaders designate CD1100, are mechanically compatible with the older UYK systems on a form and fit basis, but at less than half the price (less than $100,000 vs. $250,000 for the UYK-44) and faster (50 Million instructions per second vs. 2 million instructions per second, thanks to the use of commercially available Power PC microprocessors), says Tom Rent, a member of the systems engineering group in the company`s Defense Electronics Division.

Computing Devices engineers have been producing the new computer since 1995 for a variety of ships, including Aegis cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. ((are there aegis carriers?)) They are used below deck, so they can operate at temperatures of 0 to 50 degrees Celsius, and meet the MIL-S 901 and 167 shock and vibration standards.

Each unit contains a VME64 backplane and can accommodate as many as 14 VME 6U modules and two removable mass-storage devices. Computing Devices officials have delivered about 300 of those devices, known as the UYH-16, for Ticonderoga-class (CG-47) Aegis cruisers, and they also run about $100,000 each, Rent says.

These new powerful computers enable Navy planners to move to network operations from obsolete point-to-point communications schemes. Rent describes what he calls the "ship gridlock" system in which a battle group must coordinate headings of each ship with a common view of the battle to allocate targets. - J.R.

Click here to enlarge image

Computing Devices International is using COTS technology to build replacements for the UYK-43 and -44 shipboard mainframe computers. The CD1100 is mechanically compatible with the older UYK systems, but costs less than half the price of the UYKs.

Weapon tests target interoperability, COTS

Interoperability of weapons among platforms using common commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics and sensors is an important goal of experts at Systems & Electronics Inc. in St. Louis with their new Valkyrie naval weapons system.

The company first tested the system on an instrumented naval patrol boat - a retired Special Operations 20-meter-long Mk-3 - in November 1995 at Patuxent Naval Air Station, Md., in exercises co-sponsored by the Navy, Coast Guard, and service special operations forces. Then last August experts tested the system again at Patuxent River to make sure it can interface with Army fire control systems.

The goal is to blend several weapons and concentrate firepower in a single, deck-mounted system, explains Dick Horning, director of business development at Systems & Electronics. One of the lessons learned in the Persian Gulf War was the vulnerability of ships to sudden attacks by small cigarette boat-size attackers. The lesson was that defenders needed a quicker reaction capability than conventional protection systems such as the Phalanx close-in weapons system can provide.

Now, Systems & Electronics executives are investigating whether the mount can interface with the U.S. Army`s 25 and 30 mm Bushmaster II guns and be used on the U.S. Marine Corps` new Advanced Amphibious Attack Vehicle.

Click here to enlarge image

Weapons interopability among platforms using COTS is a goal of the Valkyrie naval weapons system from Systems & Electronics Inc. In tests on an instrumented naval patrol boat engineers made sure the Valkyrie can interface with Army fire-control systems.

Shipboard electronics acronyms

ATM Asynchronous Transfer


CEC Cooperative Engagement


DARPA Defense Advanced

Research Projects Agency

GCCS Global Command and

Control System

ICS Integrated Control System

JMCIS Joint Maritime Command

Information System

NSSN New Attack Submarine

NTDS Naval Tactical Data System

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