COTS guides design of USS Yorktown Smart Ship damage-control system

July 1, 1997
ARLINGTON, Va. - U.S. Navy officials who designed a new Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) fiber optic network for damage control aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Yorktown (CG-48) "Smart Ship" say they are pleased that they chose the best commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology available, rather than pushing the custom technological envelope.

By Wilson Dizard III

ARLINGTON, Va. - U.S. Navy officials who designed a new Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) fiber optic network for damage control aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Yorktown (CG-48) "Smart Ship" say they are pleased that they chose the best commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology available, rather than pushing the custom technological envelope.

The Yorktown, a Ticonderoga-class Aegis ship based in Pascagoula, Miss., recently completed a five-month deployment in the Caribbean. During the mission, the new damage-control system (DCS), like the vessel`s other Smart Ship systems, was subjected to a comprehensive operational test and evaluation with positive early results, Navy officials say.

"The secondary evaluation starts in the coming weeks," says Mark McLean, fiber optics topology and networks program manager for Naval Sea Systems Command in Arlington, Va. (NAVSEA).

During the coming studies, members of the Navy`s Operational Test and Evaluation Force and Board of Inspection and Survey will further study the effectiveness of dozens of new computer systems installed on the Yorktown and make recommendations for the backfit of the technologies to existing ships and "front fit" to new combatants.

NAVSEA`s goal in loading the Yorktown with computer technology ranging from a cashless electronic payment system to a fiber optic backbone for information system management is to reduce the number of crew members on ships, slash maintenance, and improve performance while making a technological leap in electronics of several generations.

The damage-control system epitomizes the design approach for all the Smart Ship systems. The enabling technologies applied to the fundamental problem - how to best monitor damage to the vessel and allocate damage-control resources to various tasks - have been plucked from the pages of today`s commercial electronics catalogs rather than painstakingly and expensively developed to Navy specifications.

Designing the damage-control system were engineers at CAE Link Corp. of Binghampton, N.Y. "All of the software was existing applications," McLean says. "It was a big software integration job. The government was the applications integrator."

The workstations for the system are from Intergraph Corp. of Huntsville, Ala., which use 200 MHz Intel Pentium Pro processors with 256 Megabytes of RAM; they rely on Windows NT 4.0. "The networking devices were provided by Xylan Corp. of Calabassas, Calif.," McLean says.

The network switches use an Ethernet LAN operating in ATM. The systems are ruggedized to the NEMA-4 (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) standard. The software for the damage-control system is written in C. The system uses COTS and non-developmental item technology throughout. "We`re very satisfied with the product," McLean adds.

Broadcast domain

The damage-control system operates in a broadcast domain, as each of the several workstations distributed around the ship simultaneously receives updates about damage conditions and activities of damage-control teams. The teams cope with various results of enemy action, including flooding, fire, smoke, and their effect on damage control components such as fire main valves, air vents, and fire zone doors.

"The DCS replaces the phone talkers and repair locker communication," McLean says. "It automates a manual damage control process. It provides an integrated, total ship situational awareness. Everyone sees the same picture. Previously, each [damage control station] had to keep their own charts. Now the information is entered once and distributed simultaneously."

Key advantages of the ATM system, according to McLean, are:

- tremendous increased response time to situations;

- improved, high-quality communications;

- integration of control functions, such as the controlling of fire pumps;

- reduced training time for damage control specialists; and

- reduction in the number of separate components, or "line replaceable units," carried on the ship, which has contributed to a 40 percent cut in the time devoted to maintenance.

The damage-control system is one facet of a Yorktown-wide fiber optic network that also supports similarly-conceived and designed systems including the ship`s Standard Machinery Control System; Integrated Condition Assessment System; and Integrated Bridge System. Those systems were provided by CAE; Idax, of Norfolk, Va.; and Sperry Marine of Charlottesville, Va., respectively.

Disabled nodes

Like the others systems on the ATM fiber optic backbone, the damage-control system can function with one or more of its workstation nodes disabled. The ship`s damage control assistant, an officer who reports to the chief engineer, can coordinate damage control activities from any one of the workstations.

"NAVSEA is aggressively looking at installing this capability on forward fit and backfit [vessels]," McLean says. "We`re having discussions with the carrier program office. I think the fleet is very excited about this technology."

Integrating the various new technologies into the Yorktown enables the ship`s commander, Capt. Rick Rushton, to reduce the ship`s crew during the recently completed deployment by approximately 70 members, out of a normal complement of nearly 400. That`s a significant savings, considering the Navy budget for fiscal year 1996 rated officers at a mean annual cost of $75,726 and enlisted men at $33,623. Those figures include pay, housing, training, and benefits.

The Smart Ship program itself does not have a funding line of its own in the Navy budget - money for the modifications was contributed by various program offices. The overall cost of the program is being evaluated in a special study by the Naval Audit Service.

The computer systems that comprise the Smart Ship technology were installed during a normal ship overhaul session last summer. The Navy invited proposals for Smart Ship Systems in a Broad Agency Announcement released last year, and received more than 600 bids. The program now has entered a second stage under a new BAA which will be open through the summer.

Smaller crew

The reduced manning levels and new procedures called into being by the Smart Ship technology are "a mega-paradigm shift in doing business for the Navy," McLean says. "You have to think differently about how you use the technology and the sailors. The technology is not difficult. It`s the cultural change. The younger officers expect and demand this technology. The sailors pick up on this. We`re now dealing with the Nintendo generation."

More information about the Smart Ship program, including an extensive question-and-answer board that reflects the inquiries of contractors and even seamen on the Yorktown, is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.

Click here to enlarge image

Some of the industry`s leading COTS local-area network technology is part `Smart Ship` Yorktown`s damage-control system. Pictured above is the Yorktown sister ship USS Ticonderoga.

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