Smart ship: steady as she goes

WASHINGTON - U.S. Navy officials say they will proceed with fielding a new Windows NT-based automated ship-control system despite problems that caused engine shutdowns on a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser that was testing the system during sea trials last fall.

By John Rhea

WASHINGTON - U.S. Navy officials say they will proceed with fielding a new Windows NT-based automated ship-control system despite problems that caused engine shutdowns on a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser that was testing the system during sea trials last fall.

Despite the problems aboard the Aegis cruiser USS Yorktown (CG-48), the test ship for the Navy`s "smart ship" program, Navy officials are sufficiently satisfied with the sea trials that they are proceeding with the installation of the automated ship control system on the other 26 cruisers of the Ticonderoga class.

The problems occurred in September 1997 off the coast of Cape Charles, Va., and were traced to the Windows NT operating system by Anthony DiGiorgio, a civilian engineer with the Atlantic Fleet Technical Support Center in Norfolk, Va.

The revelations of DiGiorgio, a self-described whistle-blower, appeared in the May issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings. Disputing DiGiorgio`s report was Capt. Richard Rushton, commanding officer of the Yorktown, in last month`s issue of that magazine.

The problems were not with the operating system, Rushton says, but rather with the way crewmen interpreted the data. This resulted in two losses of power for about 30 minutes each.

The Yorktown sea trials represent the lynchpin of the entire smart-ship program, which is based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology to reduce manning requirements. Navy leaders want to extend smart-ship technology, which reduced manning from 380 to 339 on the Yorktown, to other classes of ships.

In May leaders of the Naval Sea Systems Command in Arlington, Va., moved to outfit 26 of the Aegis cruisers (all except the Yorktown) with the smart ship package, through a $138 million contract to Litton Guidance and Control Division in Northridge, Calif.

This project is "a quantum leap into COTS," says Ben Tipps, business development manager at Litton. Company engineers already began work and expect to complete it in five years.

The package has an open-system architecture that should make it readily transferable to other combat ship classes, Tipps says, citing the Kidd- (DDG-993) and Spruance-class (DD-963) destroyers as the next logical steps. Litton officials also are proposing to install the package on the latest Nimitz-class aircraft carrier known as CVN-77.

The crux of the problem with the Yorktown - and the reason that Navy leaders put new technologies through rigorous sea tests - involved attempts to overlay the new digital procedures on existing analog data networks, Tipps explains.

The problem centered on the motor-control system, which in the past received control instructions from the engine room, but which now takes orders from the automated system over an optical fiber local area net work.

Litton engineers build the old analog systems, which they will phase out with the upgrades. The new digital system will have a distributed architecture with five routing paths through the ship to provide an extra margin of safety in case of fire, explosion, or other accident, Tipps says.

The new system architecture digitizes the analog sensor data as close as possible to the sensors and other information sources. Machine control, meanwhile, is part of a digital loop with redundant logic. Instead of merely displaying the status of the ship systems, consoles will alert the crew to what went wrong and either recommend action or tell the crew what the automated system will do to correct the problem on its own.

Based on what Navy officials consider a successful proof of concept with the Yorktown, studies are proceeding on how to extend the smart-ship concept functionally as well to other classes of ships. The package for the 26 Ticonderoga-class cruisers essentially automates the ship operating systems. Tipps suggests the same technology could extend into command and control and other non-tactical operations and eventually into combat systems.

Navy leaders are also considered committed to NT despite the greater experience - and hence confidence in reliability - of the Unix operating system. The underlying reason is that the young seamen who do the work on board the ships already bring with them a familiarity with Windows and Navy officials do not have to retrain them.

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