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In photos: New Navy vessel's revolutionary IT

A close-up look at the HSV 2 Swift's cutting-edge systems

By Dan Verton
April 2, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The U.S. Navy has a new ship in its fleet that officers say may be the most technologically advanced vessel produced to date, with IT capabilities that are revolutionizing naval warfare and may play a vital role in responding to potential terrorist attacks in the U.S.

The HSV (High Speed Vessel) 2 Swift, a 294-foot, aluminum-hulled catamaran, has a crew of only 42 sailors, but the lack of manpower is made up with extreme levels of automation.

Nearly every function of the ship, from navigation and steering to engine and damage control, is conducted and monitored using commercial, off-the-shelf hardware and software.

Here's a close-up look at the ship's cutting-edge IT.

Commercial computer systems provide all of the Swift's navigation and steering capabilities, according to Sr. Chief Lineman Lawrence Naumann. "There are three people on the bridge at any given time. That's all we need to drive the ship," he said. A standard Navy ship requires eight to 10 sailors on the bridge

The officer of the deck sits in the center seat on the bridge and also serves as the driver, using the navigation system seen here. "We drive on auto pilot 90% of the time," said Naumann. The navigation-steering system is designed to have no paper charts. In fact, the Swift is the only ship in the Navy currently authorized to run the paperless chart system, according to Naumann. "It takes its inputs from radars and global positioning systems and will give you cross-track errors, distance to your waypoints, how long it will take you to get where you are going, and tides and currents for the places you want to go." The Swift is powered by fully automated engineering systems, including main engine controls, hydraulics, fuel pressure and system temperatures. The entire ship is also monitored by a network of security cameras that provide commanders a view of all engineering and work spaces. Likewise, thousands of heat sensors have been networked so that fire and damage control can be directed to a precise location.

The officer of the deck steers the Swift using a joystick similar to that found on a commercial video game. Naumann, who has 18 years of experience steering ships, said the Swift is the most highly maneuverable ship he has ever been aboard. "As I'm coming into port, you'll see me standing here like this with my hand behind me on the joystick and driving," said Naumann. With minor turns to the "Moment" switch, located to the left of the joystick, Naumann can make the Swift "turn on a dime."

The Swift's Combat Information Center, or CIC, is home to all of the ship's command, control, communications, computer and intelligence systems. The ship provides both classified and unclassified network connectivity and has an experimental wireless LAN that allows anybody who comes aboard to simply plug in their laptop. The Joint Interoperable Mission Planning and Rehearsal System was designed to allow a commander to conduct mission planning while en route to a crisis area. Traditional systems used a standard 64Kbit/sec. connection to communicate with headquarters facilities. However, with the use of accelerators, the Navy has increased bandwidth capacity by 400%. "Currently, the USS La Salle has a 3Mbit connection. We think we can get a 6Mbit connection and up to 24Mbit using accelerators," said Dick Pearson, a systems engineering consultant at Dataline Inc. Another system, known as Combatss, which stands for Component-Based Total Ship System, is the command and control system that is being used aboard the Swift. Seen here is an example of how the system, using a software application called InfoScene, can track an incoming missile in 3-D and immediately analyze its flight path and trajectory as it approaches U.S. Navy forces offshore.

Based on commercial hardware and software, Combatss was first used aboard the Sea Shadow experimental ship on the West Coast, where the Navy was able to remotely control a ship more than 3,000 miles from shore. "We were able to control the temperature in the payload area, light-off generators, take control of the helm, look at the navigation picture and operate the ship off the coast of California successfully," said Jerry Lake, an engineer contracted by the Navy to work on Combatss. Users interface with Combatss using a Mozilla browser. The U.S. Navy is also experimenting with an unmanned, armed vertical take-off and landing vehicle known as the Fire Scout, seen here. It includes advanced ground-control facilities that encompass the U.S. Navy's Tactical Control System software developed for Navy ships as well as forward-deployed Marines. The system also includes tactical data links, a communications relay capability and modular components for easily changing sensors.

The Fire Scout will be flown by a computer operator using a joystick controller in the Combat Information Center, said Petty Officer Thomas Riner. "You can do all of the planning using the software, hit a button and the vehicle will take off and fly the mission," said Riner. "With the click of a mouse you can change its mission, or another aircraft can communicate with it and take control."

(All photos by Dan Verton.)

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