Aboard the Navy's high-tech pioneer, the USS Freedom

Brand new ship designed to operate in shallow waters and under combat displays multiple technological advancements (see video below)

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Also included in the CCS are duplications of consoles on the bridge, where the Readiness Control Officer can monitor the overall status of the ship's systems and direct damage control and other functions.

With advanced integration, automation and redundancy, "there's not a lot of maintenance I have to do," Johnson said. But he noted that being responsible for 85% to 90% of the ship's systems -- and even acting as the help desk guy -- keeps him plenty busy.

Johnson has a lot of experience and training to rely on. He has worked with computers for about 10 of the 12 years he has been in the Navy and has all the pertinent certifications from Microsoft and Cisco, including the Microsoft Certified Trainer certificate. At his last command, he was an IT academy instructor.

That may be why he's posted to what is probably one of the plum onboard IT positions in the Navy. As the ship's public affairs officer, Lt. j.g. William Ben Tisdale, put it, "This is the first ship of its class, and you're looking at a guy who's the forerunner, basically paving the way for how things are going to be."

Johnson does share IT duties with other information systems technicians, since the Freedom has two wholly separate crews -- Blue and Gold -- that take turns manning the ship. The alternate crew has two information systems technicians of its own.

A new level of automation

Johnson couldn't do what he does without state-of-the art automation. Pointing out that he was previously stationed on aircraft carriers that needed about 80 IT people alone, he said that on the Freedom, "one person running the whole thing or two people running the whole thing, that's pretty significant." The ship is so automated that as few as nine sailors could operate the entire ship if necessary.

One example of this automation is the Main Propulsion Communication Management System, which lets one person remotely control valves, monitors, engines and other equipment for fire suppression and other functions. "I thought that was pretty impressive," Johnson said. "You can shut a valve off with the push of a button from a console, shut off water, turn on water, turn on lights, shut off lights." On other ships, people have to go find a valve, for example, and manually crank it on or off.

Jeanine Matthews also identified automation as one of the most significant technological advancements found on the Freedom. She is the director of business development for the Littoral Combat Ship program at Lockheed Martin Corp., the prime contractor in the consortium that built the ship.

The bridge
This shore-based simulator of the bridge supports the Navy's use of virtual environments and commercially available hardware. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

Matthews noted that automation enables "minimal manning" of ships, which has been a goal of the Navy since the late 1990s, primarily to cut operational costs. A guided missile frigate is similar in size to the Freedom but has a crew of more than 200. "So you can imagine salaries, benefits and everything else for 200 people versus 45 people," she said. "That's a pretty significant difference."

When that number of people is multiplied by the number of LCSs, or "platforms," in Navy-speak, it becomes clear that "instead of having 200 people on one platform, I basically have enough crew for four LCSs. So I can really increase my capabilities," Matthews added.

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