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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With all the high-tech advancements on the ship, it's incongruous that it has a painfully slow Internet connection while at sea. The crew can access the Web and use e-mail while under way, Johnson said, but the connection to the Internet is through a slow Inmarsat satellite service. "Unfortunately, on this ship, we have a 128Kbit/sec. connection out through the Inmarsat to the satellite," he said. "Yeah, so it's pretty slow. It works. Everything works fine, it's just I wish it was faster. Everybody wishes it was faster."

Even with the slow connection, Tisdale is busy with his video camera, which he uses to continually post video updates to the Navy's Web site. The Navy is even utilizing "new media" in an effort to broaden its audience, Tisdale said, and is posting videos to sites such as YouTube.

Besides the slow Internet connection, another surprise was the lack of operational Wi-Fi networks. Matthews said wireless networking wasn't a requirement from the Navy, but "we put it in there because we thought . . . if there were other LCSs in the area that one of the ways you could communicate would be using a wireless network. So instead of just having radio circuits for your own voice communication, if I had a wireless, I could have a whiteboard going, I could have a chat or collaboration so that the coordination of more than one LCS could be facilitated."

With no other LCSs yet online, though, that wireless scenario hasn't been tested. And the question of how many more LCSs will be built -- if any -- hasn't been decided.

The USS Freedom
On the USS Freedom , a skeleton IT staff maintains networks with more than 9,000 components. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

One other LCS is being built by General Dynamics, in competition with Lockheed Martin to win a final contract from the Navy for more ships. The Navy contracted with both companies to build two prototypes each. The Navy will then have the option of going with one company for the rest of the ships it orders or even splitting up the order and contracting for more ships from each company. It hasn't said which course it will take, if either.

Some reports have indicated that the Navy wants up to 55 LCSs. But development of a second Lockheed Martin ship and yet another General Dynamics ship was stopped in 2007 by the government because of much higher costs than were estimated.

Matthews said Lockheed Martin was in negotiations with the Navy to continue the program and has submitted a proposal to move forward.

Meanwhile, the Freedom is now in Norfolk, Va., where it will undergo tests and sea trials before sailing to its home port in San Diego next year. On the trip to Norfolk from Marinette, Wis., where it was built, it made a series of public relations stopovers in the Great Lakes area and on the East Coast to show off its capabilities and technological advancements highlighted by integration, redundancy, open architecture and, especially, automation.

The ship is so automated, Johnson said during a tour of the topside deck in Boston, that the big barrels holding the lifeboats are about the only things on the ship that need to be handled manually -- that and flushing the toilets, added Johnson and Tisdale at nearly the same time, with laughs.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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