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Not Your Grandpa's 'Gator—But It May Be Your Granddaughter's

By Captain Maurice A. Gauthier, U.S. Navy and Ms. Connie Clavier

Women in the Navy and Marine Corps are here to stay. Using the demographics, societal perspectives, and census estimates from 50 years ago to predict exactly today's armed forces composition would have been useless, but the facts do indicate a trend that we can expect to continue as naval forces take advantage of more than 50% of our nation's population, talents, and skills. The challenge then becomes to build a ship that is fully suitable for mixed-gender personnel in littoral operations or wherever the demands of forward-presence take them. The design team at the LPD-17 Program Office is continuing to address this challenge.

The LPD-17 team's approach to the design process involves the Navy ship acquisition team and operational users working together. This "design for ownership" concept defines the ship's owners as the operators, the maintainers, and the trainers.' The heart of this team approach is a process that recognizes the need to create a generation of surface combatants that meet the threats of our projected operating environment, specifically the support of global naval expeditionary operations, while operating within the realities of crew manning.

This is not your grandfather's amphib

The San Antonio class—200 plus meters long and the first hybrid-metric major surface-ship class—is intended to take its place among deploying amphibious ready groups starting in 2004. Displacing 25,000 tons, the 12 ships will carry two air-cushion landing craft (LCACs) or the new advanced amphibious assault vehicles (AAAVs). With a beam rivaling that of the Wasp (LHD-1)-class amphibious assault ships, the San Antonio s' flight deck will support two MV-22s or other Marine aircraft for airborne assault.

What truly sets the ship apart, though, is her sophisticated combat systems and command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence capabilities. Without a coherent tactical picture, the ships could not function as a fully integrated battle group/amphibious ready group player during the next 40 years or so that they will be at sea. To augment battle group defenses, the ship will carry the Rolling Airframe Missile system; the second flight of ships, LPD-20 and beyond, is scheduled to have vertical launch capability for the Evolved Sea Sparrow antiair missile. Facilitating the flow and exchange of information within the hull, the ship-wide area network (SWAN) will link on-board decision makers, operators, and maintainers with fiber-optic technology both within the ship and, via data link, with external activities. The ships' technology will be several generations advanced over the traditional amphibious ship and will be combat-ready as the 21st century begins.

Mixed-gender design considerations

The second key element that sets the LPD-17 apart is her gender-neutral design. Projections anticipate that women will make up from 10% to 25% of the crew, but this may change; Combat Logistics Force ships already are projected to have female manning of up to 40%. Female Marines probably will be included in embarked Marine Corps units. Relevant concerns of both men and women must be taken into account in ship and system design—otherwise future commanding officers will not have the flexibility to establish the appropriate teambuilding command climate or to realize the crew's full potential.

As the initial design process unfolded, Team-17 personnel used system and vehicle models to ensure appropriate form, fit, and function. A simulated model of a Marine prime mover towing a 155-mm artillery piece through vehicle spaces ensured that the truck could negotiate turns and inclines. This same technique was applied throughout the ship by inserting simulation-based humans into spaces and using ergonomics to verify fit and accessibility.

Since there is no one-size-fits-all person, the human model conformed to a range from the 5th percentile anthropomorphic female to the 95th percentile anthropomorphic male Sailor or Marine. Because 90% of the American population, men and women, fall within these parameters, equipment and systems were designed for the majority. There were some exceptions; a 99th percentile Sailor will not fit into a 5-95 percentile berth, so provisions were made for longer bunks and mattresses.

For the same reason, just because the 5th percentile Marine has a 15-inch knee height does not mean that passageway "knee knockers" will be 15 inches high. The characteristics are still averages—some 5th percentile people may be able to lift more, some less. Overall the basic ship designers and simulation-based designers followed the initial criteria and validated it as feasible.

Using these results of modeling and simulation software, Team-17 evaluated human fit and function. Animated human figures, corresponding to prescribed percentile limits, were positioned within the ship and graphically maneuvered through spaces.

Each watch station in the ship's combat information center (CIC) was verified for physical access and display visibility. The modeling demonstrated that specified-percentile humans could walk to a console, sit and fit in the chair provided, view the required displays, and comfortably reach those controls needed to perform required functions. Other controls—remote cutoffs and even light switches—were checked to substantiate access. Overhead height and equipment position also were reviewed in an effort to locate and eliminate physical hazards while ensuring that operators and maintainers could reach their equipment. Even hand and wrist action with respect to equipment operation were analyzed from the ergonomics perspective.

Visibility was an equally important factor in appraising other spaces. The ship's primary flight control was modeled not only to determine if all of the flight deck was visible from the control space, but also to ensure that 5th95th percentile-sized occupants could determine whether a modeled MV-22 or helicopter was turning up. The simulation demonstration in fact led to a modification of window design and location, saving significant acquisition costs had the discovery been made after steel had been cut. Pilot house and conning station visibility also were examined, and the LPD-17 bridge positions and controls proved fully functional.

Individual strength also was considered. Watertight door and multi-dog elevator door designs are being critiqued for easier, less strenuous methods of closing. Even if technology is not the answer, a pull motion is easier than a push and could be incorporated into the closing mechanism. Cargo-handling systems also are being evaluated for ease of operation by men and women when loading stores and ammunition. Most ships use raw people-power for many evolutions, but this is hardly a reason for continuing this into the next century. In fact, lift and strength really are not gender issues (nor is the 5-95 percentile criteria). If a door can be secured with 25 pounds of effort then every crew member within the 90% physical range benefits.

There was more to the class design than just simulation and modeling, however. To optimize the ship's ability to support mixed-gender crews and embarked Marines, the design team created identical berthing spaces and head facilities. Gone are the 240-man berthing spaces, and gone also are the urinals in heads adjacent to the berthing spaces. Any berthing space or berthing head facility will support men or women, providing the flexibility that often is lost when only 10% of the crew is women and only a few giant berthing spaces are available. This approach also ensures that neither women nor men will enjoy better facilities than their shipmates. As an associated improvement, additional heads were placed adjacent to work spaces to reduce time lost in transit and to allow for maintenance.

These ideas and designs were evaluated by the fleet during the design-for-ownership process—and were accepted. It became obvious that these improvements were less a gender issue than one of fairness, eliminating discrimination and improving the quality of life for embarked troops. Everyone would appear to benefit from these design decisions.

Design for ownership

Recognizing that meeting the needs of its owner is an absolute necessity in ship design, Team 17 brought the war fighters into the design process earlier and more frequently than had been done in the past. A series of design-for-ownership conferences and workshops enabled operators, maintainers, and trainers—Navy and Marine Corps—to join with designers and shipbuilders long before construction began. Initially focusing on ship mission and operational requirements, the sessions have narrowed their perspective to specific areas of concern such as manning, habitability, maintenance, and training. The most recent workshop, which focused on mixed-gender issues, was held at the LPD-17/Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Atlantic War Room at the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Virginia. It linked deployment-experienced female Navy officers and enlisted personnel with ship designers and policy makers to ensure that LPD-17 is compatible for men and women.

Initially entitled the "Women at Sea Workshop," the meeting was renamed "Mixed Gender" by the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BuPers) sponsor not just to be politically correct, but to reflect more appropriately the prevailing viewpoints. The importance of this seemingly inconsequential name change was verified time and again throughout the conference as items that initially had been perceived as "woman's issues" often turned out to apply to both genders. Throughout the discussions, Team 17 listened.

Participation in the workshop reflected the full diversity of the Navy and Marine Corps. Key representatives from BuPers, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service, and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Military and Reserve Affairs joined with the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and the Chief of Naval Operations Staff (OpNav) to provide vision and policy guidance. Fleet, type-commander, and amphibious group staff members from both coasts contributed, as did officers and enlisted personnel from the Navy and Marine Corps with recent shipboard deployment expertise.

The results were positive and in some cases surprising. The number one issue was not even gender specific, as recent deployers emphasized the need for more fresh water on the 'gators—whether for hygiene or LCACs it was considered essential to quality of life. The LPD-17's reverse-osmosis water generating plant will satisfy these requirements.

Privacy curtains in sick bay and casualty overflow was raised as a "women's issue," but found to be relevant to men as well; as a result, privacy considerations will be incorporated into all of the bunks in the medical wards.

An excellent example of fleet input concerned the shower and drying area design. The ship was designed to have an improved 25:1 ratio of showers to enlisted crew member, more than any previous amphibious ship, but the workshop participants believed that the number was still not sufficient. The LPD-17 is presently configured with two drying areas for every two shower stalls, but the recommendation forwarded was to drop one drying area in favor of adding a third shower. A troop living space for 42 or 36, for instance, now will have three showers instead of two, a revised ratio of 14:1 and 12:1. Cruise ships may have more showers, but the increase on the San Antonio will be a daily reminder of the value of the design-for-ownership process value.

One mixed-gender workshop contributor recommended more mirrors in the heads and berthing spaces, but this change will benefit men as well as women. A second contributor mentioned concern about the adequacy of ventilation in the heads, particularly with respect to the use of hair spray, but this also appears to be another improvement that will benefit all concerned. Questions were raised about facilities for cutting hair and the need to have a sink in the barber shop available to wet hair prior to cutting—a suggestion that makes sense and can be resolved easily at this stage of design.

Minimizing the number of sounding tubes in berthing spaces is another design enhancement that could improve privacy—and help crew members get more rest when off watch. This suggestion is being incorporated in the design.

In another working group, the delicate nature of women's undergarments was expressed as a concern in today's industrial-strength shipboard laundry facilities. Of course, any male sailor will confirm that a ship's laundry shows no mercy to their undergarments either, so improvements can benefit both sexes. Women also have a larger sea bag allowance for uniforms than men so increasing locker size (beyond 7.5 cubic feet for folded garments and 10 inches of hanging space) to support their requirements will provide another quality of life improvement for everyone.

Some of the mixed-gender issues were controversial. Presently, there is no plan to keep pregnant members on board ship beyond the 20th week of pregnancy, both from policy and medical perspectives. Management of heat and noise, however, is still important to those crew members in the beginning weeks of pregnancy. The LPD-17 team must identify hazardous spaces and try to reduce heat and noise, improving the health of the entire crew while supporting standards developed to protect pregnant Sailors. This comment drew criticism for even considering allowing pregnant women on board ships at all. Still, the LPD-17 design must support policy now and maintain a forward-looking perspective for the 21st century. Fetuses will not be the only ones who benefit from overall enhanced hazard management. 2

Collectively, the workshop added nearly 60 issues that will be addressed and considered by Team 17. This direct interaction with the fleet fully complements the previous effort in design and simulation based design.

Looking ahead

By the time that the last commanding officer, perhaps a grandson or granddaughter, decommissions the last LPD17, the Navy will have been the amphibious ship-building business for more than 100 years. The state-of-the-art LPD-17 is a significant milestone along the way, designed by men and women for men and women from the keel up.

1 Picotte, Leonard F., and Gauthier, M., "Warrior Friendly," Proceedings June 1996 pp. 38-41.

2 Feeney, James P. "LPD 17 Gender Issues," Marine Corps Gazette March 1997, p. 13

NOTE: The LPD-17 Mixed Gender Issues Workshop Report, and all other Design for Ownership Conference/workshop reports, are on the LPD-17 home page. In addition, issues from all sources, such as conference reports, ship and individual inputs can be found in the data base portion of the LPD-17 home page. For access and to learn the latest on LPD-17 use the following, all in lower case: http:lpdl7 wr.nswc.navy.mil.

Captain Gauthier is the LPD-17 Program Manager. Ms. Clavier is the LPD-17 Logistics Support and Design for Ownership Director.

 

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