Smart Ship: The Future Is Here

By Alexander J. Krekich

My interest in the ship was prompted not only by my experiences as a surface warfare officer, but also because I wanted to see the successes and discover the failures encountered to date. I have a vested interest because the USS Rushmore (LSD-47) in the Pacific Fleet also is testing new technologies and new ways of doing business as GATOR 17—perhaps considered the amphibious smart ship—to pave the way for the USS San Antonio (LPD-17).

Our hope for the amphibs is to remove unnecessary work and equipment, and then to remove the sailors who did the work and maintained that equipment. Each sailor and piece of equipment we can remove provides room for another Marine or piece of expeditionary equipment. The result will be a sharper spear for the money.

Vice Admiral Doug Katz gets great credit for providing the waterfront support for Smart Ship and for planting many seeds, to see which ones would grow. My visit to the Yorktown provided the opportunity to see which seeds had sprouted and which cuttings I wanted to bring West. He had great help, obviously, from Rear Admiral George Huchting and his staff in the Surface Combatant shop at the Naval Sea Systems Command, in taking this project from the drawing board to the fleet.

Experience on board the Yorktown has shown that workload savings and other benefits can be achieved by the infusion of technology and the willingness to rid ourselves of redundant backups That you can conceive a situation in which new equipment or a new approach may not work doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. There comes a time when that leap of faith has to be taken. And when you consider that some of the things being done on the Smart Ship are simply inherited from our fellow mariners in the merchant community, it is hardly a leap of faith into complete darkness.

On board that day, I saw what I'd read in the Smart Ship Project Assessment come to life. I saw how changes in policies, technology, and maintenance methods have come together to reduce the sailors' workload. I saw how nearly $3 million in savings can be achieved annually. But most of all, I saw a crew that believed in the concept. They had done it; they are responsible for its success. The crew was truly excited. Some of the computer programs needed to make it work were written by Yorktown petty officers. One gas turbine specialist chief—a former boiler technician chief—told me in a distinctive southern drawl, "I used to say ‘damn 'trons, don't have much use for'em.' But now I just can't love'em enough."

With Smart Ship, we can buy computer icons, not equipment. Each ship can become its own training ground.

That chief will have his own hot plant right on board. We can liberate that great backlog of young sailors training in the schoolhouses and more quickly get them from boot camp to where they belong and where they want to be—in the fleet exercising their craft. That is the reason they joined the Navy. We are moving in that direction.

Not surprisingly, the technology includes a local area network as the backbone for other systems. It also uses remote monitoring and automation in engineering, damage control, navigation, and information systems. Significant savings were found in planned maintenance without any noticeable degradation in equipment readiness. Watch station manning and response to the need for increased conditions of readiness and casualty response also was examined closely and tested throughout the ship's early 1997 deployment.

This brief account lists only the most prominent accomplishments to date. We've finally let this integration of new ways and new technology have its day. In the 1970s, we toyed briefly with reduced manning and unmanned spaces on the Spruance (DD-963)-class destroyers, but we never really trusted it to work—and we never really found ways to take the work off before we took sailors off. Now our watchword is "No billet before its time," meaning we won't eliminate billets from the Yorktown and Rushmore until the work those billets perform has evaporated.

It was an exciting, uplifting day for this old sailor. I saw spirit, ideas, tenacity, and daring proclaiming that we can perform our mission better, less expensively, and with more fulfillment for our people than ever before. Yes, we can get smarter.

Admiral Krekich is Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.


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