The DEP development started in mid-1998, when a team of engineers from major Navy labs and systems commands, including Dahlgren, the Naval Air Systems Command, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, and the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab studied the feasibility of using land-based communications networks to test ship systems. The effort, directed by NavSea's Vice Commander Rear Admiral Philip Balisle, produced a plan for linking Navy labs over the Leading Edge Services 98 Network, which was developed jointly by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Defense Information Systems Agency.
The DEP development builds on discussions in recent years in NavSea's combat-systems program offices, and more recently in the Office of the Deputy Commander for Combat Systems (NavSea-OS), of ways of using national telecommunications links to connect the labs across a national testbed to avoid the costs of transporting system elements to Navy sites for shore-based integration testing. Instead, the goal is to "earn frequent-flyer miles from Sprint," as one lab official says, by testing systems online.
The effort also is aimed at supporting the Navy-wide initiatives to certify the interoperability of battle-group combat systems prior to deployment, in response to concerns about the widespread lack of interoperability among deployed systems, a fleet wide shortcoming that in combat would endanger ships and lives. The Chief of Naval Operations in mid-1998 assigned NavSea-OS the responsibility for developing a strategy for guaranteeing that ships and aircraft will not go to sea with systems that cannot talk to each other.
Monteith says that the team started developing, building, and integrating the DEP in late 1998. Following validation testing and approval from a flag-level steering group in January, the DEP Alliance went forward with a six-week-long prototype testing phase for the John F. Kennedy (CV-67) Battle Group.
For those tests, that ended in late February, the Alliance consisted of eight sites:
- Dahlgren, Virginia
- Dam Neck, Virginia (detachment of Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme, California)
- Aegis Computer Center
- Aegis Training and Readiness Center
- Integrated Combat Systems Test Facility, San Diego
- SpaWar Systems Center, San Diego
- Naval Center for Tactical Systems Interoperability, San Diego
- F-14D Fighter Detachment, Point Mugu, California
The labs are linked by a high-speed telecommunications network based on bandwidth leased from Sprint and AT&T to provide the real-time and near real-time stimulation and simulation required to demonstrate combat systems performance. The John F. Kennedy testing used around ten megabits. For the Ike testing, the capacity is expected to expand dramatically.
The John F. Kennedy Battle Group testing over the DEP prototype consisted of validation tests for all the combat systems deployed: the advanced combat direction system (ACDS block I and block 0) on board the carrier and amphibious assault ships, several baselines of the Aegis combat system, and the older Navy tactical data system (NTDS) on board Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)-class frigates. It also simulated the Link 16 and Link II tactical data links.
The data picture was "the clearest they had ever seen" in a test environment, said battle group operators later. The Naval Air Warfare Center's Aircraft Division Patuxent River, Maryland, and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Charleston, South Carolina, will join the DEP for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Battle Group testing, which also will incorporate the cooperative engagement capability (CEC) not tested in the John F. Kennedy tests.
Monteith says that, because the DEP tests system performance based on data emulations through the telecommunications links—instead of transmissions via radio-frequency signal—ensuring that the emulation of systems and data links is a valid representation of system performance remains a critical requirement. The team went through a validation of the emulation processes to ensure fidelity of the emulations. Eventually, he says, the DEP will be capable of certifying combat system and data link interoperability to enable the battle groups to comply with the new NavSea-05 standards.