Surface Contact Tracking On Board the USS Mahan
By Ensign Gregory King, U.S. Navy
As a newly trained operations specialist seaman’s apprentice on board my first ship, the USS Emory S. Land (AS-39), the spartan Combat Information Center (CIC) only had an SPA-25G and a status board. A sailor would rapidly record all of the information for any surface contact unknown (SKUNK) on the board, and it was our job as junior operation specialists to manage a cluttered, yet simply tracked surface picture. The radar operator would call out mark times every three minutes and cycle through numerous surface contacts on the SPA-25G, calling out bearing, range, and updated closest point-of-approach (CPA) information to the status board operators (one in the CIC and one on the bridge). The log keeper, on sound-powered phones with the lookouts, would write all of the information for our surface-contact log and update the CIC on any additional information the lookouts reported. This was a very straightforward way of handling contact information, but it required constant attention to ensure the contact picture was up to date. At the time, we didn’t have all the sensors and displays now found on ships.
Inputting Information Today
In today’s Navy, we receive a plethora of inputs for the surface picture from the automated identification system (AIS), automatic radar-plotting aid (ARPA), Furuno, Link, and our SPS-67 and SPS-73 surface-search radars. On the USS Mahan (DDG-72), we found that although our bridge and combat teams had a wealth of information, they lacked a good way to fuse these data into a usable, cohesive picture. The various systems that can track or report a surface contact are not integrated. Because they are automatic, they induce an inattentiveness that was not possible with legacy tracking methods. A contact on the Aegis display system in the CIC is being tracked by the SPS-67, while a contact displayed on ARPA in the pilothouse is being tracked by the SPS-73. Both systems are reporting the contact with a different reference ID, which makes the correlation and reporting of the contact between the different watch stations more difficult. Depending on the skill level of the watch team, situational awareness may vary between the bridge and CIC.
Another obstacle to efficient surface tracking noted by bridge watchstanders was that modern-day sailors did not have a good sense of timing in relation to making reports to increase the situational awareness and fusing the surface plot. Today’s sailor can text his or her cousin in California while having a conversation at dinner with three friends about a basketball game. They are used to receiving multiple inputs simultaneously in the civilian world with no apparent or required order, rhythm, or cadence. This rhythm—knowing when to insert a piece of information—was missing on the ship. As with texting, watchstanders would pass off a piece of information as soon as it was received, but they did not understand how to fuse information or when a senior watchstander was able to process it. Timing, forceful acknowledgements, standard reporting, and “call ups” were key training points that required constant reinforcement and practice.
So the question became, “How do we manage such a variety of inputs and paint a clear surface picture for every watchstander ranging from the lookout to the officer of the deck [OOD] to the tactical action officer [TAO]/CIC watch officer [CICWO] to keep the ship safe?”
Approach on the Mahan
Our solution was to return to the basics of how the Navy formerly operated while adding a modern twist. Contacts that satisfy the minimum CPA reporting criteria are assigned a number by the bridge or combat teams. This common number will be correlated between the bridge (ARPA and SPA-25G), bright bridge, surface-detector tracker, and TAO/CICWO. In the past we would call this contact “SKUNK 01,” but today we call it “Track 01,” which marks the contact as an in-house track. This allows all watchstanders to refer to the track using the same nomenclature and prevents confusion caused by excessive chatter over the net. Once a contact is labeled, our teams correlate all of the data inputs for the contact and communicate that information between the CIC and the bridge. Maneuvering boards are prepared by both watch teams, and the OOD uses the solutions to determine if maneuvering is required to maintain safety of navigation.
Once a contact comes within visual range, our lookouts are integrated using the common track number. In addition to the OOD, junior OOD, and conning officer, a port lookout, starboard lookout, and aft lookout are assigned during normal steaming operations. Each lookout maintains a card with a fill-in-the-blank contact report, similar to the report the OOD makes to the commanding officer. The report includes the bearing and range of the contact, the type of platform, the lights or day shapes that are visible, and the bearing drift of the contact. As the contact moves from one lookout’s sector of responsibility to another’s, the contact is verbally handed off to the appropriate lookout. This process ensures continuous visual reporting of every contact while tracked within visual range and prevents the reporting ambiguity of “that guy over there.” The OOD gains a clear picture of the location of the contact in relation to the ship and what the contact is doing so that he or she can correlate this information to the ARPA, AIS, and the SPA-25G on the bridge. The lookout report also gives our CIC the information it needs to correlate what they are seeing with AIS, OSS, and the SPS-67 radar picture. All of this information is fused with the maneuvering board solutions worked by CIC and the bridge.
ARPA and other electronic tools have greatly improved situational awareness on the bridge. However, there are significant limitations in how these systems work together. Sometimes an overreliance on technical solutions can lead to an information void if the limitations of the hardware are not fully understood. The Mahan’s crew has embraced the technology available to our watch teams, and the command leadership has instituted human processes to maximize the efficiency of these systems by ensuring that all surface tracks are identified and correlated, and that their intentions are fully understood by all watchstanders.
The end result of this refined process is greatly improved situational awareness from the most junior lookout to the CO. When woken up at 0300 with a contact report, the CO must be able to make decisions based on the information provided by the OOD. The members of the watch team no longer submit only their own individual reports. They now provide succinct packets of data that are correlated into a CIC-bridge fusion plot. Data is important, but only if it is used properly. Team Mahan has bridged the technology gap and harnesses the power of each sensor available in CIC and the pilothouse.
By No Means Enough
By Lieutenant (junior grade) John F. Tanalega, U.S. Navy
Imagine visiting your doctor for surgery. As he places the mask over your face and you drift into an anesthetically induced slumber, how comfortable would you be if your surgeons told you that their only training was several weeks of school and on-the-job training? Yet many junior officers stand watch with a tactical action officer, responsible for the self-defense of his or her ship and the hundreds of lives on board, who has had as much practical experience in standing a tactical watch.
So, on average, how proficient are surface warfare officers (SWOs) in warfighting? This is hard to judge, as we have not engaged in a naval war since World War II. Aside from supporting ground operations, Operation Praying Mantis, and living vicariously through the Royal Navy in the Falklands, our experience in modern naval warfare has largely been theoretical. Battles have been fought not at sea but in the laboratory. The balance of power has become ever more focused on technology, and future naval conflicts will be decided not only by officers and sailors fighting ships but engineers developing highly complex weapon systems.
But not enough formal training exists to prepare SWOs to use this highly complex technology early in their careers. While some go to Fleet Antisubmarine Warfare Centers or the Aegis Training and Readiness Center, division officers are largely administrative leaders who receive little to no formal tactical training until they enter the department-head pipeline. When that day comes, they receive an introduction to tactics at the Department Head School, and their first exposure to tactics at sea is as tactical action officer, now responsible for the self-defense of the ship and the use of her weapon systems. As leaders in the wardroom, they are responsible for training division officers and CIC watch teams, and many have no more practical experience than those whom they are training.
The Navy must focus more effort on training SWOs in tactics and naval warfare early, while they are still division officers. Modern tactics and combat systems are too complex to be learned haphazardly. They require a solid academic foundation reinforced by realistic simulation. We will never be able to provide a SWO with as much training in tactics as a doctor receives in medicine. But by establishing a Basic SWO tactics course (SWOTAC), the surface fleet could build on existing basic training and provide an early tactical framework that the Department Head School would further develop.
The Insufficiency of Training
Today, officers who select SWO attend the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) within six months of commissioning. Held in San Diego and Norfolk and taught by lieutenants fresh from the Fleet, this training provides junior officers with a baseline of understanding for running a division and handling a ship. Once junior officers report to their ships, they start their practical experience leading their divisions and standing watch on the bridge. After 18 months and a large amount of on-the-job training, they become qualified surface warfare officers.
Just as BDOC provides a level of consistency across the Fleet for basic skills, SWOTAC would provide Fleet-wide consistency in warfighting knowledge. On-the-job training, while valuable, varies too greatly from ship to ship to be relied on alone. For most SWOs, their first exposure to tactics is training to stand watch as CIC watch officer. This is largely administrative and focused on monitoring communications and ensuring that day-to-day routines are observed. Some commands greatly emphasize tactical training in this qualification process and pair junior division officers with SWO mentors—usually department heads or more senior division officers who are SWO-qualified. These commands may also make an effort to place junior officers in tactical watches under the close supervision of their mentors. On the other hand, many commands simply relegate CICWO to monitoring command chat rooms, leading many junior officers to derisively refer to the watch as “Chat-O.” The result of this overreliance on on-the-job training is great inconsistency across the Fleet.
Problems with Future Plans
The lack of warfare training in the SWO training pipeline is significant enough to draw the attention of Naval Surface Forces. The Surface Warfare Officer School (SWOS) plans to establish an advanced division-officer course (ADOC). Notionally, junior SWOs would attend ADOC in Newport, Rhode Island, between their first and second division officer tours.
This plan has two major disadvantages. First is the location. The Navy would be burdened with the expense of paying for every junior officer’s flight, subsistence, and room and board. Given our ever-restrictive financial climate, it is likely that ADOC would be shortened to a point where it would be hardly worth the expense.Second, starting this school in Newport would create a needless duplication of effort. The surface Navy’s tactical expertise is not centered in SWOS, but in the Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS), which has detachments in fleet concentration areas. These are the same centers of expertise that train and evaluate our CIC watch teams in the Fleet. Instructors at CSCS detachments are more in tune with the warfighting environment and are better equipped to teach tactics.
SWOTAC would be held at CSCS detachments in fleet-concentration areas. Junior officers would attend SWOTAC prior to earning their SWO pin. The course would consist of three phases, each two weeks long. Phase 1, antisurface warfare and antisubmarine warfare, would cover U.S. ships and submarines, U.S. tactics, foreign ship and submarine familiarization, and tactical simulation. Phase 2, integrated antiship-missile defense, would cover U.S. aircraft and missile familiarization as well as tactical simulation. Phase 3, information operations, would cover an introduction to electronic warfare, computer-network operations, and space operations.
To make this training economical, SWOTAC would complement the already-established Weapons Tactics Instructor (WTI) program. In the WTI course, more senior SWOs become subject matter experts in individual warfare areas such as antisurface warfare and integrated antiship-missile defense. Increasing the number of WTIs to teach SWOTAC would strengthen the core of tactical knowledge in the SWO community.
The short-term benefits of SWOTAC are many. Junior SWOs would be better prepared to stand watch in CIC and more tactically astute. They would also be better prepared as officer of the deck (OOD), as coordination between the tactical action officer and OOD is essential to success. Making SWOTAC a prerequisite for full SWO qualification would add more weight to the warfare pin, increasing individual pride and challenging the notion among many that surface warfare is only a community of last resort.
The long-term benefits are cumulative. In years hence, as these SWOs arrive at Department-Head School with greater tactical proficiency, more advanced training could be integrated into the pipeline. This would improve training at sea and better prepare our officers and sailors to win future wars.
Ultimately, the benefits of SWOTAC are inherently difficult to quantify; the financial benefit of removing schools is always more immediate than the practical benefits of better schooling. But we cannot spare the meaningful training and realistic combat simulation that CSCS detachments can provide to junior officers. SWOTAC would not only be training for the junior officers of today, but the foundation for the captains and admirals of tomorrow. We may try to save as many dollars as possible and curse the need to spend so much time and money training division officers, but these are the woes of accountants in a peacetime surface Navy. When the next war comes, these dollars spent will save us an infinitely more precious resource—our sailors’ lives.
U.S. Navy Swarm on the Offense
By Robert A. Brizzolara and Captain Rick Simon, U.S. Navy (Retired)
For years, the U.S. Navy has been concerned with how it would defend against a swarm of vessels attacking its ships while transiting choke points. Recently, the Chief of Naval Operations directed OPNAV N84/the Chief of Naval Research to investigate transforming this long-held concern into a potential offensive capability by exploiting advancements in the field of robotics and autonomous systems. Why not develop a swarm capability for unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) that uses autonomous control to make our adversaries worry about the threat we pose? In this context, “autonomous control” means a computer under remote human supervision would perform the perception and route-planning functions. This would provide a significant capability enhancement beyond today’s remote-control technologies. Ultimately, the vision is that one operator will supervise many USVs that fight as a team.
In August 2014, the Chief of Naval Research put that concept to a test and sponsored a USV offensive swarm demonstration on the James River in Virginia. Spatial Integrated Systems Inc. (SIS) served as the demonstration lead, hardware/software developer, and overall system integrator. Navy Warfare Development Command provided operational assessment and demonstration coordination. Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division and Dahlgren Division provided five USVs and technical/safety support. Atlantic Targets and Marine Operations provided eight remote-controlled USVs, and the High-Value Unit (HVU)/command ship USNS Relentless (T-AGOS-18). Daniel H. Wagner Associates, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) all provided technical support. (JPL is the developer of the autonomous control system.)
Swarm-demonstration planning began in April 2014 with the objective of validating key technical enablers for the collaborative operation of multiple autonomous USVs for offensive operations. Key enablers were distributed: fast, low-bandwidth fusion of sensor data across multiple USVs and control architecture for robotic agent command and sensing (CARACaS) autonomous control.
Each USV in this demonstration was comprised of three components: the sensor module, the autonomy and fusion module, and the vessel that was converted into an autonomous USV. A command-and-control module hosted on board the HVU that consisted of a master station and five individual USV stations oversaw the USVs. The master station monitored and commanded all autonomous USVs, while individual stations were used for health and safety monitoring of individual USVs.
The decentralized and autonomous data-fusion service (DADFS) is a set of fully automated fusion algorithms that use all available positional and non-positional attribute data from any node on the network to generate a common situational awareness picture. DADFS significantly reduces clutter, improves track accuracy and persistence, and improves the quality and speed of autonomous collaboration. DADFS was chosen due to its capability to consistently perform in a disconnected, intermittent, and/or low bandwidth network.
JPL’s CARACaS autonomous control software provides reasoning, planning, perceptual, and behavioral components. These components are all tightly coupled with a world model, which maintains all vehicle state information, mission level goals, and interactions with other vehicles. CARACaS addresses three key components of autonomous control: deterministic reaction to unanticipated occurrences, on-the-fly reactive mission sub-task re-planning, and machine perception. All of the underlying behaviors for this demonstration were built with finite state machines to guarantee appropriate responses within a predictable time frame through the JPL-developed Robust, Real-time, Reconfigurable, Robotic System Architecture, which has been used for the testing of components for flight missions such as the Mars exploration rovers.
The world model provides CARACaS with dynamic contact data from DADFS and static data such as digital nautical charts. It also examines metadata from the incoming fused contacts to provide classification of contacts for Maritime Rules of the Road (COLREGS) and hazard avoidance.
CARACaS has been in various stages of testing for the past 12 years and a collaborative partnership between SIS and JPL has formed to advance its capabilities. CARACaS has been integrated into a variety of vessels including rigid-hull inflatable boats, U.S. Navy research-and-development (R&D) craft, and commercial R&D craft. With the capability to make any boat a robot, the system has over 3,000 hours of on-water use and is a prime example of transitioning government-sponsored science and technology investments to industry.
The Swarm In Action
For the August demonstration, five heterogeneous boats were chosen with varied control and propulsion systems to test CARACaS’ integration flexibility. The scenario depicted an HVU being escorted by a large number of USVs (five autonomous and eight remotely controlled) as they transited a choke point and were threatened by a contact of interest (COI). The scenario was not intended to depict real-world tactics. Figure 1, right, depicts the starting formation of the group. As the group approached points that were considered hostile ports, the remote-control vessels were sent to block them to allow the HVU and its escort to pass by unimpeded.
The HVU group was then given a report by a reconnaissance helicopter of an approaching fast-moving COI. As radar contact was gained by the USVs on the COI, a further report designated the COI hostile. A firm radar lock by the USVs on the COI was confirmed on board the HVU, and the USVs were ordered to engage the COI now blocking the group’s path. The USVs were instructed to approach in a fingertip formation and at a designated distance to the COI they proceeded into a column. A sweep around the COI was conducted and a blocking formation was set up between the COI and HVU.
From 11 to 14 August 2014, multiple runs were conducted to collect data for follow-on analysis. Each day’s runs occurred during three time periods when the U.S. Coast Guard closed down a section of the river to traffic. These runs evaluated the use of autonomous control for attack runs only, escort and attack runs together, and runs in which autonomous USVs were integrated with remote-controlled USVs. The final analysis concluded that autonomous USV operations were successful, supporting the CNO’s objectives of creating an offensive swarm and the vision of robotic alternatives to manned escort/attack platforms. This capability could enable the U.S. Navy to shift some of its sailors away from performing tedious and dangerous jobs and put them in control of multiple platforms that they can oversee and command. This capability would also allow the Navy to take manned platforms already in inventory and turn them into autonomous robots.
Past demonstrations of CARACaS and DADFS over the last five years have included force protection, antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). The system was tested and evaluated in Trident Warriors 2009–2013, Fleet Experimentation (FLEX) 2012, and a number of experiments with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Force protection experiments have shown the capability for CARACaS USVs to engage enemy vessels with nonlethal weapons, while also collaborating with other USVs. For mine warfare, CARACaS was given a mission to sweep while avoiding stationary and moving objects in the minefield. In ISR missions CARACaS has proven to be a perfect choice for carrying out long-duration operations.
While naval warfare missions have been the primary focus of CARACaS experimentation, other areas of development have included the requirement to obey COLREGS. This has included the development of behaviors and perception for multi-vessel situations in day and night environments. Advances have been made in stereo and 360-degree electro-optical/infrared systems and the capability to fuse sensors for advanced situational awareness. Additionally, the capability is being developed to recognize horn signals from other vessels and to determine intent.
Just as our sailors must be able to discern the light and sound signals of another vessel, CARACaS must detect these signals and apply the correct COLREGS rule. In parallel to COLREGS compliance, route planning based on an approach called “velocity obstacles” (similar to maneuvering boards) and an automated target recognition approach called “Contact Detection and Analysis” have seen major advancements to improve situational awareness of the USV enabling the most effective response.
While the objective of the swarm demonstration was to test and evaluate a new offensive capability, it also provided the next step in bringing autonomous USVs to the Fleet and proved the ability for a few sailors to control a large number of “autonomous” (not remote-controlled) USVs. Continued enhancement, testing, and evaluation of CARACaS/DADFS will mature the technology required to provide this new capability for the Fleet.