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January 2013 Issue


Obtaining a Competitive Advantage Through Environmental Knowledge


By RAdm. Jonathan White
Oceanographer and Navigator, U.S. Navy


In September, the Arctic Ocean reached its minimum sea ice extent for the summer melt season, breaking all earlier historic records. As the ice broke up, it became more susceptible to the prevailing wind patterns of last summer and was driven into an area where the Royal Dutch Shell plc (The Hague, Netherlands) was planning to perform exploratory drilling. Ironically, Shell’s multimillion-dollar investment would end up icebound in the smallest summer Arctic ice field in recorded history.

Anyone who works in the maritime domain is aware of the impact the environment can have on the most carefully planned operations. Understanding the environment is essential for naval operations, not only to help ensure the safety of platforms and personnel but also to provide U.S. Navy forces with a warfighting advantage. For the Navy, knowledge of the physical environment is a critical component of our information dominance initiative.


Oceanographic Ships
The first step in understanding the environment is data collection. The Navy operates six military survey vessels capable of conducting missions in shallow waters to full ocean depths. The newest addition will be USNS Maury (T-AGS 66), under construction at the VT Halter Marine (Pascagoula, Mississippi) shipyard, with a scheduled launch date in 2014. Maury will be 24 feet longer than other Pathfinder-class ships, providing 12 additional berthing accommodations and an 18-foot square inboard moon pool for launching UUVs and oceanographic sensors.

The Navy has a history of sponsoring research ships for use by academic institutions as part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, a consortium of oceanographic institutions that coordinate the use of federal oceanographic assets. The Navy influences and benefits from the scientific research and technology development of these vessels.

The Navy is currently under contract with Dakota Creek Industries Inc. (Anacortes, Washington) to build two new Ocean-class Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research (AGOR) vessels. Construction on both vessels began this past July at their shipyard in Anacortes.

AGOR 27, recently named RV Neil Armstrong by the Secretary of the Navy, is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in October 2014 and will be operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. AGOR 28 is to be delivered in the spring of 2015 and will be operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Both vessels will be 238 feet long with a 15-foot draft and a 3,024-long-ton displacement. They will be capable of performing a range of missions, including ocean-floor mapping and sampling the water column.


Unmanned Underwater Vehicles
Like many organizations, the Navy is increasingly looking at UUVs as a way to collect ocean data efficiently at less cost. The Littoral Battlespace Sensing–Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (LBS–UUV) program of record, comprised of LBS–Gliders (LBS–G) and LBS–Autonomous Undersea Vehicles (LBS–AUV), is the Navy’s only operational UUV program of record.

The LBS-G achieved full operational capability in July with 50 Slocum gliders delivered by Teledyne Webb Research (Falmouth, Massachusetts) to the Naval Oceanographic Office. Another 100 vehicles are scheduled for delivery by fiscal year 2015. Nine gliders were deployed across the globe last summer for persistent ocean data collection for anti-submarine and mine warfare missions.

The LBS-AUV program, which is based on the REMUS 600 AUV and built by Hydroid Inc. (Pocasset, Massachusetts), delivered two engineering design models in August, along with an operations van, a maintenance van, and a launch and recovery system, which are deployed on USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) in support of the first fleet UUV Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace mission. Eight additional full-rate production vehicles are scheduled for delivery by fiscal year 2017.


Satellite Observations
Space-based sensors are another important source of maritime data. The space division of the Oceanographer’s staff was established in March 2011 to act as a broker for Navy requirements in which space-based capabilities could assist and as a resource sponsor for all Navy space programs. The branch developed the Department of Defense’s input to the International Space Norms of Behavior and the International Space Cooperation Strategy, as well as the department’s National Military Strategy for Space Operations.

Since the end of the Navy’s Geosat Follow-On (GFO) satellite in 2008, the military has been reliant on the Ocean Surface Topography Mission for radar altimetry, a unique source for geodetic, oceanographic and atmospheric data. To save costs in space acquisitions, the Navy is working with NOAA to find partnership opportunities on the Jason-3 radar altimetry program, due for launch in 2014.

Last February, the first of five Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites was launched by United Launch Alliance LLC on a Saturn V rocket. MUOS will replace the ultrahigh-frequency satellite communications system with a next-generation narrowband, tactical-scale communications constellation.


Maritime Domain Awareness
For the Navy, the goal of marine domain awareness (MDA) is the effective understanding of anything associated with the global maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy or environment of the United States. The process includes gathering ship data from shipboard AIS and a variety of other traffic-monitoring sources, displaying the data in a centralized collection and assessing it for potential security risks. The Navy’s vision is a program that provides sufficient knowledge of the content, patterns, changes and potential threats, and enables decision superiority and the execution of naval missions.

Providing a comprehensive analysis of vessel traffic on the high seas is beyond the scope of any single entity, so partnerships will be a critical component of MDA. The Navy plays an active role in the Maritime Safety and Security Information System, a freely shared, unclassified, near-real-time data collection and distribution network that promotes multilateral collaboration and data sharing among international participants.


Positioning, Navigation and Timing
Services for positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) provide positioning and timing reference to surface, subsurface, air- and spaceborne assets.

The GPS-based PNT Service (GPNTS) is the Navy’s surface ship PNT distribution system, which will replace legacy Navigation Sensor System Interface suites and stand-alone military GPS receivers (WRN-6). Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems’ (Tewksbury, Massachusetts) San Diego, California, office was awarded in June a $32 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to design, develop, test and deliver the GPNTS, with an initial fielding scheduled for late 2015. The system will include encrypted, spoof-resistant military GPS receivers; digital, nulling GPS anti-jam antennas; and redundant rubidium clocks for synchronized timing and frequency.

The time reference for the GPS constellation is the U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock ensemble. In January 2012, four new rubidium streaming fountain clocks, the most accurate operational clocks in the world, were added to the ensemble.

Last April, the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Robotic Astrometric Telescope achieved successful “initial operational capability” at the Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station in Arizona. Consisting of a completely redesigned 20-centimeter astrograph telescope and a mosaic camera made with four of the world’s largest charge-coupled device detectors, the instrument is embarking on celestial surveys from both the northern and southern hemispheres. The resulting star catalog will provide the most precise measurements of positions and proper motions ever obtained for some 400 million stars.

The Navy has continued to make progress in the conversion of the fleet from paper chart navigation to the Electronic Charting and Display Information System – Navy variant (ECDIS-N). The conversion of all legacy navigation systems is currently scheduled for a 2016 completion date.


Task Force Climate Change
While the naval oceanography program has traditionally studied the physical environment on operational and tactical timescales, the chief of naval operations has asked the program to examine it on a strategic, decadal scale. That means dealing with the very real possibility that the Earth’s climate is changing in ways that will impact future naval operations. Task Force Climate Change was set up to examine the best science, assess potential implications and make recommendations on the way ahead. The Arctic has been identified as the first priority.

Each year the Arctic sees more human enterprise, such as commercial shipping, oil and gas exploration, adventure tourism and scientific research expeditions. The Navy is conducting studies that assess the changing climate, naval capabilities and gaps, and potential mission requirements. Studies such as these will assist us in advising Navy leadership on strategies, force structure, infrastructure development and future investments. Fortunately, the Navy will have time to study the problem and proceed in a responsible manner that balances security requirements against fiscal realities.


Importance of Accurate and Timely Data
Knowledge of the maritime environment provides naval forces with a warfighting advantage through decision superiority, but it also ensures naval forces can operate safely and effectively while conducting their global mission.

Accurate information about the global maritime domain gives the Navy a home-field advantage—at the away games.




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