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NEWS | July 17, 2023

NSWCDD team proudly serves as Navy’s Fiber Optic In-service Engineering Agent

By Madeline Keenan, NSWCDD Corporate Communications

When one considers fiber optics, they probably do not think of it in terms of the over 4 million feet of it that can be found aboard a Navy ship or submarine.

For a team of Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) employees in the Fiber Optics Engineering and Operations Branch of the Strategic and Computing Systems Department, it is their job to assist Sailors aboard ships and submarines by problem-solving and providing guidance as the Fiber Optic In-Service Engineering Agent (ISEA).

Fiber optics technology enables the transmittance of data as light signals through strands of glass. There are many benefits to using fiber optic cables as opposed to copper cables. Fiber optic cables provide fast and reliable connectivity while also transmitting large amounts of data over a long distance without significant degradation to the signal. They are lightweight, durable and provide faster connections compared to copper.

Other major benefits of fiber optic cables include little interference to the electromagnetic field, dependability and high bandwidth that can handle high volumes of data transmission. Approved shipboard fiber optic cables are resilient, but are susceptible to damage if not properly installed. By following best practices during installation and upkeep, fiber optic cables can support links for the life of a vessel.

NSWCDD’s team in the Fiber Optics Engineering and Operations Branch is the designated ISEA for shipboard fiber optic capabilities in the Navy. As the ISEA, the team monitors the health and safety of fiber optic cables, provides troubleshooting support to the fleet whether remotely or in-person, provides standardization for systems integration and usage and verifies future capabilities. NSWCDD involvement with fiber optics dates back decades.

Each team member in the Fiber Optics Engineering and Operations Branch specializes in very specific workings, but the mission is the same; keep the Sailors safe and educate them on the processes and procedures. The team services approximately 250 ships and submarines.

Fiber Optics ISEA carrier lead engineer Tracy Sweet assists the warfighter daily by troubleshooting problems that may arise.

“Ultimately as the ISEA, we support the warfighter,” Sweet said. “We are providing the fleet with standardized materials and techniques so they can maintain their fiber optic links throughout the life of the ship.”

“Often if you are looking at a repair, almost 80% happen at the connector,” Sweet said. “There is a physical connector where you are aligning the fiber so the light can pass through, and they are sensitive to damage.”

NSWCDD’s team reviews new technology and how they may impact fiber optic capabilities. The team ensures the capability can be maintained for the life of that platform and the fleet can support their equipment. The team will also review and assist with fiber optic system design, including the optical power budget and ensure the components of the fiber optics are shipboard approved. The NSWCDD team serves as the technical direction agent, system integration agent, engineering manager and engineering agent for technical warrant holders.

NSWCDD’s Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) provides a vehicle for unplanned fiber optic repairs while allowing companies to bid on the work required to complete those repairs. “The IDIQ gives us the opportunity to send out help if there is an issue on a ship,” Sweet noted.

Fiber Optics Test and Repair Certification Agent Richard Scott wears several hats as he is also the Fiber Optics ISEA lead for several different classes of ships. As a veteran who spent over a decade aboard Navy ships, the mission hits close to home. “It’s our mission to support those ships,” Scott said. “I want to support the warfighter and help the Sailors who need to make a repair.”

Scott stressed the importance of ships and submarines knowing about NSWCDD’s ISEA. “We need to get our brand out there, so people know that there is an ISEA for this and they are supported,” Scott said. “If there are questions or issues, there is someone you can call, and that is us.”

“When I see Sailors who have contacted us, and they know what they are doing, what they are talking about and really have a grasp on what is happening, that makes me very happy,” Scott said.