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By Taft Coghill Jr., NSWCDD Corporate Communications
All critical systems on ships, including weapons, navigation, propulsion, training and safety, all rely on fiber optics. The success of a particular mission and the safety of every sailor depends on the crew’s ability to remain as self-sufficient as possible. Before 2019, the self-sufficiency of most crews to troubleshoot and repair their fiber optic connections was mediocre, at best.
The Fiber Optics Engineering and Operations Branch at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) stood up the U.S. Navy Fiber Optic Test and Repair (FOTR) program in 2020 with the mission to create and foster self-sufficiency for all fiber optic assets in the fleet. The program is under the sponsorship of NAVSEA Maintenance Engineering (SEA 09MM) and co-exists alongside the Miniature/Micro-miniature Electronics Repair and Module Test and Repair (2M/MTR) program managed out of Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division.
Richard Scott serves as the FOTR Certification Agent. He is tasked with certifying the fleet coordinators, inspection sites and training facilities utilized to execute the program.
The FOTR program closely follows the same structure set up for the decades old 2M/MTR program. Based on the successful implementation and function of the already existing 2M/MTR, Scott said, “We did not want to reinvent the wheel” when it came time to implement this new initiative. “2M/MTR does the same thing but for electronics,” Scott said. “We just ported it over to fiber. The FOTR requirements also appear in the Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual. It’s the same basic framework.”
The program requires all fleet assets have a certified fiber optic work center and a designated amount of technicians available to handle basic troubleshooting, inspections, repairs and associated issues while underway. This includes maintaining all toolkits, consumables, test equipment and related support equipment. All ships are directed to integrate FOTR into established 2M and MTR work centers. Work centers and repair sites are also certified or recertified every 18 months by an FOTR inspector. Technicians are required to take initial training and subsequently be recertified every 18 months.
The FOTR certification process is aligned with 2M/MTR recertification timing. The certifications are separate, however, and a ship could pass 2M/MTR and fail FOTR or vice versa.
In order to ease adoption of the new requirements into the fleet, the Fiber Optic Engineering and Operations Branch at NSWCDD conducted pre-assessment ship checks three to four months prior to certifications. The purpose of these early visits is to identify possible deficiencies so corrective action can be taken before the formal certification visit by the Regional Maintenance Center (RMC) FOTR inspector.
“The pre-certification assessments are reported to the ships showing what needs to happen to pass FOTR certification, what needs to be procured, how many technicians they’re supposed to have, what toolkits and other equipment is needed,” Scott said. “Most do not pass the first time, but at least they’re in the ballgame and trying to make changes to become compliant.”
Demonstrating immediate impact, the FOTR program has established and outfitted five fleet inspector stations, assessed more than 60 ships and approximately 100 technicians in the past two years to ensure they meet the criteria set forth in the Miniature/Micro-miniature Electronics Repair and Module Test and Repair (2M/MTR) and FOTR Certification Manual. These assessments for certification identify all equipment and consumable shortcomings, personnel deficiencies, personnel skill sets, troubleshooting capabilities and general fiber optic preparedness.
A certified ship and crew is expected to be able to handle basic troubleshooting, light duty connector repairs, heavy duty, multi-terminus connector repair and replacement, repairing any issues found within the fiber optic cable topology and documentation of all repair actions. “We measure success in actually seeing the ships repairing themselves instead of calling on RMC and outside help,” Scott said. “It’s going back to the way things should be. A ship should be self-sufficient.”
In 2022, SEA09, RMC, and NSWCDD employees responsible for implementing the FOTR program were recognized by NAVSEA Headquarters with the One NAVSEA Teamwork award for their ability to work across commands to make the fleet more self-sufficient.
The FOTR program’s mission is achievable due to the long history of fiber optic standardization work that has been conducted at NSWCDD as the Fiber Optics Branch serves as the Technical Design Agent, Systems Integration Agent, and In-Service Engineering Agent for the surface and sub-surface fleets. The tooling and test equipment required by the FOTR program are designed to support standardized and approved shipboard components. This allows the crew the ability, with a relatively small amount of equipment, to repair any system onboard that has adhered to using approved components in its design.
“We never know what’s going to happen out there [in a war zone],” Scott said. “If a ship is deployed and something happens, Sailors have to make repairs on the fly and react quickly. The job of the Fiber Optic Test and Repair program is to make sure the tools and personnel are in place so the work can be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible with no downtime.”