DAHLGREN, Va. –
This part is routine: a Navy radar operator watches as the movement of a small blip on his display indicates that a fishing vessel is sailing toward the open ocean.
This part is not: a mass of blips appear on the scope as fast attack boats zip past the fisherman. Moments later, the blue sky gives way to a freak thunderstorm. This improbable change in the weather alters the movement of electromagnetic waves used by radar, and causes the blips to shift around inaccurately on the display. At this point if Navy instructors wanted to dial up the pressure even further, they could bring an anti-ship missile into the simulation, or, perhaps a hostile submarine.
Extreme scenarios of this sort are within the realm of possible at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD); not on the water, but inside the Integrated Warfare Systems Laboratory (IWSL) and the adjoining Aegis Training and Readiness Center (ATRC) where combat systems are certified and Sailors are trained.
After classroom lessons on topics like proper radar operating procedures, Sailors apply their theoretical knowledge in simulations that mimic the challenges they will face while underway. The simulation capabilities in these buildings are always in high demand – often booked around the clock.
The simulations themselves are considerable technical achievements. Like a video game flight simulator, they are set in immersive digital worlds that combine realistic environmental surroundings with all kinds of friendly, neutral and hostile objects that may be encountered by naval warfighters. Instructors can bring in unexpected threats with a keystroke, or simulate technical problems to teach adaptation under difficult circumstances.
However unlike a video game, military simulators don’t use normal controllers that you can buy online. At development, test, and training sites across the country, Sailors can sit down in front of special consoles that mirror the wide variety of workstations found across the Navy’s surface fleet. That includes a handful of separate digital ecosystems, including the Aegis Combat System, used on destroyers and cruisers; the Ship Self-Defense System, used on aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships; and other combat system variants used on Zumwalt-class, Freedom-class and Independence-class ships.
The current landscape spans at least five separate combat systems and two combat system simulators. While many were developed by industry partners, others were developed in-house. Each of the simulators has different capabilities for the Navy and learning curves for trainees.
The Navy is working to break down some of those silos. Fleets of the future will replace the constellation of technology currently in use with a single fully integrated combat system. “We’re moving away from having three, four or five different combat systems on the different ship classes,” explained Amy Settle, NSWCDD Combat System Simulation Branch head. “The goal is to share a common core, and then you take the pieces that need to go with it on your ship. If you’ve got a 5-inch gun, you take that piece. If you’ve got a Phalanx, you take that piece.”
With the Navy steering toward a common integrated combat system, NSWCDD is working to apply that same approach to simulators. “The long-term plan is an integrated combat system,” Settle said. “The combat system simulation also needs to be focused on that long-term vision.”
The combat systems simulations team at Dahlgren is working on that product under the name Combat System Simulator Stimulator, or CS3. “The idea is to use the same simulation throughout system development, test and evaluation, certification, and sustainment of the program and training all the Sailors,” said Howard Kohl, combat system simulations chief engineer. “This enables many years of surface navy combat system support using a single simulation.”