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USS Dahlgren - An Integrated Naval Fire-Control-Loop Laboratory Environment

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications Division | Nov. 17, 2015

DAHLGREN, Va. - The virtual USS Dahlgren - built to assess the naval fire-control-loop through research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) - is available for Navy warfare centers to access and leverage its distributed testing capabilities.


From its berth at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren Division, the cybernetic ship is facilitating high fidelity testing between geographically separated systems at warfare center divisions from coast to coast.


"All testing occurs within the fence in an environment that does not impact Navy ships or crew members," said Steve Shannon, NSWCDD engineer. "The testing normally required aboard a real ship or other high demand sites can be now accomplished through USS Dahlgren."


Its integrated testing capabilities ensure that test and evaluation resources can rapidly adapt to changing warfighters' needs.


What's more, the Navy Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) funded-test bed allows emerging technologies such as electromagnetic railgun, solid-state lasers, or similar cutting edge weapon systems to be evaluated side-by-side with fielded naval systems.


The concept began 15 years ago when most NSWCDD labs were isolated and internally focused," said Shannon. "Our labs were built for specific customers and missions but we invested in fiber installation across the base to leverage previous investments in lab construction. This fiber install laid the ground work for a significant test bed that would eventually become USS Dahlgren."


Once USS Dahlgren was connected, NSWCDD scientists and engineers began mission level testing and experimentation. They are using RDT&E resources integrated into the cohesive, real-time, net-centric engineering environment that replicates many of the fire-control systems found aboard naval platforms, including sensor, command and control, and weapon systems.


From Dahlgren, they access the cybernetic ship's distributed capability to detect, identify, track, engage, and assess sensor-weapon capabilities in a littoral operational environment prior to integration aboard warships.


The continuous testing capability spans the acquisition lifecycle, featuring off-site connectivity to investigate ship, battle force, and joint force integration and the ability to replicate the fleet environment to address issues observed at sea.  


When emphasis shifted to an earlier point in the Navy's test and evaluation systems engineering cycle, USS Dahlgren was there to help scientists and engineers identify and correct interoperability issues prior to full-scale development or shipboard integration.


For example, it was vital to testing the NSWCDD-patented and NISE-funded Visual Automatic Scoring System (VASS) which calculates gunfire miss distances and instantly adjusts targeting for gunners to converge gunfire onto a target without risking the lives of forward observers.


Surface warfare officers observed its capability demonstrated via USS Dahlgren at a September 2014 event on the Potomac River Test Range the moment Cmdr. Marc Williams ordered a gun engagement on a simulated threat based on identification and targeting data streaming from an unmanned surface vehicle.


Williams, the experiment's surface warfare tactical action officer, deployed a Scan Eagle UAV to spot, target, engage and continually support reengagement via VASS gun targeting corrections to the MK160 gun weapon system operator.


"The event exemplified how we enable technology to expand the battle space over-the-horizon," said Neil Baron, NSWCDD distinguished scientist for combat control. "USS Dahlgren is empowering our integration of unmanned air and surface vehicles into the fire-control-loop for greatly expanded battle space and increased reaction times."


Throughout the test, the cybernetic USS Dahlgren responded to reports of hostile threats by searching intelligence and data across multiple air and ship control operational systems, maximizing response accuracy and timeliness.


"The virtual USS Dahlgren is hosting new technological advancements and platforms for integrated test and evaluation full speed ahead," said NSWCDD Technical Director Dennis McLaughlin after the demonstration, reported in a news release published by the Navy Chief of Information via this link: http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=86133. "We are providing linkage that ensures our test and evaluation capabilities can be rapidly adapted to changing warfighter needs."


Meanwhile, potential users throughout the warfare centers are also linking to the virtual ship's hardware and Aegis weapon system programs. They are connecting to USS Dahlgren via networks like the Secure Defense Research and Engineering Network and the Joint Information Operations Range to integrate, test, and adapt emerging systems designed to be effective and interoperable in the Fleet.