Net-Centric Maintenance Needed on Subs: Remote Access to Virtual Repair Shops Could Save Money, Gain Efficiency. (Commentary)

By Floyd, Carl M.; Miles, Daniel W. | National Defense, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Net-Centric Maintenance Needed on Subs: Remote Access to Virtual Repair Shops Could Save Money, Gain Efficiency. (Commentary)


Floyd, Carl M., Miles, Daniel W., National Defense


Submarine crews often must fix broken pieces of equipment while at sea--weeks away from a shore stop. In some cases, they may not be able to figure out what is wrong. Such breakdowns can be very bad news for a submarine conducting sensitive missions in deep ocean waters.

Depending on the seriousness of the problem, a submarine may have to go back to port or technicians ashore may have to be dispatched to check out the situation.

These troubles could be avoided if submariners were linked to a virtual maintenance facility ashore that could help solve the problem, remotely.

The ship's crew would use a video camera to capture images of the broken equipment--images that would be seen in real time by an expert at the maintenance center ashore. Thanks to some well-placed sensors, the expert can start running system rests on the equipment from his desk.

Based on those rests, the expert then forwards instructions to the ship via email, describing how to fix the problem while he watches and lends advice. He can test the systems on all the hulls in the fleet electronically to see if they are at risk for a similar breakdown. Later, he can upgrade the software on navigation systems in every submarine in the fleet.

This way of doing business is known as net-centric maintenance. NCM proposes to make maximum use of the Internet and military communication networks, allowing external government agencies to securely "touch the boat" and, in the process, reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Among the benefits of NCM are avoidance of travel, increased productivity, a more responsive technical assistance process to the fleet, less equipment downtime, increased quality-of-life, distance downloading of software, elimination of security requirements for carrying classified information, and a reduction in training costs by concurrently upgrading required computer-based training. NCM, additionally, would enable "simultaneous fleet upgrades," avoiding varying software configurations

Essentially, NCM would help achieve the "paperless ship" goal.

There are five areas that need to considered in NCM:

Distance Diagnostics--The ability of a subsystem to run diagnostics at the system/subsystem level from a remote location, to assess the problem by obtaining additional data and providing an enhanced resolution, eventually eliminating the need for a physical technical assist.

Distance Grooming and Preventative Maintenance--The ability to test the subsystem from a remote location to facilitate the preventative maintenance process.

Distance Testing and Certification--The ability to test and certify the subsystem remotely, using state-of-the-art information technology.

Distance Downloading of Software and Patrol Data Extraction--The ability to provide software updates to support installation/upgrade efforts. Using the upcoming SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network) upgrade, SUBIS will be able to download subsystem software reducing the number of personnel currently required for this effort. SUBIS is the Submarine Imaging Subsystem, a set of analog video and digital still cameras that record the view from the periscope and provides image enhancement software for image analysis.

Distance Configuration Maintenance--The ability to maintain shipboard configuration through electronic "simultaneous" updates with the most current information, eliminating varying software configurations among class ships, and the elimination of "on-hull" ship checks will be accomplished with the video camera and current software which can determine actual dimensions using a digitized image.

The NCM concept proposes to provide a pro-active approach to maintenance and would be applicable to all classes of submarines, surface ships, aircraft and weapons.

The implementation of net-centric maintenance is anticipated to evolve in four steps. …

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