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The world is in the midst of a data explosion. No longer is it the one who has the most toys at the end who wins, but rather the one with the most data.

The predecessors to today’s submarine fleet had to process only a very small amount of data, this being limited to visual sightings, short range radar, infrequent radio communications and limited frequency band sonars. The onboard equipment was not very sophisticated, requiring that only a limited amount of reference data be readily available. In contrast, today’s nuclear fleet has a plethora of data not only to process, but to store as well. The complexity of the modern nuclear submarine itself requires a wealth of technical data to be kept handy at all times, in order to maintain the ship and crew combat ready.

The storage of all this data has not kept pace with the technology currently available. No longer is valuable space required for storage of bulky, reel to reel recording tapes onboard a submarine preparing for deployment. Cabinets and safes filled with manuals of various sorts can also be eliminated. Optical disk storage systems, which have been in development for over a decade, can now adequately handle the data explosion at sea.

Just one 12″ optical platter holds up to 3,000 million characters — the equivalent data of 15 magnetic storage tapes. Two cubic feet of optical disk storage space replaces 32 cubic feet of tape storage. Data can be packed on a disk at up to 42,000 bits per inch. Current progress in optical disk technology is expected to double this storage capability within the next few years.

Optical disk storage has other added benefits. The typical military data recording rate for tape systems is 30,000 thirty-two bit words/sec. The best recording rates for current systems is less than 200 Kbytes/sec. Optical disk systems can achieve a storage rate well in excess of 300 Kbytes/sec. The optical df~k error rate can be held to less than 1 in 10 bits. The optical disks themselves are very easy to handle and use. They have very little risk of becoming contaminated and are not affected by magnetic fields. They also have a typical shelf-life of greater than ten years, with some manufacturers claiming up to a 100-year shelf life.

The more popular optical disk systems on the current market are called WORM systems. These optical disks can be written to only once, but can be read back many times. Thus, once data is placed on these disks, it cannot be erased or changed. However, the data can be updated through the use of pointers which link groups of data, thereby allowing the addition of new information to old data or using new data entirely in its place. This feature provides a convenient audit trail for data which is frequently updated and which requires a historical reference.

The Interactive Compact Disk can contain text, audio and video stills. It has the capability of indexing and searching. Just one 5 1/4″ disk can hold up to 120,000 pages of text. Significant printing costs could be saved by converting to an optical disk library. The cost to make one of these disks with data is under $250. The cost to print 120,000 book pages is well over $4,500. Just a small box of these disks could conceivably replace every manual onboard a submarine.

When an unknown contact appears in the crosshairs of the periscope a few keywords which describe the contact can be typed into a computer keyboard. Almost immediately a graphic picture is displayed, along with textual descriptions or everything contained in the optical disk system database which matches the inputted keywords. By scrolling through the graphics, the one which matches the contact can be spotted easily. A graphic display makes it easier for a larger number or people to view at the same time. No longer will there be a mad scramble to find the proper document in order to identify the contact nor is valuable time wasted looking through references. Only a limited number or recognition features can be utilized by conventional documents, whereas in an optical disk system an almost unlimited number or keywords can be utilized to identify a contact.

The very time-consuming task or document maintenance is eliminated with an optical disk system. Whenever the ship pulls into port it simply turns in its entire set or optical disks ror a new, updated set. The old disks are either updated by the shore facility, if space remains on the disks, or are destroyed. Accountability is greatly enhanced, especially for classified documents. Classified destruction is simplified. The costs or mailing and transporting these documents is also significantly reduced.

The space saved onboard can be put to much better use. Shelves no longer need be occupied by documents which are rarely (if ever) used during an entire deployment. This new-found space can be utilized for additional crew comforts. The very fact that optical disks hold so much information means that more data can be carried onboard than ever before. Extensive crew training programs can be placed on a disk.

This system can also be easily configured for simultaneous multiple users. One system can supply the data needs or the entire ship through strategically placed data terminals. Existing systems can be connected to this elaborate database. Word processing systems now can have not only a complete dictionary and thesaurus to reference, but also an extensive library or graphics for onboard desktop publishing. Crew members also are relieved from the burden of looking through indexes (should they exist) or several different documents to find the information they require. Just a few inputted keywords and the system does all the searching at a greatly accelerated rate.

Technology is rapidly creating a paperless society. The submarine community should be leading the way. Having the most data only ensures a win if one can readily access it. An optical disk storage system is the next step forward.

Richard D. Lanning, Jr.

Naval Submarine League

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