Does VIRGINIA really offer something new and different for the Submarine Force? You bet it does! One of the many improvements VIRGINIA has to offer is its Command and Control System Module (CCSM), the nerve center of the submarine, unmatched by that of any previous submarine class. It will focus more information on a variety of displays, all within easy view or reach of the Commanding Officer, thereby giving him the ability to reach decisions with far more information drawn from superior sensor systems. This will revolutionize how submarine warfare is conducted.
Unlike previous classes, the CCSM is located on the second platform instead of the first platform, and therefore has more space for assembling an attack team and including equipment for maxi-mum combat effectiveness. It holds the submarine’s traditional Control Room/Attack Center, which is still referred to as Control, and serves as an integrated space for Ship Control, Sonar, Combat Control, Imaging, Navigation, countermeasure & launcher control subsystems, Radar, and Architecture (computers and networks). The Electronic Surveillance (ES) and External Communications System (ECS) are also located on the 2•d Platform, but in separate adjacent spaces for security purposes.
Key to locating the CCSM on the second platform is the use of Photonics Masts in the Virginia Class instead of the conventional optical periscopes used in previous Classes. Photonics Masts in these ships telescope upward from the base of the sail, do not penetrate the pressure hull, and use video cameras with digital imaging technology to gather images and present them electronically on display surfaces. So the interior space previously lost to periscope stowage and operation is available to the Captain and his Attack Center team. This also gives them an unobstructed view of the entire space, permitting a much easier survey of the information available from the sensor systems in Control, facilitating enhanced warfighting effectiveness. In addition, the color, black and white, and infrared images available through the Photonics Mast can be viewed by many crewmembers at once on vertical large screen displays (VLSD’s).
The Captain’s station, located at the center of the entire CCSM, affords him control of the 2 VLSD’s-one on either side of the Ship Control Station -through a dual-console Command Work Station (CWS). He also has control of the-Photonics Masts at this station via a joystick. Very close to him are his principal systems: one step to port are the Sonar, Tactical Support System (TSS) and Submarine Regional Warfare System (SRWS)-all presenting information in color on flat panel displays; directly in front of him is the Ship Control System; a step to starboard are the Combat Control flat panel displays and the countermeasure/launcher control. Immediately behind him is the Horizontal Large Screen Display (HLSD) Navigation/plotting table, the Imaging System Photonics Mast Workstation (PMW) and the Navigation Data Display and Distribution (NDDD) System console. To starboard aft of the Combat Control System is the Special Purpose Console that controls the Radar systems and the computer network. Outboard of the Combat Control System are ES and ECS.
Typical of any submarine, space in Virginia Class remains at a premium. But it’s obvious that the information displayed and made available in Control is far in excess of that seen in earlier classes of submarines. Using the numerous displays just mentioned, together with photonics images, he can quickly gather a very complete picture of his tactical situation.
The Ship Control System (SCS) also contrasts strikingly with previous classes. It is a software-controlled fly-by-wire fiber optic system with combined Ship Control Panel (SCP) and Ballast Control Panel (BCP) functions. Ship control and maneuvering is accomplished with a joystick similar to an F-16 fighter pilot’s stick instead of the steering and diving yokes that have been used for years. The pilot’s stick includes action buttons in true fighter pilot style. In fact, the new SCS watch station positions are now termed Pilot and Co-Pilot -vice Helmsman and Plainsman, and the number of watchstanders has been reduced from 4 to 2, as the functions of the Diving Officer and Chief of the Watch have been incorporated into the Pilot and Co-Pilot. Many functions are automated, and there is high redundancy to ensure reliability.
CCSM’s Interior Communications (IC) have also been vastly improved. The Officer of the Deck (OOD) and system operators have access to multiple circuits, and the ability to connect with other system operators directly. These enhancements greatly support the development of a comprehensive tactical and operational picture.
All OOD’s have had occasions when the Messenger of the Watch needed to be contacted while on an errand, but had to wait for his return to Control. No longer. In Virginia Class, this watchstander carries wire-free communications and can be contacted from Control -regardless of location.
Design of the Virginia Class occurred in an environment of explosive growth and ready availability of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) products, a changing battle space role for the Submarine Force, and a Congressional mandate for reductions in submarine shipbuilding costs. The commercial availability of these state-of-the-art products and tools provided the catalyst for changing how we design, develop and deliver submarine Combat and Non-Propulsion Electronics (NPE) systems, and how we design and construct ships.
For instance, in previous classes of submarines, the Combat and Non-Propulsion Electronics (NPE) systems were specified and ordered years in advance of the start of ship construction. Systems development was a long and expensive process, and in many instances the technology and capabilities were obsolete at ship delivery. In the Virginia Class, CCSM development embraced the availability and capabilities of the COTS products to economically provide a much more robust product-one that will have the ability to upgrade performance simply by replacing the individual computer cards with newer, more powerful cards. This also reduces supply support costs. Thus the Navy will receive a ship fitted with systems in step with 21st century technology, ready to support the Fleet’s missions, and more easily supported logistically.
The power of the COTS software design tools also sparked a revolution in submarine design and construction. COTS-based tools have moved ship design from the drafting table to the computer, and facilitated modular ship construction and assembly at multiple sites. Significantly, ship designers and architects are now able to lay out, modify, refine, analyze and visually walk through any space or compartment in the ship -well in advance of the start of construction. Perhaps no space on the ship better reflects the blending of COTS-based Combat and NPE systems and the revolution in ship design and construction than the CCSM. The Photonics Masts removed the large design constraint of linking the sail, periscopes and Control together, giving more freedom to move and rearrange Control during the ship design process.
Captain David Kem, PCU VIRGINIA’s Prospective Commanding Officer, and his crew have been through training curriculum, worked together on system trainers, drilled at the CCSM Off-Hull Assembly and Test Site (COATS) facility, and spent many early-morning hours on VIRGINIA’s tactical system as the installation matured. All are looking forward to exercising the entire system at sea. As the team becomes more proficient in use of the CCSM and its enhancements, he expects recommendations to further improve its effectiveness. He’s very much aware of the crew’s familiarity with the latest computer technology, and recognizes the opportunity they have to set a new course for submarine warfare with this new ship.
When asked about the larger implications of the ship’s capabilities, he mentioned that 1/3 of the Tomahawks launched during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) came from submarines. VIRGINIA will carry all the weapons used by SSN 688 class submarines during that operation, and have a more sophisticated communications system that will allow them to participate in the digital data nets that are evolving from the systems used in OIF. This is the course set by the Chief of Naval Operations as the Navy continues to evolve its communications and computer systems to increase the exchange of tactical information. Captain Kem has noted that the submarine continues to evolve in its warfare roles, and he expects Virginia Class ships will take us a long way in that evolution. VIRGINIA is ideally suited to participate via FORCENET with the Operating Forces as a key player in the CNO’s Seapower 21 construct.