Surface Forces: May 23, 2005

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The U.S. Navy is finally entering the digital age for navigation. The first all digital navigation system has been installed and is in use about the USS Cape St. George, a cruiser. Called the Voyage Management System (VMS), it uses 29 CDs containing the 12,000 paper nautical charts that were stored in several large filing cabinet. VMS is part of the Smart Ship Integrated Bridge System, which will eventually automate and computerize many of tasks performed to run the ship. VMS was developed from systems used on commercial ships for some ten years. Several other navies have also made the switch. A planned upgrade will put all the electronic charts on one high density DVD, as well as a high capacity hard drive. The electronic charts contain more information than the paper charts, and are much easier to use, and, more importantly, update. Since the 1990s, space satellites have been surveying the oceans, and providing a flood of data for updating charts. The inability to update charts quickly enough was the main reason for the submarine USS San Francisco hitting an undersea mountain earlier this year. The first submarine to get VMS is still having the system installed. If the USS San Francisco had VMS last January, and the electronic charts had been promptly updated (the sea mount was spotted by satellite in 1998 and 2004), the collision would not have happened. The navy believes that several groundings over the past decade would have been avoided had VMS been installed.  All U.S. Navy ships wont be equipped with VMS until 2008. The cabinets full of charts wont be discarded until Smart Ship computers and terminals are installed throughout the ship, so that others who need to use those charts can access them electronically. With VMS, navigation is much easier, and accurate. The users like it.

 


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