Centralized radio functions streamline Navy destroyers

Artist's concept: The Navy's new DD(X) destroyer, shown here in action in an artist's drawing, will have few visible antennas to draw the notice of enemy radar. Actual photo: Current destroyers such as the USS Mustin, shown here, bristle with as many 150 radio antennas

Courtesy of the Navy; image courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corp.

Fewer antennas mean less interference and require less manpower to maintain

The Navy doesn't want thickets of antennas to mar the sleek lines of its next-generation warships, so the Office of Naval Research is developing a system to cut down on the number needed to send and receive radio signals.

The Advanced Multifunction Radio Frequency Concept program is developing a hardware-software resource allocation manager for multiple functions.

'A central computer controls all the resources,' said Keith Krapels, program officer in ONR's surveillance, communications and electronic combat unit. 'There is a goodly amount of software in there that does a lot of parsing to say who gets what resources when.'

AMRF-C technology, which will be tested in war games on the Chesapeake Bay later this year, will go into service beginning with the DD(X) land-attack destroyer, set for 2011 delivery.

Aesthetics isn't the only reason to clear out the forest of antennas.

The arrays 'tend to interfere with each other,' Krapels said, not only on board a single ship, but also with other ships in a battle group and with shore equipment. They also are expensive and require a lot of attention to operate and maintain.

'If you can reduce the number of individual RF systems, you can reduce the manpower,' Krapels said. That is vital for the new destroyers, which must operate with one-quarter, or less, the crew of current destroyers.

DD(X) ships will have electric drives and integrated power systems to share power between propulsion and other demands, including information systems. The Total-Ship Computing Environment will integrate:
  • Combat system control

  • Command, control, communications, computers and intelligence infrastructure

  • Nontactical systems.

To reduce visibility to enemy radar, the new ships will have a low, angled profile reminiscent of the Civil War-era ironclad gunboats, USS Monitor and CSS Virginia.

Like IT in other areas of government, current shipboard systems have grown up piecemeal over the years in multiple stovepipe applications.

'The current ships were laid down in the 1970s,' Krapels said. 'They were not designed to accommodate all the functionality' that has been added.

The AMRF-C program, started in 1999, early this year began readying the last components for an advanced technology demonstration at the Naval Research Laboratory in Chesapeake Beach, Md.

'This is a difficult technology,' Krapels said. 'Five years ago everyone would have said, 'You guys are nuts.' But we're pretty confident today we can do it.'

The war games will demonstrate simultaneous control of signals for commercial and military satellite links, navigation and surface search radar, and electronic warfare receiving and jamming.

Critical applications

Asset allocation will be rather like a carrier's quality-of-service provisioning. Priority will go to critical applications such as jamming, when needed, at the expense of less critical applications such as Internet connectivity.

The demonstrations will not include long-range and air search radar and voice communications, which use lower RF spectrum.

More systems will become part of the final shipboard implementation, but some specialized systems probably will not be part of it. Long-range surveillance radar and missile defense radar, for instance, have their own large antenna arrays, and it would not make sense to try to share resources with them.

For the first time, ONR will work with the Navy's program executive office on the acquisition phase. Moving beyond the technology demonstration will require a new set of skills from the naval engineers.

DD(X) has undergone preliminary design review. A contract for the first ship will be awarded next year.

'Their requirements are a moving target,' Krapels said.

He said he could not decide whether developing the technology or seeing it through acquisition would be harder.

'Without a doubt, there are challenges on both sides of the equation,' he said.

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