Navy tests telemaintenance for cruise missiles

Navy tests telemaintenance for cruise missiles

It can cost a bundle and take days for technicians to fly out to an aircraft carrier group, make their way to a designated ship and help with maintenance and repair of a Tomahawk cruise missile launching system.

That's why the Keyport, Wash., office of the Naval Sea Systems Command is testing a combination of satellite communications, video compression and wearable computers for telemaintenance.

Joseph W. Phillips, a civilian mechanical engineer with NAVSEA Keyport, has been working on the Remote Technical Assistance System for three years. It is sponsored by the Navy's cruise missile program office.

'With weapons control systems, there are always maintenance issues. Usually it requires a phone call or e-mail question, or we have to send a system expert out to the ship,' Phillips said.

With live video, a sailor can show the problem to a maintenance expert anywhere and be guided through the repair. The obstacles that slowed development of the system were ensuring security and fitting a video transmission into the small bandwidth typically available on ships, Phillips said.

To solve these problems, NAVSEA used a modified version of Microsoft's NetMeeting videoconferencing product and wavelet JPEG compression using PicTools Rapidvue from Pegasus Imaging Corp. of Tampa, Fla. To bolster security, NAVSEA technicians disabled a function that lets one NetMeeting client take control of another, Phillips said.

Carburetor on camera

The system is hosted on an MA-V, a wearable, battery-operated PC from Xybernaut Corp. of Fairfax, Va., and equipped with a video camera and Ethernet connection. The computer is worn like a backpack, leaving a user's hands free. The video feed reaches Milstar satellites via the ship's existing network. Phillips said his group is experimenting with wireless hookups.

Phillips said the crews of the cruise missile ships USS Milius and USS Port Royal, based in San Diego and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, respectively, have tested the system. They've connected to their home ports and to commercial shipyards in Bath, Maine, and Pascagoula, Miss. Before the system can be deployed across the Navy, Phillips said, it must pass muster with the Chief of Naval Operations and testing by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

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