Bringing high tech to the seas proves a tough challenge

The USS Yorktown and USS Rushmore are not the only technologically advanced surface
ships in the Navy with systems integration problems, according to a General Accounting
Office analyst.


Software interoperability problems aboard the cruisers USS Vicksburg and USS Hue City
recently forced the Navy to delay a full-rate production decision for a new combat system
called the Cooperative Engagement Capability, said Richard Price, a naval analyst for
GAO’s National Security and International Affairs Division.


“There’s no such thing as plug and play,” Price said. “The Navy is
putting commercial, off-the-shelf stuff on these ships, and it’s
trial-and-error.”


CEC is a high-speed network that exchanges and fuses radar data from all elements of a
carrier battle group, including aircraft and ships. It then provides the battle group with
a sweeping, over-the-horizon view of the battle area for easy tracking of enemy targets.
The network is designed to provide cruisers and destroyers with improved air and
anti-missile defenses.


The Vicksburg and Hue City were the first ships in the Navy to install CEC, which links
computers that control their respective weapon systems. The Navy has spent $10 million
upgrading the ships’ computers, but they do not work together properly and have
limited ability to launch weapons, Price said.


The problem: CEC integrates different systems, both old and new, each with its own
specific software programs and databases from different vendors, he said.


“Those two cruisers were kept from going out on deployment with a battle group
because of the problem,” Price said. “The Navy called an admirals’ meeting
and said, ‘Fix it.’”


A fiscal 1998 operational evaluation of CEC has been delayed until fiscal 2000 to give
software developers enough time to identify and resolve the interoperability problems,
Navy officials said.


GAO earlier this month sent a letter to Congress recommending a cut of $47.3 million
earmarked for CEC in the fiscal 1999 Defense Department appropriations bill. The suggested
cut was part of a $181 million reduction that GAO recommended in information technology
programs.


Navy chief information officer Ann Miller recently found a similar interoperability
problem in a weapons system aboard a battle group that was about to be deployed. The
battle group, based in Norfolk, Va., was deployed after a software engineering team
quickly fixed the problem. 


—Gregory Slabodkin

inside gcn

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