Navy struggles to improve subs' connectivity

Navy struggles to improve subs' connectivity

Vice Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr. seeks to improve subs' connectivity.

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

NORFOLK, Va.'Navy officials are installing upgraded network equipment on submarines this year to double their connectivity. The service is also placing a dedicated information systems officer on board each sub for the first time.

Since submarines are relatively small'an attack submarine such as the USS Hampton is just 302 feet long'there's little room for computer equipment. They also have sporadic network access via satellite at dockside or when surfaced.

Submarine Forces Atlantic and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command officials are completing Information Technology for the 21st Century installations through 2006, said Lt. Cdr. Peter Falk, Submarine Forces Atlantic information systems officer.

IT-21 equipment, which will include fiber backbones with asynchronous transfer mode technology, increases asymmetrical connectivity for incoming traffic from 32 Kbps to 64 Kbps, he said.

Compression technology can increase connectivity for incoming traffic to 128 Kbps, he said.

Outgoing traffic connectivity is 2.5 Kbps, and outgoing messages have a limit of 50K. Personnel on the submarine's watch floor manually converts each message to a proprietary exchange system, an operation that can take 30 seconds per message, Falk said.

'Submarines have poor information flow. They're not as good as a [surface] ship,' said Vice Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., commander of Submarine Forces Atlantic, during a speech at the recent Navy Connecting Technologies conference.

Well-suited

Nuclear submarines are ideal for collecting intelligence data because they can remain in an area for a long time, and they are the best weapons for anti-surface ship and anti-submarine warfare, Giambastiani said.

'We're installing networks as though they're a digital utility,' Falk said. Upgrades include replacing Microsoft Windows 3.11 systems running on Novell NetWare 3.12 LANs to LANs running Windows NT 4.0 Workstation on Windows NT 4.0 Server.

When they complete the installations, 'we can then focus on the information management side, like database management and knowledge management, rather than the day-to-day plumbing.'

Falk helps set information systems plans, policy and society for eight squadrons and 39 submarines in the Atlantic Fleet.

Submarine Forces Atlantic officials expect submarines whose IT-21 installations are scheduled for 2003 to 2006 to lag behind the fleet technologically in the meantime. Navy officials have completed nine of 10 NT Raider installations this year. The USS Newport News was the first, completed last August, Falk said. The average cost is $500,000 per installation.

'It's been two years of battling every day' for funding during his tour of duty, Giambastiani said. 'We've had to fight to get connectivity. I'm not proud that it's taken so long.

'I want this connectivity for my sailors now,' he said.

Aboard the Hampton, Petty Officer Jerry Hyde, a part-time LAN administrator, said he knows that subs aren't cutting edge, particularly with their long deployments. He checks the Web sites of Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Intel Corp. to see which of the companies' upcoming processor launches he'll miss.

During its last deployment, the Hampton logged 37,000 miles, said Chief Petty Officer Quinson Blueford, an information systems security manager whose main job is fire control. He has restricted Secret IP Router Network access to three sailors on board.

Close quarters

On the sub, 140 men work in a two-story structure they share with tomahawk missiles. Bumping into people is so common that sailors don't bother to say, 'excuse me.'

Submarine sailors are interested in flat-panel monitors because they save space, Hyde said. The Hampton has two 17-inch flat panel monitors from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. of Seoul, Korea, he said.

Sailors have to volunteer for submarine duty, and they receive two years of training before their first deployment, including psychological evaluations and security checks, before coming aboard.

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