Carrier's net runs aground

Carrier's net runs aground

The USS Nimitz leaves Newport News, Va., in June after overhaul, which included the new ICAN network.

Systems officer reports failures in new integrated network

The first aircraft carrier outfitted with the Navy's Integrated Communications and Advanced Network has reported that ICAN is not yet ready for duty.

The USS Nimitz 'is experiencing major problems with the ICAN system that are significantly impacting operational readiness,' the combat systems officer of the Nimitz told the fleet commander last month.

ICAN, an onboard asynchronous transfer mode backbone, was designed to replace multiple standalone networks for voice, data, navigation and mechanical control traffic. It is the first step toward all-electronic aircraft carriers such as the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan, set for 2003 launch.

In an Oct. 1 message to the commander of the Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet in San Diego, the combat systems officer, a lieutenant commander, reported that after several months' use, ICAN 'fails to adequately support mission requirements' and is a 'significant step backward from legacy standards.'

The Nimitz, after a 37-month overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., has arrived in its new home port at San Diego. It had been based at Norfolk, Va.

The Naval Sea Systems Command's Aircraft Carrier Program Office in Washington said the reported problems are 'within the range of normal start-up problems when considering the scope of the installation.'

A task group has been assigned to identify and correct problems, the office said in a written statement.

ICAN is part of a larger effort to equip carriers for network-centric warfare, which would make large amounts of information quickly comprehensible to officers.

The development group consists of the Navy's ship design organization, Newport News Shipbuilding and 21 subcontractors.

The Nimitz, a 1,097-foot-long carrier commissioned in 1975, was outfitted with an ICAN network during its overhaul. ICAN also is being installed on the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is in service.

The Reagan, last of the Nimitz-class carriers, is the first ship planned for ICAN from the keel up. It will have almost 20 miles of fiber cable for an OC-12 ATM backbone connecting 16 nodes, each capable of supporting hundreds of client drops. The Reagan also is under construction at Newport News.

Poor documentation

'Ongoing ICAN installations will benefit from the Nimitz lessons learned,' the NAVSEA Carrier Program Office said. 'Overall, this rigorous shakedown of ICAN will improve the system installations to come and assist in our understanding of integration of the system with the operational procedures of the crew.'

The Nimitz began operational trials in June and left Norfolk in September for San Diego.
ICAN problems reported by the Nimitz range from reliability to lack of documentation, training and repair parts. They include:

  • Public address system outages that remain unexplained despite exhaustive troubleshooting

  • Frequent reboots required to restore operation

  • Audio separation on four channels causing cross-channel interference

  • Reconfiguration that is 'extremely cumbersome and in many cases impossible.'

    One part of a flight control system caused an unexplained dial-up connection that tied up a flight deck communications system for 10 minutes until it could be reset. Several flight-control radio and public-address circuits were lost for 45 minutes during two exercises, and the reasons were never identified.

    'These exercises provided the most robust communications test to date for ICAN,' the Nimitz combat systems officer reported. 'All observations indicate a dramatic reduction in ICAN system reliability as circuit usage and numbers increase.'

    No formal training

    In addition to these problems, only two of 18 technical manuals for the system have been approved, and there is no formal training for ship's personnel.

    Key technicians trained by the shipbuilder are being transferred, and ICAN support comes from technicians who are detailed to other ship's systems. Software and hardware modifications to ICAN are poorly tested workarounds that do not address root causes of problems, the message said.

    Onboard repair parts have not been identified or delivered. Headsets designed specifically for ICAN 'fail at an extraordinarily high rate.' No off-the-shelf replacements are available and 'in fully manned watch situations, critical stations are working without headsets,' the Nimitz message said.

    The problems were previously reported without a viable long-term strategy for correcting them, the message said, adding that 'Nimitz is concerned that the full impact of ICAN shortcomings are not fully understood by NAVSEA Program Office.'

    The program office responded that 'a focused task group has been assigned to identify all issues and complete all corrective actions during the scheduled post-shakedown availability,' a four-month period early next year.
  • About the Author

    William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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