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Navy Outfits Sailors on Destroyers with Tablets

by Kris Osborn on August 16, 2014

TabletThe Navy has begun a new pilot program to put tablets on board a destroyer in order to reduce paperwork and more efficiently streamline maintenance procedures, service officials said.

Roughly 20 wireless tablets will soon arrive on board the USS Laboon, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer currently pier side in Norfolk, Va., Rear Adm. Herman Shelanski, director, assessment division, told Military​.com in an interview.

The idea is to automate a wide range of what Shelanski called “maintenance and material management” functions by using wireless digital technology to replace time-consuming paperwork.

“Sailors have said ‘we like the warfighting first but we can’t seem to get there. Our daily activities are filled with all this administrative stuff. There’s all this training we got to do, recording of the training and paperwork we need to do,’” Shelanski explained. “We’ve fallen behind in our ability to modernize and digitize certain processes.”

The idea for the program emerged online through a Navy global online discussion forum with sailors.

“One sailor’s good idea could have implications for the entire fleet,” said Lt. Jackie Pau, Navy spokeswoman.

Currently, a lot of routine maintenance work such as checking pumps, weapons, electronic systems and binoculars is done using manual systems and the printing of vast amounts of paperwork, he added.

The pilot program on the USS Laboon involves the use of new software for the hand-held devices to use as they catalogue and collect maintenance information on the ship.

Shelanski said the Navy will likely look into using hand-held device, smart phones and other wireless devices much more broadly on board vessels.

“We’re moving ahead with a big Navy vision as to what we are going to do. We’re going to automate all those procedures that before were done by hand,” he explained.

Today’s Navy sailors are well prepared to respond to this kind of initiative as they are accustomed to smart phones, hand held devices and wireless technology, Shelanksi added.

More sailors and Navy officers get internet connectivity while deployed on ships today using the Navy and Marine Corps network – however access to the Internet is often limited due to bandwidth and informational assurance or security issues.

Additional wireless connectivity would help expeditionary surface missions greatly by increasing real-time links between larger ships and the small boat missions used to support them, Shelanski said.

“When our ships are out doing counter piracy or maritime security operations, often times we’ll take a small ship and we’ll go out and investigate a ship – check the cargo. How do you talk to those guys? How do you better connect our Navy guys going off to do this mission,” he said.

He said wireless connectivity could, for example, allow sailors to send back pictures of the people and cargo they are inspecting in real time.

Overall, the Navy is more broadly looking at harnessing lessons from the experience of a handful of smaller pilot programs involving wireless devices and merging them into one larger effort.

“We’ve put together a meeting with all of the Navy entities to bring together lessons learned from all these small programs to advise and focus our vision,” he said.

For instance, there is wireless technology currently used on submarines and Naval Air Systems Command did a test pilot placing a microwave antenna on a ship to create a 4G network, Shelanski said.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ferguson PD August 16, 2014 at 7:25 am

Oh great, more ways to hack into the ship

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NathanS August 16, 2014 at 8:08 am

Given the 4G network only works over short distances, how so? If an enemy gets close enough to hack, the ship’s already sunk.

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blight_asdf August 16, 2014 at 8:41 am

They're probably using 802.11. If the military wants to pay someone for a secure operating system on AOSP to install on these tablets, go for it.

That said, the airlines are already moving in this direction…

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GR August 16, 2014 at 2:37 pm

The last thing I would want to do-is transmit any data (system maintenance, day-to-day ops, etc) through wi-fi and make it easy for anyone to potentially hack or disrupt.

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OriginalK August 16, 2014 at 2:10 pm

If you have a 4G receiver with a high gain antenna and low noise amp you can receive it at rather large distances. What this could do, if not propertly protected, is allow an enemy to know which ships, for example, are short on air defense missiles and plan their attack direction accordingly. The battle of the atlantic was won via German submarine transmissions.

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Ferguson PD August 16, 2014 at 7:53 pm

NathanS, please listen to originally and not be ignorant to the fact that submarines can sneak up on these ships

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Guest August 16, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Sounds like a brilliant idea to me. The AF is shifting to electronic flight pubs on tablets to save money, time, weight and fuel. Costs AMC around a million dollars a year just for the printing of paper pubs, to say nothing of the weight, space, and fuel costs. Also, just because you are transmitting over wi-fi doesn't mean the signal isn't encrypted.

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rtsy August 16, 2014 at 9:01 pm

The most optimistic part of me says that this may spur the Navy to take electronic threats more seriously and work on real security for wireless networks.

The realist says it'll be another potential door for a black hat to infiltrate.

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Jerry Furr August 16, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Sounds to me like this “new” Navy is so busy trying to cover their ass with paperwork that they can NO LONGER complete their mission. That’s sad!

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Big-Dean August 16, 2014 at 10:45 pm

No doubt these will be crappy Microsoft tablet-just another wide open door for the hackers to walk through

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@RSPW_DEP August 16, 2014 at 10:55 pm

This is neat. It is like Star Trek with the PADDs. Geordi LaForge would be pleased!

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Frederick Corbin August 17, 2014 at 7:46 am

My concern is what happens when the main frame is hacked and the tablets are rendered useless? An onboard back up data bus system that allows the ship to fight and function efficiently would be of paramount importance in my opinion.

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