A concentrated effort to improve Aegis radar performance in deployed ships, like the cruiser Mobile Bay, seen escorting the carrier John C. Stennis, is paying off, the U.S. Navy says. (MCS 3rd Class Stephanie Smith / U.S. Navy)
WASHINGTON — When U.S. Navy Aegis destroyers fitted with the Baseline 7.1.2 upgrade started operating a few years ago with other Aegis ships, problems soon became apparent.
“Their automatic track database management wasn’t as good — as in sync — as it should have been with the rest” of the ships, explained Navy Capt. Tom Druggan, a former destroyer commander now in charge of Aegis fleet readiness at the Naval Sea Systems Command.
The ships’ displays might show, for example, a single target as three separate tracks, requiring operators to tweak and reconcile the discrepancies.
“That required a lot of human intervention to make it right — too much so,” he said.
As a result, operational commanders began restricting how the dozen ships fitted with 7.1.2 could interact with a strike group. Some ships were allowed to receive the common operational picture, but not transmit their own contacts. Other times, a ship was allowed to transmit its data, but with restrictions.
Ultimately a fix, dubbed 7.1.3, was created and installed, and the alignment problem was cured, Druggan said. Further improvements under the Accelerated Mid-Term Interoperability Improvement Project (AMIIP) are taking the human intervention portion out of the loop, creating an automated system aimed at improving the performance of some of the U.S. Navy’s most important combat systems.
“It’s not just Aegis,” Druggan said. Other systems involved in the AMIIP improvements include the Cooperative Engagement Capability, tactical data links 11 and 16, the Ship Self-Defense System, E-2C Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft, the Shipboard Gridlock System Automatic Correlation and command and control processor systems.
“It’s really a transition from a functional air defense picture, with a lot of people managing it minute-to-minute, to a clear air defense picture automatically delivered by the system,” Druggan said. “It’s taken care of all those discontinuities and timing between systems. Resolving all that. With AMIIP, the system does that for us.”
Resolving the interoperability issues with 7.1.2 was only a portion of a wider effort spearheaded by Druggan and the Office of Surface Warfare, N96, at the Pentagon, to improve the overall performance of the Aegis system and its radars. They were singled out in 2010 as a problem area by the Navy’s Balisle Report on fleet readiness and other studies.
At issue was a host of problems with Aegis, including maintenance and logistics issues, training and manpower concerns, fleet proficiency and anti-air warfare readiness problems, and the development of the latest system baseline, 9.0. The overall improvement effort was grouped under the heading of “Aegis Wholeness.”
“It’s now a partnership between Rear Adm. Tom Rowden at N96 and Rear Adm. Joseph Horn at Integrated Warfare Systems [IWS] to go get those funds and protect that investment in the [budget], where we moved money — lots of money — to support these efforts,” Capt. Jim Kilby, N96’s deputy for ballistic missile defense, said April 4 during an interview with Druggan at the Pentagon.
Also key to the effort’s success is the need to protect Aegis Wholeness funding as managers scramble to manage budget cuts.
“To champion that as we move forward in the budget cycle” is important, Kilby said, “and not do what we did in the past, where some people viewed those accounts as something that could be [moved elsewhere]. We found that that investment is important to protect.”
SPY Is Key
The team zeroed in on addressing issues with the SPY radars, the large, flat-panel arrays fitted to the superstructures of Aegis ships.
“SPY readiness drives Aegis readiness,” Druggan declared. “If the SPY radar is not available, the ship can’t do air warfare, it can’t do surface warfare. SPY has lots of redundancies built into it, but you never want to get to the point where you lose that radar.”
The Aegis Wholeness team began tracking the SPY performance of the cruiser Mobile Bay, the air defense escort for the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, along with the SPYs on board the destroyers assigned to the carrier strike group. Data was collected daily on the radars — something that hadn’t been done before — and trends began to emerge.
“We found that a lot of the parts that failed weren’t available in theater, so we added an integrated logistics support piece,” Kilby said. “Where should we put high-failure parts? In Yokosuka, Naples, Bahrain, other areas, so they’re regularly accessible, reducing down time, the cost of shipping the parts out.”
As a result of the studies, problematic parts have been identified, and an effort to systematically replace them has begun.
“Things like switch tubes, 32 in each radar,” Druggan said. At $2,500 apiece, “they fail regularly, and you’re reducing your capability in the radar while you replace those.”
A new, solid-state replacement for the vacuum-tubed switch tubes is expected to be developed soon.
The team also took a close look at training and manning assignments, complicated by the variety of Aegis baselines spread among the more than 80 ships fitted with the system.
“The number of baselines doesn’t drive readiness. What it drives is unique schoolhouse, unique logistics,” Druggan said. “We can’t train a sailor once and use him on lots of ships. We can train him once and use him on a couple variants of ships. Going from baseline to baseline to baseline incurs a training cost, and it incurs logistics costs.”
One partial solution is the introduction of Baseline 9, the latest version of the Aegis combat system fitted to the cruiser Chancellorsville and destroyer John Paul Jones.
“Those could have been four different baselines — cruiser, in-service destroyer, new construction destroyer and Aegis ashore” versions, Druggan said. But a major effort was made to combine the variants as much as possible.
“They’re 97 percent to 99 percent actual reuse of code,” he said. “The displays are all the same; the computing network is the same.”
The number of in-theater technical representatives has also been increased, along with enhanced training courses that added three weeks to a ship’s predeployment workups.
But more data is needed to continue the improvements.
“I make a gentleman’s agreement with the air defense commander of the deployed strike groups,” Druggan said. “I’ll help you if your ships will record this, doing the maintenance and tracking it over time.”
The tactical results are measurable, Kilby said.
“What this means tactically is earlier detection of target in a ballistic missile engagement, earlier return radar, earlier engagement of more missiles. That’s what this does.”