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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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{ 53 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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gechologist August 17, 2014 at 9:50 am

I don't think you quite understand how WiFi works.

UAVGeek August 18, 2014 at 5:27 pm

It's not that easy to hack Wifi if you use certificate based authentication, enterprise security etc. Believe me, people have tried.

@GreensboroVet August 16, 2014 at 6:06 pm

It's the wave of the future. Keep up or fall behind.

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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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xXTomcatXx August 18, 2014 at 9:23 am

It's not only about wireless transmission. You have to worry about malicious code being introduced into the network by these tablets. You can't sailor proof these tablets. All you need is one of them to download angry birds or whatnot on there and suddenly you've potentially compromised the network.

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blight_asdf August 18, 2014 at 11:21 am

Not if they use a closed-garden version of Android (no "Play Store") and don't permit loading unverified apk's. Better safe than sorry.

A fork of AOSP using a Navy app repository (similar to how Amazon uses their own app store in lieu of google play) where only the Navy picks the apps may work.

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xXTomcatXx August 18, 2014 at 11:28 am

As soon as that tablet gets connected to computer it's at risk of compromise. The same reason the DoD has "banned" thumb drives.

Another scenario. Sailor Sam realizes his maintenance tablet's running low on juice, but cant find an outlet. Conveniently, it's micro USB connection allows him to charge it from computer or laptop.

Leon Suchorski August 19, 2014 at 1:05 am

I don't like it. It still brings up the age old question of WHY DID THE WORK if no one signs off on it at maintenance control

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Mark August 19, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Easy enough if no box is checked while near the appropriate NFC. Task can be monitored in real time of completion if wirelessly connected.

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hibeam August 16, 2014 at 10:18 am

What's wrong with screaming at each other through long tubes? This is what happens when unions don't run the show.

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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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Pridon August 21, 2014 at 2:16 am

And why are they giving them Samsung POS. Plastic Krean crap with pirated software and design.

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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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VMFA-115 August 24, 2014 at 11:19 am

I agree.

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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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Mark August 19, 2014 at 3:04 pm

However non-jail broken Apples are nearly impossible to spy through. http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2014/08/12/want-to-sp

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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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Tiger August 20, 2014 at 1:32 am

Bring on the tri corder.

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Mark August 20, 2014 at 10:58 am
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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Lou August 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm

I am curious how WiFi works through so many walls of aluminum and steel….

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blight_asdf August 18, 2014 at 8:27 am

Means lots and lots of repeaters.

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UAVGeek August 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm

If the bulkheads are open, the inside of the ship will work like a waveguide, if the bulkheads are closed then you put an AP in there.

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Bill Ridgeway August 20, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Actually, a waveguide system will carry the Wi-Fi signal throughout the ship. Not very hard for that to be set up. Many ships already have the waveguide system aboard ships.

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Richard T August 17, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Well, i hope they put up some fantastic protection and security. I am more worried about accidental leaks by the crew. So, i hope the extremely limit these devices to do only work.

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Tiger August 20, 2014 at 1:34 am

Your in the freaking ocean…… Leak to who, Mr. Limpet?

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rat August 18, 2014 at 7:01 am

It definitely has it's place, but it also definitely better not be used some things (which I'm certain it won't be). But are we going to be build a less stealthy version for export? And a VSTOL variant for the Marines? That's what Congress should be asking…

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Joe August 18, 2014 at 12:38 pm

the marine version must be able to operate at high speed in an amphibious environment but need not be capable in mountain warfare, jungle warfare, desert warfare, urban envirornments, peacekeeping, counter terrorism, or fighting sneaky because its not 'our mission'.

Seriously I had a marine corps major tell me that 'You army guys fight too sneaky' while serving as OPFOR at fort polk. My reply was 'Sir all warfare is based on deception so best to deceive the enemy not yourself'.

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guy August 18, 2014 at 9:17 am

Question… why would you need to encrypt maintenance records? Walk into any space on the ship and the 13 week report is glaring at you. I don't think any of you understand what these tablets are being used for. There are a ton of processes that are completely unclassified that can be transitioned to paperless. Watch logs can be set up on tablets or computers that back up the data at a regular period, no WiFi needed. Handheld electronics are already being used to scan IDs when you visit large bases. The fear of being "hacked" for mundane processes is just technophobia. The Navy can't claim to be taking on Cyber warfare and then cower when it comes to a tablet. Push them out for everyday processes and keep them out of secure spaces. Simple as that and you'll save so much time and paperwork.

Also:
"More sailors and Navy officers get internet connectivity while deployed on ships today using the Navy and Marine Corps network" Check your facts author, NMCI is for shore facilities only. Not for ships…

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blight_asdf August 18, 2014 at 11:24 am

Navy can do plenty to rudimentarily secure them, starting by ensuring that sailors can't visit certain sites, can't download apk's and can only access certain networks. Configure them for intranet and keep them off the internet and we'll all be fine.

I am sure some barbarian thought /writing/ down military records was against OPSEC, whereas the people that adopted writing could rapidly transmit information from firsthand to others without having to send the firsthand guy to communicate it himself.

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Joe August 18, 2014 at 12:39 pm

the iraqi air defense system was hacked in 1991 though routine printer maintenance. thats a fact.

nothing phobic about net security

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George w. McCormic August 18, 2014 at 9:35 am

Makes it easier to gun deck inspections reports

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Ed C August 18, 2014 at 9:44 am

What…..no more MAFS and SAFS to fill out?????

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Captain H August 18, 2014 at 9:59 am

Great idea! Automate morning muster, watch lists, maintenance checks, possibly even some routine log entries. But, the whiners. Get a life. I turn a deaf ear on whiners, no matter what they have to say. Too much training? Too much paperwork? Too much admin? Let's see, your courses for advancement are automated. Your Personnel records are digitized. Pay is automated. Navigation, Combat Information, Engineering controls, Supply Inventory, is mostly automated — even some ship defense in combat . Whine, Whine, Whine. Get a life and quit whining, and spend more time enjoying your job, your training, your advancement, your pay, your liberty, and maybe you can find ways to use the awesome technology that is available for something productive, and enjoy the best damn job you could ever have — the United States Navy!!

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Joe August 18, 2014 at 12:40 pm

lets automate the pentagon. fire some flag officers and their bloated staffs!

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Tiger August 20, 2014 at 1:41 am

Remember the world of needing bank tellers To get money only during 9am & 3 pm?
Or having a phone operator plug a wire to make a call??
How about dropping off film to get developed in a hour?
Thank God for the TV remote….

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Elgin Daniel Davis August 18, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Sounds like a great idea for spot checks and pms they could store mrc’s on them instead of carrying around that binder it will be much easier for the divisional DCPO on ships

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J-26 August 18, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Wasn't the "paperless Navy" of fifteen years ago supposed to eliminate routine paper aboard the ships? Wasn't the Navy touting itself as the leader along those lines?

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lmarty August 21, 2014 at 2:56 am

Before computer onboard, write a report and send it up chain of command, each person made changes, after most senior person made his changes, retype for signing, total two copies.
After computer, after each person made changes, revise and print, give nest person in chain of command clean revised version plus all previous versions, total 3-6 copies.
Same with awards and evals.

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Mystick August 19, 2014 at 1:23 pm

So does this mean we'll be seeing more product placement in the next season of "The Last Ship"?

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J Medina August 19, 2014 at 9:53 pm

I was in the Navy…when the ships were made out of Wood…and the men were made out of Steel….maybe we should build our ships out of wood…so that the Y-FI WORKS…DON'T U THINK !!!!

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theobserver August 19, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Will these tablets be running Android, Apple or Windows? Either way, these will be interesting to root, or otherwise experiment on with.

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Ret mil and student August 20, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Hope it is not apple crap. This is a failed attempt and a fad that will be riddled with problems. My college forced everyone to sign up for a "free" iPad and took all textbooks away… It sucks to try and type and read on these dinky devices. Idiots will say, "get a keyboard for it and it will be easier…" Well, duh. Now you have a disjointed laptop… Should have got a laptop in the first place! These are just stupid and a waste of time and money… Speaking from experience, not from concept.

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JimL August 21, 2014 at 12:38 am

The next level is to see the computer as the basis for sensors, measurement, diagnostic software, medical interfaces, etc.

There is brilliant software that could literally save the Navy billions. http://www.ni.com

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cohen August 21, 2014 at 1:34 am

Better to let the USN sailors watch porns on their tablets than let them sexually assault teenage girls around the world.

The military industrial complex should bear the cost though.

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blight_asdf August 18, 2014 at 11:22 am

The other option is very short-range Bluetooth, with multiple repeaters on the ship.

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tmb2 August 18, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Also banned on DoD networks, and is usually discovered within a day or two of it happening by regular scans. The MAC address, IP address, hostname, and even brand name of the device is found out. Where I work everyone from the offending user up the chain of command to the brigade commander are required to do retraining and an investigation before the case is resolved.

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