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.