Somewhere in the Persian Gulf

I flew aboard USS HORNE (CG-30) early that morning, having transferred from USNS NIAGARA FALLS (AFS-3), my waypoint after leaving USS FIFE (DD -991).  Such was the life of a CTI in the Persian Gulf those days.  A crew member in the hangar bay called the bridge to report my arrival.  After a short delay, I was told to post on the port side for an E-6 and below working party.  The ship was about to receive stores from NIAGARA FALLS.  Straddling my sea bag, I stood in a line of Sailors, passing stores hand over hand forward.  Once the replenishment was complete, I was escorted up to SSES, or the Ship’s Signals Exploitation Spaces, where I found every Cryptologic Technician on the ship hiding…behind the green door.

Bulkheads as Barriers

Today, our Cryptologic Technicians continue to hide behind the green door.  Not necessarily from working parties, but because of the value of the highly guarded secrets within their space.  It has been this way for as long as I can remember…and probably longer.  Isolated in their own space, guarded, separate, secret.  As a result, the efficacy of one of the ship’s greatest sensors is severely diminished.

While information flows into SSES at broadband speeds, it leaves the space through a soda straw, typically in the form of a highly guarded voice report passing only the very basics.  This format limits the effectiveness of the information to little more than a “heads up.”  No new tracks are created on the tactical display, nor are dynamic targets tracked in any manner.  The consumer, the ship’s Tactical Actions Officer, is provided the most basic data.  Nothing more.

The same can be said for Supplementary Plot (SUPPLOT) aboard a CVN.  Typically separated from Tactical Flag Command Center (TFCC) by just a bulkhead, data between the two spaces flows by word of mouth, in person or over a voice circuit.  SUBPLOT is replete with target data while TFCC maintains a solid picture of friendly forces.  While some data is shared electronically, limitations persist while collaboration suffers.

Friendly information flow into these spaces, SSES and SUPPLOT, is often limited as well.  If a tactical console is located in SSES it is often used for spare parts.  Those that do work aren’t integrated into SSES systems and are therefore rarely manned.  As a result, the collective situational awareness within SSES is severely degraded.  SUPPLOT typically fares better, but not by much.

Separation also prevents effective collaboration with other sensors.  Surface plot is separate from the Electronic Warfare (EW) Module which is separate from SSES which is separate from air plot.  Any collaboration has to occur via a voice net, with operators viewing different displays, if any display at all, while attempting to create a common picture.  The TAO, along with the Combat Information Center Watch Officer (CICWO), is left trying to pull it all together.  In the end the barriers win, the fantastic work of our Cryptologic Technicians diminished.

CIC/TFCC of the Future

If we look at the collective issues, it seems clear that combining the spaces is the best way forward.  Similar to a Maritime Operations Center (MOC), or a Joint Operations Center (JOC) in Afghanistan or Iraq, positioning all of the sensors in the same room will enable the effective sharing of information and encourage collaboration.  Imagine a space, centered on the TAO or Battle Watch Captain (BWC), filled with common tactical displays, hosting systems and operators for all of the ship’s sensors, SSES included.

Eliminate the barriers that limit situational awareness, while at the same time enabling collaboration and multi-sensor correlation.  A common workspace will also improve the collective situational awareness of the team while improving the ability of the TAO to effectively task the ship’s various sensors.  Collaboration will increase in importance as we add new sensors, such as full-motion video, to CIC or TFCC.

A combined space will be more effective for Commanding Officers and Warfare Commanders as well.  Thrown into crisis, the Commander can enter a common space, gain an instant picture fed by all sensors, and provide direction as required.

The counter-argument, if any, might be the additional security clearances required to man such a space.  Fortunately, TAOs and BWCs are typically already cleared to the appropriate level.  And with the combination of the EW and CTT rating, so are those manning the EW Module.  This leaves a few Operations Specialists requiring high-level access.  This self-imposed barrier can and should be overcome.

Time for a Limited Objective Experiment aboard a CVN or DDG?

–  Chuck