The Future of War

All Hands - The Magazine of the U.S. Navy, March 2001

When the 3rd Fleet command ship USS Coronado (AGF 11) was designated as the Navy's sea-based battle lab last year, a lot of people were happy. Happy because they were now going to be able to access tons of new and interesting equipment. Happy because they were going to decrease their work load while assimilating information twice as fast.

Happy because all eyes were now going to be on them. Coronado has made many changes in her 30-year life span. Initially, she was designed as an Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD), built to transport Marines and their equipment to the scene of an amphibious assault and bring them ashore by landing craft and helicopters.

Coronado was later designated as a Miscellaneous Command Ship (AGF), serving the Commander of 3rd Fleet, and she has been making strides in excellence in command and control ever since. So it isn't a surprise to see the Navy investing so much time and money to make this vessel one of the smartest ships out there.

The results of such efforts have given Coronado a new command center, and innovations like a "Knowledge Wall" and an inspirational new conference room better known by the crew as the "Disney Room."

With such innovations and technological advances, it's no wonder why the crew has nicknamed their ship "The Death Star."

Funded by the Office of Naval Research, the "Knowledge Wall" is a concept ahead of its time. In combat situations, fleet decision-makers are often swamped with too much information and often not enough time to disseminate, examine and make decisions. The wall cures all of this. "Each work center has it's own web page that they update and display on the wall," said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Kevin Armendariz, one of the key figures behind the maintenance of the Knowledge Wall. "In the past, we just used PowerPoint presentations that took more time to get the information out and were just given at certain times of the day."

With the Knowledge Wall, each screen can display a different workcenter's secured, updated web page any time.

The wall has 10 21-inch monitors and two rear-projection large screen displays that allow the user to do almost anything from using their finger as a cursor to drawing plans on a map with electronic pens. The power behind the innovative wall is fairly simple - dual Pentium-III, 750 MHz processors, one gigabyte of RAM, and two large capacity hard drives. "Anybody that has used a web browser before can use this. It is that simple," said CWO3 Dennis Horn, IT planning technician stationed onboard Coronado.

Another example of innovation aboard this amazing ship is the "Disney Room." Technically known as the Advanced Collaborative Prototype, it is less about fast hardware and more about applying Fung Shui (or the Chinese art of placement) on the high seas - stepping into this room is like walking into a new age corporate executive boardroom. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), this room has been used since summer 2000. With its giant round table made of wood, silent air conditioning and pure white light coming from small halogen lamps above, a person would not realize that they were on a giant haze gray Navy ship at sea.

That's what the Oscar-nominated, former president of research and development and creative technology for Walt Disney Imagineering, Bran Ferren, had in mind when he designed this room. The goal was to keep decision-makers focused on the problems at hand and not on the creaking ship movements or the rushing noise of air conditioning, or even the constant buzzing of the green overhead lights.

"Even the chairs were specially designed for this room," said LCDR Eric Rasmussen, 3rd Fleet's surgeon, who was instrumental in development of this unique room. "We needed the most ergonomic chairs possible, so we hired a company which took ideas from the same type of chairs used by 911 operators."

There is even a voice-sensitive camera that will move to who ever is talking during teleconferencing.

Another advancement being tested is a prototype language translator. This innovation is taken to the field and used as a two-way voice translator for military personnel who need to communicate with local residents in foreign ports. Another small mobile computer system has a speaker, a microphone and a display with a series of pre-recorded questions in more than 24 different languages that, when asked, will lead to quick assessments that might have taken days to gather with the use of a person. "With this device, a junior military person can engage in a detailed Q & A with hundreds of refugees and minimize the time it takes to find out what we need," Rasmussen said.

One of the bigger systems being used on this ship is the Q-70 "Ultra-thin Client Network. Instead of having every workstation equipped with its own CPU with a variety of cumbersome storage drives - all wasting ship's space, workstations on Coronado will have a flat screen monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers. A personal "smart" card slides into the side of this special monitor and logs a user into his or her "session." When finished working on a project, users can remove their cards, plug into any other monitor on the ship and bring their project up again. "This will greatly decrease work space requirments, maintenance, viruses, and format conflicts," said CDR Scott White, deputy director of innovations and experiments.

So what lies next for this great ship and her crew? What new development will the Navy have in store for technology and information? What ever it is, be assured that it will involve improving quality of service aboard this "new age" platform, and others like her, making the crews that work the fleet much happier.

Story and photos by PH2 Aaron Ansarov, a photojournalist assigned to All Hands.