Defense IT

ONR app can cut mission route planning from weeks to hours

Planning a safe navigation route for Navy ships involves poring over charts and maps for potential hazards, analyzing possible routes, double-checking information and cross-referencing against other digital and paper information sources. It can take days or even weeks to plan a mission route, and even then something can go wrong, such as when the USS Guardian ran aground last year partly because of overlooked errors in nautical charts.

That process could soon get a whole lot faster, as well as safer. The Office of Naval Research’s Mission Planning Application, initially developed in 2012 as a software tool for planning submarine missions, is now being adapted for surface vessels.

The interactive software application is being installed this month on the USS Mobile Bay, guided-missile cruiser, where researchers will work on refining the software with an eye toward expanding its use throughout the fleet, according to an ONR release.

The partially automated software combines a number of apps and widgets to sort through thousands of chart markings, identify potential hazards such as reefs, rock formations and shallow waters, and plan out the safest route. And it does it in a fraction of the time, cutting that days- or weeks-long process down to a matter of hours at most.

“Our goal is for sailors to be able to carry out a mission effectively and safely,” Dr. William “Kip” Krebs, program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department, said in the release. “This system merges a variety of crucial data so planners can integrate information ahead of time and the command team can focus on the critical operations at hand.”

In addition to significantly speeding up the mission-planning process, the software also can help eliminate the kind of human error that contributed to the Guardian’s mishap and others. In 2005 incident involving a submarine, the USS San Francisco ran into an undersea mountain because chart information indicating discolored water, which could have altered to crew to the mountain’s presence, hadn’t been transferred to the chart the crew was using.

While working with the Mobile Bay to hone the software for surface vessels, ONR said it also will continue working with the submarine fleet toward a smooth transition.

“This is a big deal for the submarine force,” said Capt. John Zimmerman, program manager for Submarine Combat Weapons and Control Systems, which is working with ONR to get the software certified for use in the submarine fleet. “As a former commanding officer, I spent loads of time looking for the right charts, getting them approved and looking for all of those shallow spots, so the capability we’re getting with this new system is critical.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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