Navy to speed move to digital weapons and networks

The Navy is moving faster to digital technology with the testing of electronic aircraft launch systems, weapons, and radar, announced NAVSEA at the Navy League’s Sea Air & Space exhibition on Monday.

Rear Adm. Tom Druggan, Commander of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, described the Navy’s shift from analog to digital technology as a “generational change,” and emphasized that “a key piece of that is to have the infrastructure and the equipment that’s digital.”

Currently, three digital equipment systems are moving into final phases of testing on the way to becoming operational in the next few years.

The first of these systems is the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), a digital steam catapult that recently completed fast-cruise evaluations and is about to enter sea trial, said Druggan.

“FA-18 Es and Fs and the F-35 Lightning II Stealth…are going to be launched off the [USS Ford] carrier with EMALS,” he explained.

According to NAVAIR published descriptions, the EMALS system is intended for CVN 78 (USS Ford) and future Ford-Class aircraft carriers. Unlike the traditional steam catapult, the EMALS system uses new digital technology, including stored kinetic energy and solid-state electrical power conversion technology.

“The key about USS Ford [aircraft carrier] is its ability to project power at a higher rate, for a longer period of time, at a longer range, with assurance,” said Druggan. “That’s what comes with the EMALS system.”

Rail guns, which are being tested at NAVSEA’s Dahlgren facilities, fire a kinetic energy warhead using an electromagnetic current that can travel distances of up to 100 miles at up to 5,000 miles an hour.

NAVSEA officials have reached an understanding of the rail gun barrel and are moving into repetitious fire testing in order to study the barrel dynamics over time. According to Druggan, the next step will be to fully integrate with the mounts and fire control systems to ensure that the rail gun’s high velocity projectile is consistently on target.

The third electronic technology in the final phases of development is the AN/SPY 6(V) Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR).

According to NAVSEA statements, the AN/SPY 6(V) radar is key to ballistic missile defense, anti-air warfare, and anti-surface warfare missions. It has almost completed the engineering and manufacturing development phase, and the first rounds of production-representative array testing are being conducted at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii.

The AN/SPY-6(V) 1 AMDR uses digital beamforming architecture and Gallium Nitride technology to detect missile threats over a large range and better distinguish detected objects, according to Capt. Seiko Okano in statements published by the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems.

 A digital Navy will address emerging threats, provide more signature control, increase operational availability, and streamline personnel training, said Druggan.

The cost of transitioning to digital systems is expected to be higher than keeping the traditional analog systems, but it will likely be mediated by decreased maintenance and life cycle requirements, he said.

About the Author

Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems

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