Since 1997, the Pentagon’s operational testing office has
received millions of dollars from Congress to fund technologies
that have the potential to improve military training and weapon
These projects increasingly have gained popularity because they
tend to produce results fairly quickly, said the Pentagon’s
deputy director of operational test and evaluation, James F. O’Bryon.
In fiscal 2002, the program was slated to receive $23 million, compared
to $7.5 million in fiscal 2001 and $7 million in 2000.
Among the projects that commanded high-level attention at the Pentagon
was a training aid for 5-inch 54-caliber naval gun crews, called
Impass (integrated maritime portable acoustic scoring and simulator).
The program received $1.2 million during the past two years. Naval
gun crews generally shoot on a live-fire range once a year, so they
tend to loose their proficiency, explained Jack Nial, an engineer
at the Naval Surface Warfare Center. The Impass training system
was intended to make it possible for crews to practice all the motions
of firing, scoring and gun qualification missions.
“We wanted to have a system that would allow them to practice
anywhere in the world, in the open ocean,” he said.
The system currently is only a prototype. Nial said he hoped that
the Navy eventually would provide long-term funding.
The Impass is a free-floating 60-pound buoy, equipped with acoustic
sensors and GPS satellite receivers, so the crews know where the
buoys are located. For a typical exercise, said Nial, the Navy uses
a minimum of three to four buoys. The sensors connect the buoy to
the ship and help plot the impact of where a round hits in the water.
The sonobuoys listen for noise in the water and localize where the
shell hits, and feed that data back to the testers. The controller
displays the impacts on real maps over a virtual terrain or targets.
During a test in July, the Impass was used for automated scoring
of live fire exercises in a 1,200 x 2,000 yard area in the Potomac.
A Marine forward observer provided the coordinates of the target,
using a virtual display.
Naval gun crews need to train frequently to keep up their proficiency
as a team, Nial said. Typically, a gun crew includes three people
on the bridge, plus six to eight more at the combat information
center. “It’s a choreography of all the players to fire
the 5-inch gun,” he said. Today, they need a range to do what
Impass does. “Getting scheduled at a range is cumbersome,”
Nial said. This technology, said O’Bryon, “will allow
us to not have to rely so much on Vieques.”
The Navy’s live-fire range on the Puerto Rican Island of
Vieques currently is scheduled to be closed by 2003. In the future,
the Impass system could be installed in Gulf Coast ranges. “Eglin
may do the instrumentation, we may use our buoys out in the Gulf,
where they don’t have any instrumentation,” said Nial.
Even though the equipment was designed for training, it also can
be used for testing, he said. “We are sort of bridging the
two areas. Depending on which weapon, there are more strict thresholds
of accuracy for testing.” Programs such as the Impass are
funded by the live-fire test office with congressional plus-up dollars,
but O’Bryon is pushing for the Defense Department to request
money for the program in the fiscal 2003 budget. The projects selected,
O’Bryon said, must benefit both testing and training, have
to be achievable within two to three years and cost no more than
$1 million per year. About 80 programs were evaluated for fiscal
2002 (43 from industry, 33 from the government and four from academia).
“Because it’s new money, there is no fear that it will
take money from other programs,” O’Bryon said.
Since 1997, approximately 25 projects have been funded and 10 completed