Submarine crews often must fix broken pieces of equipment while
at sea—weeks away from a shore stop. In some cases, they may
not be able to figure out what is wrong. Such breakdowns can be
very bad news for a submarine conducting sensitive missions in deep
Depending on the seriousness of the problem, a submarine may have
to go back to port or technicians ashore may have to be dispatched
to check out the situation.
These troubles could be avoided if submariners were linked to a
virtual maintenance facility ashore that could help solve the problem,
The ship’s crew would use a video camera to capture images
of the broken equipment—images that would be seen in real
time by an expert at the maintenance center ashore. Thanks to some
well-placed sensors, the expert can start running system tests on
the equipment from his desk.
Based on those tests, the expert then forwards instructions to
the ship via e-mail, describing how to fix the problem while he
watches and lends advice. He can test the systems on all the hulls
in the fleet electronically to see if they are at risk for a similar
breakdown. Later, he can upgrade the software on navigation systems
in every submarine in the fleet.
This way of doing business is known as net-centric maintenance.
NCM proposes to make maximum use of the Internet and military communication
networks, allowing external government agencies to securely “touch
the boat” and, in the process, reduce costs and improve efficiency.
Among the benefits of NCM are avoidance of travel, increased productivity,
a more responsive technical assistance process to the fleet, less
equipment downtime, increased quality-of-life, distance downloading
of software, elimination of security requirements for carrying classified
information, and a reduction in training costs by concurrently upgrading
required computer-based training. NCM, additionally, would enable
“simultaneous fleet upgrades,” avoiding varying software
Essentially, NCM would help achieve the “paperless ship”
There are five areas that need to considered in NCM:
Distance Diagnostics—The ability of a subsystem to run diagnostics
at the system/subsystem level from a remote location, to assess
the problem by obtaining additional data and providing an enhanced
resolution, eventually eliminating the need for a physical technical
Distance Grooming and Preventative Maintenance—The ability
to test the subsystem from a remote location to facilitate the preventative
Distance Testing and Certification—The ability to test and
certify the subsystem remotely, using state-of-the-art information
Distance Downloading of Software and Patrol Data Extraction—The
ability to provide software updates to support installation/upgrade
efforts. Using the upcoming SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router
Network) upgrade, SUBIS will be able to download subsystem software
reducing the number of personnel currently required for this effort.
SUBIS is the Submarine Imaging Subsystem, a set of analog video
and digital still cameras that record the view from the periscope
and provides image enhancement software for image analysis.
Distance Configuration Maintenance—The ability to maintain
shipboard configuration through electronic “simultaneous”
updates with the most current information, eliminating varying software
configurations among class ships, and the elimination of “on-hull”
ship checks will be accomplished with the video camera and current
software which can determine actual dimensions using a digitized
The NCM concept proposes to provide a pro-active approach to maintenance
and would be applicable to all classes of submarines, surface ships,
aircraft and weapons.
The implementation of net-centric maintenance is anticipated to
evolve in four steps.
Step 1: The “delivery system,” the smart test-box.
The smart test box will be introduced first into the hull, and
will provide the link to the communication media and initially permit
video conferencing, IP (Internet protocol) connectivity, chat rooms,
uploadings and downloadings, and information storage. The ship’s
crew will use this tool to provide a better initial definition of
problems, enhanced by video. The ability to provide streaming video
capability will allow off-site subject matter experts to participate
in problem investigation and repair, enhance the current level of
“on-the-job training” and be more aware of maintenance
issues facing crews.
Step 2: Design new smart equipment.
The new equipment will be designed to indicate when preventive
maintenance service is required, alerting NCM to this need. NCM
would then relay this request to the Navy Enterprise Maintenance
Automated Information System (NEMAIS), which will order the required
parts and forward them to the next port of call, reducing the current
level of PMS material carried on the hull.
When testing on the hull is required to support the verification
of an upgrade, the smart test box is envisioned to initially be
used to support the test requirements, reducing the number of individuals
needed. The installation team will simply hook up the smart test
box, which will then be operated remotely providing a more standardized
test method, able to support multiple installations simultaneously.
Step 3: Smart test equipment.
The smart test equipment will replace carry-on equipment and allow
standardized testing of a hull to be accomplished at any time during
the ship’s life cycle.
Step 4: The smart facility.
The facility is envisioned to fill a role similar to that of Houston
in the space program. This will be a virtual facility with assets
interconnected by a network to deliver maintenance to the fleet.
This facility could be battle-group based, forward-area based, or
home-shore based. The facility will combine all in-service engineering
agent (ISEA) functions.
Given today’s tight budgets, it is not uncommon to sacrifice
new equipment to support the maintenance of current equipment and
the existing infrastructure.
To reduce new equipment future maintenance costs, new equipment
would be designed with the ability to be remotely maintained. The
increase in development costs will be recovered during the life
cycle of the equipment. When this new generation of equipment is
back-fitted into the fleet, smart test boxes will facilitate distance
The current method of ship introduction requires an “on-hull”
ship check prior to installation. NCM will streamline this process
since travel to the ship will no longer be required. Video clips
of the required areas can be sent to the cognizant commands and
current software will provide dimensions of the digitized images.
The ship acquisition program managers will also be able to better
view all pending changes with NCM, eliminating any reengineering
During the past 10 years, the military services have lost many
trained individuals, which has warranted a change in training philosophy.
The current approach is to provide a minimal level of training until
individuals sign-up for a longer enlistment. The proposed NCM concept
could be used to facilitate pro-active on-the-job training. Minimally
trained individuals could use the system to interface with smart
facilities to obtain a better understanding of system operation,
thereby reducing the responsibilities of the non-commissioned officers.
The system would also allow them more direct access to the original
equipment manufacturers to address repair philosophy and enhance
When technical problems arise, the responding technician is required
to travel to a remote location, costing the Navy time and money.
The network-centric maintenance concept will help define the problem
upfront, so that adequate resources and properly trained technicians
are assigned to the task. By allowing a remotely stationed subject-matter
expert to be virtually on site with the ability to guide on-site
personnel, many maintenance trips would be eliminated altogether.
In addition, remote repair facilities could provide a more effective
and faster repair cycle, since the subject-matter expert would be
immediately available. The subject-matter expert would support multiple
repairs at multiple locations.
The network-centric maintenance concept will provide a “Web-cam”
approach to maintenance. Sailors will be able to interact with more
experienced subject matter experts. Patrol data will be downloaded
more efficiently, and decisions based on those reports will help
determine corrective actions prior to the next deployment.
The Navy today has a Navy Enterprise Maintenance Automated Information
System. NEMAIS is a centrally located, integrated database of the
current status of applicable hulls. The NCM will enhance NEMAIS
functions. Direct fleet support will be enhanced by incorporating
“web-cam” maintenance facilitated by secure video, increasing
initial problem definition. The system will provide simultaneous
updating of the most current logistics support data, eliminating
seldom-used information from hulls and eventual elimination of the
preventive maintenance system.
With the implementation of NCM, it is envisioned that major changes
to the current maintenance policies may occur.
The key to successful implementation of this initiative will be
the integration of all current resources into a functional smart
facility. This facility will provide the backbone of the necessary
infrastructure to expand the initiative providing fleet wide accessibility.
The Naval Undersea Warfare Center would be a potential candidate
for this requirement, since most hardware assets are located at
its base. NUWC also is tied to other military labs.
A smart facility may be a formidable task, but the potential reduction
in life cycle costs should justify the effort.
For additional information on the cost driver approach model, visit
the Web site http://www.gpworldwide.com/market/government/costdriver.asp.
Carl M. Floyd is a program manager in the Submarine Electromagnetics
Department at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division. Daniel
W. Miles is a senior project control specialist at General Physics
Corporation. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.