Navy Going Digital to Increase Energy Efficiency
Refueling Navy ships while at sea — particularly larger vessels like destroyers — takes a lot of time and effort, requiring a supply ship to come fill up the tank.
While this may not be such a daunting task in peacetime, in a potential Indo-Pacific conflict an underway replenishment could become an easy target for an adversary. The Navy is going to need to make the most of every tank and spend as little time as possible at the pump, experts have said.
The service’s Global Energy Information System, or GENISYS, could play a key role in improving decision-making and fuel efficiency across the fleet. Its goal is “to accurately and consistently track surface ship energy usage to improve operational readiness,” a Navy spokesperson said in an email.
GENISYS consists of three applications: two ship-based applications called eLogBook and the Shipboard Energy Assessment System and an ashore, cloud-based component called the Fleet Energy Conservation Dashboard, the spokesperson said. The system achieved initial operational capability in 2023 “after GENISYS validated its ability to automatically transfer data from the ship-based applications on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to the Fuel Energy Conservation Dashboard application live on the government cloud,” the spokesperson said. As of the end of fiscal year 2023, GENISYS has been installed on 12 destroyers.
The Navy leveraged Small Business Innovation Research funding to create GENISYS, with Beacon Interactive Systems and Frontier Technology Inc. serving as the developers and ManTech International Corp. as the software integrator, the spokesperson said.
Beacon CEO ML Mackey said through the SBIR program, the company has been able to take its experience in the commercial sector “to bring to bear on DoD problems and deliver capabilities into the hands of the warfighter.”
The company’s first SBIR program was focused on “the question of how do you decrease the cost of keeping our ships mission-ready by addressing the big cost driver, which was the people doing the work?” Mackey said in an interview. “And the proposers on our topic proposed a lot of the mainstream kind of stuff that was being suggested across the DoD. We were outside the DoD, [and] we said, ‘Well, you’d figure out how to make it easier for them to get their work done,’ which is what we had done for” private companies such as Olympus, MetLife and IBM.
A major time-consuming task for sailors is logging activity on a ship — and in the Navy, “every single thing that happens on a ship gets logged,” Mackey said.
Beacon president and chief technology officer Mike MacEwen said the logs include everything from orders given on the bridge, to when equipment is turned on and off or valves are changed out in the engine room, to personnel, sea state and environmental data — “they do one where it’s trying to figure out how much fuel and water are in [the] tanks, and they do it manually” — to combat system orders, to “what happens when you enter a harbor. So, it’s all this very minutiae data about everything happening on a ship.”
Before GENISYS — which is still the case for the majority of the fleet that has not received the system — all the ship logs were, or are, done on paper, Mackey said.
Beyond taking a lot of time to do, the handwritten logs are messy and hard to read, causing problems such as information getting missed, she and MacEwen said.
In contrast, eLogBook digitizes the ship’s records for engineering, deck and daily fuel and water, reducing the burden on sailors to record the information and the time required to access the logs, the Navy spokesperson said.
“It’s much more accurate to click a button than to handwrite scrawl — and if you’ve ever seen a written log book … I mean, you can’t read them. It’s insane,” MacEwen said.
And now that “all this digital information on the ship” is in one place using eLogBook, that data can be fed into algorithms that tell the sailors whether they are operating efficiently with the energy that they have, Mackey said — and that’s where the Shipboard Energy Assessment System, or SEAS, comes into play.
SEAS consolidates information into decision aids to inform the ship’s operators on energy utilization, helping ship operators conduct missions as efficiently as possible, the Navy spokesperson said.
Having a system like SEAS continuously running operational energy calculations to determine whether the ship is “operating at peak energy efficiency — and if you’re not, what should we do about it?” — will help the Navy increase a ship’s time “on station,” meaning increasing the time between refuelings, as well as allowing the service to make “informed decisions at the edge,” Mackey said.
This could prove useful if and when a ship must conduct contested logistics — a scenario where “I have to figure out how to get something from here to there in a difficult situation,” MacEwen said. “Since I have a limited resource — fuel — [and] I don’t have a lot of gas stations, [and] I need to go do something, if I can figure out my operating parameters around that and have it with confidence,” knowing exactly “what I have and what I can perform and what I can do” rather than a rough estimate, that can save the ship from having to refuel unnecessarily.
Underway replenishment is a risky mission in contested waters as the supply ship has to come up next to the vessel receiving fuel. “So, I spend an hour in my [destroyer] next to 10 million gallons of fuel driving in a straight line,” MacEwen said. “If you’re talking contested logistics, that’s a really dangerous moment. So for the Navy, it can help them either extend the duration of that ship before they need to do a replenishment, or I can change my route. I can go pick up some gas and then go, or from a battle group perspective, I can send a different ship to do a thing because they have more gas. So from a planning perspective, operations, safety, it kind of hits all those.”
The system can also do “what-if analysis” and send out alerts, he said. For example, if “the captain says, ‘All ahead full,’” — meaning to operate the engines at full speed — “but if engineering doesn’t make a change on an engine to go all ahead full, you want to know that. You want to know that pretty quickly.” And “because it’s digital instead of paper,” the system can send out an alert that notifies the sailors, “Hey, something happened here.”
On shore, the Fleet Energy Conservation Dashboard “consolidates energy information across ships to inform naval planners and engineers on how energy is used across multiple ships,” giving the Navy “better data analytics to optimize the energy efficiency of ship modernization and new ship designs,” the service spokesperson said.
In its entirety, the GENISYS suite will help the Navy conduct and plan for distributed maritime operations — the service’s new warfighting concept in which the fleet is dispersed in small detachments across a large area — the spokesperson said.
“Distributed maritime operations stress fuel logistics and supply lines,” the Navy spokesperson said. “Information from GENISYS enables reduced energy demand of forward-deployed assets and provides logistics planners with higher fidelity energy data sets tied to specific mission profiles to more accurately forecast near-term energy needs.”
Following the successful deployment of GENISYS on the Arleigh Burke-class ships, the Navy plans to install the system on its San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks in 2024, a service release stated. The Navy spokesperson said that while the Arleigh Burke-class and San Antonio-class ships are the only planned deployments of the system, expansion onto other platforms is possible in the future.
“GENISYS can be deployed on any platform with the proper tailoring to that platform’s unique requirements,” the spokesperson said.
In its fiscal year 2024 budget request, the Navy asked for $9.6 million for energy management or measurement software and systems, which includes funding for GENISYS.
The investment would help fund the system’s fielding and sustainment to support the Navy’s digital transformation, enable distributed maritime operations and fulfill the Navy’s operational energy management system requirement, according to Defense Department budget documents. The funding would also support GENISYS’ transition out of the research-and-development phase, which includes shipboard installations, user training events, critical or routine maintenance requirements such as cybersecurity, and periodic updates.
So far, sailor feedback regarding GENISYS has been “generally positive, although more time and training is needed to fully understand and utilize the capability,” the Navy spokesperson said. Mackey and MacEwen said Beacon is actively participating in the installation of GENISYS in the fleet, as well as providing training.
“The whole goal of this is there’s all this data on a ship. Let’s use it, let’s make it really, really valuable,” MacEwen said. “Put it together, run a calculation, give you some knowledge. … It’s helping that [commanding officer] know what to do, when.”
Mackey lauded the Navy’s “Herculean effort” to get the SBIR-funded GENISYS “accredited and part of a program of record that is right now doing energy calculations and could be a basis for additional operational algorithms.
“It was non-trivial this path getting here, for them as well as for us,” she said. ND