One thing that is guaranteed to put a naval ship commander in front of a court martial is running aground. Unfortunately, despite all the advances in satellite technology and other aids, navigation is still as much an art as a science – and a very time-consuming one at that, with it taking days and sometimes weeks to chart out a mission. To free up captains and reduce their chances of having to answer awkward questions, the US Navy is introducing a new automated navigation planning system into its surface fleet that speeds up course planning and reduces the chance of human error.

Pull up any major news service and odds are that it will sooner or later include a story of some Navy officer whose ship has ended up on a sandbar or slammed into something that wasn't supposed to be there. Part of the reason for this is that many navigation aids are inaccurate and incomplete and it isn't surprising to learn that some charts haven't been updated since Captain Cook first drew them over two hundred years ago. The US Navy, for example, points out that in 2005 a Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine ran into an undersea mountain that wasn't on the chart because updated information hadn't been transferred from one source to the other. It's to avoid more costly and even life-threatening mistakes like this that the Navy started developing the Mission Planning Application.

Originally developed for the US submarine fleet as part of the Capable Manpower Future Naval Capability program, the Mission Planning Application technology is now being installed on the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) under the sponsorship of the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The technology is a suite that enables partial automation combined with apps and widgets that allow captains to call upon a mass of digital navigation information from various sources and integrate it into a course plan. The technology automatically double checks and cross references relevant information much faster than a human navigator while drawing attention to potential hazards and plotting courses to avoid them.

The Navy claims that the Mission Planning Application technology can do in a matter of hours what now takes captains days or even weeks to complete, synchronizes route plans, and generates a "what, when, where, why and how" for each mission. In the end, the idea is to reduce the chances of human error and to free the ship's commander to spend more time on the mission and less at the chart table.

The Navy says the ONR is working with submariners to integrate the technology into the surface fleet as part of a five-year program to introduce advanced technologies into the Navy.

"Our goal is for Sailors to be able to carry out a mission effectively and safely," says William "Kip" Krebs, program officer in ONR's Warfighter Performance Department. "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."

Source: US Navy