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January 2013 Issue

Challenges and Opportunities: Naval Oceanography in 2013

By RAdm. Jon White
Oceanographer of the Navy

2013 will be remembered by many in military service for the extensive budget cuts known as sequestration, civilian furloughs and the government shutdown. These unfortunate circumstances introduced a costly level of instability and uncertainty into how we do business, and Naval Oceanography was certainly not immune to these negative aspects.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), budget sequestration reduced the defense budget by $46 billion in 2013 and will continue reductions at about $50 to $55 billion annually for the next eight years. In addition, Defense Comptroller Robert F. Hale said that the government shutdown last October cost the department about $600 million in lost productivity. Naval Oceanography took a $17 million reduction last year. Future year reductions have not been determined at this point.

Despite the fiscal challenges, Naval Oceanography made important progress in 2013 as a critical enabler for realizing Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s three tenets: warfighting first, operate forward and be ready.

Information Dominance
This year the Navy released its “Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance.” Information dominance is the operational advantage gained from fully integrating the Navy’s information functions, capabilities and resources to optimize decision making and maximize warfighting effects.

The Navy’s oceanography program is an important contributor to information dominance. Our ability to characterize the physical environment, and to know the environment better than our adversaries, provides a competitive advantage in any engagement. Moreover, our work with precise timing and astrometry supports position, navigation and timing (PNT) functions across the military and, in large part, the nation.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert calls the U.S. Navy “America’s away team.” Through environmental knowledge, Naval Oceanography provides a home-field advantage to the away team.

The Information Dominance Strategy is built upon three pillars: assured command and control, battlespace awareness and integrated fires.

Assured Command and Control
Effective command and control includes the safe navigation of Navy platforms—on, above and below the sea, as we operate forward. Safe navigation relies on precise time and astrometric measurements, as well as the organic systems that ingest, distribute and display PNT (positioning, navigation and timing) information.

The Navy continues to transition to the Electronic Chart Display and Information System—Navy variant (ECDIS-N) navigation suite that replaces legacy paper chart navigation. It is a combination of software and hardware that displays digital nautical charts overlaid by continuous and automated positioning systems (GPS and inertial systems), as well as ancillary equipment displays supporting navigation like radar, environmental sensors, ship performance parameters and an automated information system. The result is an official, digital navigation plot with enhanced situational awareness tools to facilitate safety of navigation. To date, 162 ships are electronically navigating, and the remaining ships will be outfitted by the end of fiscal year 2016.

GPNTS, the GPS-based position, navigation and timing service by Raytheon (Waltham, Massachusetts), is the Navy’s future surface ship PNT distribution system, which will replace legacy Navigation Sensor System Interface (NAVSSI) suites and stand-alone military GPS receivers (WRN-6). GPNTS is scheduled for initial fielding by the end of fiscal year 2015 and will assure PNT in anti-access and area denial environments.

Last August, the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) announced that its four new rubidium fountain clocks had achieved full operational capability. The frequency and stability of rubidium atoms can be measured to a precision of fractions of a trillionth of a second. These clocks, designed and fabricated at USNO, join a suite of existing cesium and hydrogen maser clocks to produce the most precise and accurate time reference in the world. USNO is the manager and sole source of precise time information for DoD.

Among many other applications, the USNO Master Clock ensemble serves as the official time reference for the GPS satellite system, which uses time and satellite location parameters to determine positions on or near the Earth, and is a key parameter for assured command and control in cyberspace operations.

Battlespace Awareness
A foundational element for achieving effective battlespace awareness is the characterization of the physical environment and its impacts on operations, including everything from the seabed to the top of the atmosphere. This process includes the use of T-AGS oceanographic survey ships, autonomous and unmanned undersea vehicles, satellite sensors and organic assets on board our warfighting platforms to acquire data. Our key advantage is the unparalleled ability to assimilate this data, process it in near real time and, using high-performance computers, predict the future physical environment and its specific impacts on warfighting.

Last July, the Navy conducted its annual Trident Warrior exercise, which focuses on controlled experiments with new technologies. One of the goals this year was to demonstrate this concept using today’s command and control infrastructure, sensors and systems.

The unmanned assets included two ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles from Boeing (Chicago, Illinois), nine Slocum Seaglider UUVs manufactured by Teledyne Webb Research (Falmouth, Massachusetts), four Liquid Robotics (Sunnyvale, California) SHARC Wave Glider unmanned surface vehicles, five Scripps Institution of Oceanography wave buoys and two flux buoys (custom-designed and fabricated at the Naval Postgraduate School). The test included in-flight data collection and transmission, and assimilation of the data into tactical-scale predictions using the Navy-developed Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS).

Included in the testing was the Hazardous Weather and Data Display Capability (HWDDC), developed by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in San Diego, California. This through-the-sensor technology extracts and displays weather data from scans of the Excelis (McLean, Virginia) AN/SPS-43E long-range, air-search radar to provide near-real-time hazardous weather data to support critical at-sea operations.

Ocean data collected by UUVs was also processed for acoustic predictions to enhance sonar operations in support of anti-submarine warfare, critical enablers of the Navy’s Undersea Dominance Operations Concept.

Ultimately, the exercise proved our ability to quickly acquire and move environmental data from organic assets to shipboard users and improve the accuracy of our in-situ predictions in concert with the products of our state-of-the-art numerical modeling centers. We also demonstrated the value of in-situ, real-time data to the current level of sophisticated air and ocean numerical predictions.

Integrated Fires
Integrated fires include the use of combat systems that incorporate electronic devices and digital networks to lock-on targets, track them, analyze options and control engagement. The ability to maintain warfighting advantage through integrated fires depends upon superior understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum (EM). The emerging concept of Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare (EMMW) seeks to optimize our utilization of the EM spectrum while disrupting our adversary’s ability to exploit it.

EM and electro-optical energy are affected by atmospheric conditions, particularly in the dynamic maritime environment, and exploitation of that impact is a critical path to information dominance. Trident Warrior 2013 included successful experiments that gathered data and processed it to predict the refractive effects of the marine environment on electromagnetic propagation.

The Changing Arctic
The summer of 2013 witnessed what may at first appear to be a recovery of the Arctic sea ice, especially when compared to the record decrease of ice coverage in the summer of 2012. At summer’s end, the 2013 sea ice minimum exceeded the 2012 minimum by 664,000 square miles of ice, although it remained some 452,000 square miles below the historical average and was the sixth lowest ice coverage summer on record.

Climate changes are rarely linear, no more than the change of season from fall to winter implies that every day will be successively colder. Climate scientists are looking at net changes over time, not changes from one year to the next. The overall trend of sea ice coverage continues to be well below the statistical average, and ice volume (thickness) continues to decrease significantly.

The Arctic is continuing to become more accessible for commercial enterprise and development. The Navy is updating its Arctic Roadmap (originally published in 2009) to serve as an implementation plan to help us attain expertise and capabilities and prepare for routine surface operations in Arctic waters within the decade.

High-latitude operations are challenging. The Arctic remains a frontier, and there is little existing infrastructure to support maritime operations. Challenges include lack of aids to navigation, ocean bottom surveys for nautical charts, accurate weather forecasts, reliable high-data rate communications, fuel and supply depots, medical facilities, search and rescue support, and oil spill response capabilities.

In the coming years, the Arctic nations, as well as those who intend to use the Arctic, are depending on partnerships with commercial and technological industry partners to assist with the development of solutions to these great challenges.

The U.S. Navy will be prepared to operate in the Arctic region to promote stability and protect national interests when needed.

Naval Oceanography, and the broad portfolio it entails, remains a key part of our Navy’s pursuit of information dominance—anywhere against any adversary. This will not happen without a superior understanding of the physical environment. The men and women of Naval Oceanography, and the preeminent technologies they employ, will help ensure information dominance— today and tomorrow.

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