The Navy last month installed 32 infrared wireless communications ports and deployed 115 handheld computers aboard one of the most technologically advanced warships in its fleet as part of a pilot project that is changing the way sailors communicate at sea.
Through a $US20,000 deal reached last month with Aether Systems, the Navy guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul continued its deployment of Palm's Palm V handheld computers and boosted the number of systems used aboard the ship from 30 to 145. The systems have been issued to all department heads and small unit leaders.
The McFaul began using the Palm Vs in January, when the first 30 systems were issued to the ship's officers. With the addition of another 115 handhelds, almost half of the ship's crew of 330 will be equipped with mobile computing and communications capabilities.
"As usage increased, we didn't have enough interfaces and enough areas to replicate data aboard the ship," said Mike Gray, deputy chief information officer of the Atlantic Fleet's Naval Surface Force. "The users need more portals to the information." In response, officials installed 32 additional infrared ports from Clarinet Systems aboard McFaul and deployed Aether's ScoutWare - including ScoutSync software - to link the devices into the ship's intranet, back-end business systems and various databases.
"We're moving data that is accessible on their intranet, such as the plan of the day," said Ken Whitehead, director of federal operations at Aether. "Until now, all of that information was paper-based and inefficient for them to access." Larry Roshfeld, Aether's senior vice president and director of products, said the system is a client/server and mainframe solution for a mobile work force.
"We're providing the software tools that allow the Navy to extend their investment out to officers and others who are not at a desk at any given point in time," Roshfeld said. "They can leverage the infrastructure while providing the added value of a mobile work force." Officers and senior enlisted men aboard the McFaul are using the Palm Vs to extend their access to vital information such as the plan of the day, onboard e-mail, training ap-plications and consolidated checklists.
"I used to keep track of everything by writing it down on sticky notes. Now I can do this on the Palm, and it's a lot easier," said Fire Controlman 1st Class Jim Meeker. "We can exchange e-mail using the Palms instead of sitting down at the work-station. It's freed up a lot of computer resources." Cryptologic Technical Administrator 1st Class Shawn Turek said the Navy is also experimenting with using HTML-based documents and has already developed an online phone book for the McFaul. He added, however, that infrared data transfers are restricted in certain compartments aboard the ship for security reasons.
The McFaul, based out of Norfolk, Va., is one of the newest and most technologically advanced ships in the fleet and has been outfitted with the full suite of Information Technology for the 21st Century (IT-21) capabilities.
IT-21 is the Navy's program to outfit its frontline ships and key bases with advanced data networks, high-speed satellite communications links and top-of-the-line PCs. The ship's technological advances were a key reason behind the Navy's choice to use it as the test bed for the pilot project, Gray said.
In addition to being one of the newer guided-missile destroyers in the fleet, "the crew is very forward-thinking," Gray said. "We felt they would give the project a good shakeout." The Navy plans to test the devices for the next three months, Gray said. The service will then consider expanding the program to the rest of the surface fleet beginning in fiscal 2002. That decision, however, is contingent on funding and other budget issues, according to Gray.