Technical Article
Published in the CoastaLink (a Command magazine at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme Division) and the Naval Sea Systems Command Newswire. This is one of over 400 technical and feature articles I've had published in various Navy publications. I gathered information through research and by interviewing Subject Matter Experts in engineering and logistics.

NSWC Port Hueneme tests digital ship-to-shore communications with 26th MEU


     In a joint warfare effort between the Navy and the Marines, Naval Sea Systems Command Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Port Hueneme Division has been collaborating with the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) during the past year. NSWC Port Hueneme is testing ship-to-shore digital capabilities with the MEU in order to simulate joint combat exercises. The efforts are in preparation for a test event on xxxxxxx on USS Bataan (LHD-5). NSWC Port Hueneme has conducted similar tests often as part of system integration testing to validate the new capabilities and functionalities installed for SACC-A for all Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) and Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) class ships. In the last ten months, NSWC Port Hueneme has participating in testing with the 11th, 13th, and 24th MEU.

     The purpose of the testing is to upgrade system software and groom shipboard Supporting Arms Coordination Center-Automation (SACC-A) equipment for Expeditionary Strike Group Integration Testing (ESGINT), which will take place in the Atlantic for several weeks. Benefits created by this technology include an enhanced ability of the warfighter to accumulate, interpret, display, and exchange numerous types and quantities of data with his or her counterparts. For this specific application, the construct of a digital network provides the means to transport this data, which is necessary to process fire missions and engage enemy targets with improved accuracy and precision. During ESGINT, the Marines conduct exercises to simulate digital data links and communications exchanged between ship and the MEU on shore. The SACC-A system utilized in these scenarios is fielded by both military services, thereby providing the ability to communicate in either direction. However, information exchange is generally dependent upon the command and support structure of the units utilizing this information and specific processing protocols. For this application, information is typically generated by a Forward Observer (FO) and then sent up the chain to be processed.

     During the testing, the top deck of the ship and several different locations inside the Naval Station, away from the ship, are used to simulate the shore site, while the Marines use a Humvee to transport radio equipment for the testing. A real-world battle application of this testing might involve the following scenario: An FO identifies a target, from which data is entered into his handheld device and transmitted to the SACC. The FO is responsible for directing supporting arms fires onto enemy positions and serves as the eyes of the supporting arms, calling target locations, which translates into firing solutions for the guns. This Call for Fire (CFF) is received by the SACC command workstations (AFATDS) system and goes through processing to ensure it is deconflicted and meets the Commander’s Guidance. Once processing is complete, the fire mission is sent digitally to the designated supporting arms asset, in this case, a naval surface fires ship, received as a Fire Order. The system on the NSFS also processes the order deconflicts. If the fire order meets mission and system guidance, the ship engages and fires on the target. This process has been designed to transpire in a very short time period and while processing multiple missions.

     The test objectives were to validate the ability of ship and shore sites to exchange digital and voice communications via High Frequency (HF) and Very High Frequency (VHF) radios. The testing involved a great deal of system configuration and set-up time, requiring that the AFATDS systems onboard ship and shore site were configured properly with parameters that both workstations could recognize, such as the unit’s unique number, IP address, data rate, and frequency. Both the ship’s force and shore-based personnel also needed to load crypto and configure radio equipment for transmission and reception. The ship’s force, NSWC Port Hueneme engineers, and the 26th MEU had to make several adjustments and system re-configuration efforts before they could get satisfactory test results. 

     The AFATDS systems are currently employed and fielded by ground forces in the Army and Marines, and now has been integrated by the SACC-A program on the amphibious command ships in order to provide the Navy a common digital link the fires community. This capability will enable the Navy an application to process missions and joint fires support among the services and allows this distribution of information vital to the conduct of joint military planning and operations.

     “The ship-to-shore testing was very successful. Both the ship and shore-based Marines were able to exchange voice and digital communications, which are the critical capability elements of the deployed Expeditionary Strike Group,” said Ho Trieu, NSWC Port Hueneme SACC-A Systems Engineering Team Lead.