By Pat Maio, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division Public Affairs
Ready-to-field virtual remote technologies that could significantly enhance how a land-based subject matter expert (SME) supports a warfighter at sea were validated at a recent Navy-led exercise at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) in California.
Naval Sea Systems Command’s Technology Office (NAVSEA 05T) led the Repair Technology Exercise (REPTX) Distance Support, a three-day exercise focused on assessing technologies that can provide better distance support to forward operational units, and involved collaboration during various scenarios between Department of Defense (DOD) stakeholders and industry partners from March 21 to 23 across three locations, mostly at the command campus.
These locations included the Underway Replenishment (UNREP) Test Site, the offshore supply vessel MV Ocean Valor, and the drone cage at NSWC PHD’s Fathomwerx Lab at the Port of Hueneme.
Some of the virtual communication technology tested at the exercise could help a Sailor repair their ship’s engine at sea or troubleshoot a faulty electrical circuit breaker — referred to as the point of need in military parlance.
The whole concept of defining the need began with a fleet forward goal of repairing UNREP systems used to deliver munitions, supplies, fuel and personnel to ships connected via tensioned wire rope and fuel hoses.
NAVSEA 05T Program Manager Omar Ramos with REPTX Distance Support for the Naval Expeditionary Sustainment and Repair (NESAR) team, explained that REPTX Distance Support isn’t geared to only the mission needs of UNREP. NESAR is part of NAVSEA 05T.
Rather, he said, the virtual communication technologies validated at REPTX Distance Support could be used in all “complex repair operations” across the Department of Defense. This includes the civilian-run Military Sealift Command (MSC), which operates UNREP ships under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy; the Defense Logistics Agency, which manages the global defense supply chain; and the U.S. Navy and the rest of DOD.
REPTX Distance Support targeted UNREP repair operation processes while providing actionable data that allows stakeholders to make decisions to troubleshoot problems or fix mechanical equipment. The event provided a bridge for the “valley of death,” a term coined for the implementation and transition gaps that exist between technology capability and fleet user, Ramos explained.
The U.S. Navy’s Self Defense Test Ship was the site of last summer’s inaugural REPTX event that attracted 68 organizations to test their products’ ability to tackle real-world fleet expeditionary maintenance challenges, including assessing and repairing potential battle damage while deployed.
This time, however, the event was scoped down to address a specific need, and provide actionable technical data that UNREP and MSC stakeholders will use to make decisions about whether or not to field a technology. Nine industry partners from the larger REPTX event last summer were invited to the recent exercise to showcase their remote technology assist tools.
The biggest activities at REPTX Distance Support involved people climbing down two decks into the engine room of Ocean Valor vessel, or congregating at Fathomwerx’s drone cage in the port complex to test out a variety of virtual technologies. During these activities, UNREP personnel created a variety of scenarios involving SMEs being shore side, allowing them to interact and troubleshoot simulated repairs on Ocean Valor, Fathomwerx or at the UNREP Test Site.
The distance support activities at REPTX were important because the technologies, if fielded, could significantly decrease turnaround times, boost readiness and cut costs to fix ships at sea. Additionally, the technologies could reduce the need for a technician to travel to the fleet asset and could significantly reduce how long it takes to troubleshoot and repair problems from several days or weeks to minutes.
In terms of the big picture, a palette of technologies were tested and, in many cases, validated at the event, which portrayed potential expeditionary scenarios in a wartime readiness effort to provide distance support capabilities to not only the MSC and naval fleet but also across all DOD services.
Distance support a top priority
The activities at REPTX Distance Support come in response to a growing need for connectivity, retaining workforce knowledge and resiliency.
NSWC PHD Commanding Officer Capt. Tony Holmes has made distance support technology a top priority for the command.
“I come from the mindset that our warfighters be given everything required to perform their jobs,” said Holmes, who spoke at the REPTX exercise. “They need our help.
“If we want to be ready for something that happens, we don’t want to be ready at the time, we don’t want to be ready afterwards, but we want to be ready before,” he added.
“What technologies do you bring to the game that could help provide solutions?” said Holmes, who cited Augmented Reality Maintenance System (ARMS) tools as an example.
Generally, the remote tech assist tools associated with distance support rely on either a HoloLens 2 untethered mixed reality headset, RealWear smart glasses or another image-capturing device. The headsets virtually bring together fleet maintainers and shore-side SMEs through audio, video, chat, hologram interaction and file exchanges.
To evaluate all of these tools, participants used communication pipelines to send information collected aboard Ocean Valor, in the drone cage at Fathomwerx and at winch and hydraulic transmission training sites for UNREP’s workforce. More than 40 scenarios were tested to determine how simulated real world sustainment and repair events worked with the remote tech assist tools.
Connectivity is key
During the exercise, data was collected on system performance measured against a range of yardsticks with the intent of positioning advanced distance support tools with putting the technology into the field on a limited basis.
“We can link up people on shore to provide proactive support,” NSWC PHD Research Manager Jason Bickford said. “The feedback on the exercise has been incredibly valuable.”
Bickford indicated that the roots of an ARMS-like system date back nearly a decade with the development of the distance communication maintenance system (DCoMS), a Program Executive Office, Aircraft Carriers project under NAVSEA that NSWC PHD supported.
DCoMS was a backpack that held cameras, a server and other devices that a Sailor would carry — instead of a headset as demonstrated in the recent exercise — into a ship’s lower decks. Collectively, the equipment could video stream data from a ship but was heavier to carry and provided only one-way communication, according to Jerry Bobo, the technical manager on DCoMS.
UNREP logisticians and technicians were heavily involved in REPTX Distance Support because of their mission. NSWC PHD’s UNREP division is the design agent and in-service engineering team for the Navy’s UNREP systems, which provide aircraft carriers, surface combatants, amphibious ships and all other naval vessels the capability to remain underway at sea indefinitely.
The remote technology assist tools are not being designed only for UNREP. The Navy and all other military branches are considering the tools, Navy personnel at the event said.
“The ship environment is tough,” said NAVSEA 05T Sustainment Technology Manager Janice Bryant, who has served as the catalyst for REPTX and spearheaded efforts to further its adoption throughout NAVSEA.
“There is a strategic imperative for these technologies,” she added. Bryant said she hopes to procure and deploy distance support technologies to a handful of ships by mid-2023. “Bringing experts from anywhere in the world is crucial. We are trying to get the technology as forward as we can in order to keep the experts from having to fly to the ship.
“If we have this technology available (to our forward deployed assets),” Bryant said, “then we could make repairs in 10 minutes, not 10 weeks — and then there is an incentive to make a business case for this. This isn’t their first rodeo,” she said of the vendors at the exercise, who were encouraged to collaborate with each other to bring the best products to the table.
During the three days of testing at REPTX Distance Support, the remote tech assist tools were validated in a series of tests that stressed the connection bandwidth sending information from disparate spots on the command to a makeshift command and control headquarters on the UNREP Test Site.
That makeshift headquarters housed the vendors and UNREP technicians, who huddled over laptops linked to colleagues wearing headsets or holding iPads and other devices on the Ocean Valor, at Fathomwerx or near equipment based on the 10-acre UNREP Test Site.
On Ocean Valor, industry partners walked deep below deck to an engine room where four 2,000-horsepower engines roared at 125 decibels. Some industry partners suggested that better noise cancellation technology is needed.
Vendor representatives also walked into sealed-off electrical circuit rooms needed to monitor power flowing into the vessel’s propulsion system and keep the ship’s lights on. Network extenders were added to stream information out of the ship.
The extenders allowed for streaming video feeds from deep within the ship — from the engine room, with doors closed — from two floors below deck.
On the first day of the exercise, vendors were permitted to use only the existing cellular network, mobile hotspots to connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi network, and other simple methods to reach the UNREP makeshift headquarters. That’s where vendor representatives watched on their laptops for image and voice clarity. While some platforms delivered clear audio and video, others struggled to gain — or keep — a connection.
Participants also used smart tablets and cell phones to stream feeds.
On the second day, additional equipment was brought in to boost connectivity.
Images from the engine room and elsewhere were transmitted via powerful mesh network extenders. The devices — scattered in strategic spots aboard the ship — extended the broadcasts from the headwear that people wore to look at machinery and electrical boxes inside the ship’s hull.
These extenders also tied in with a high-speed internet service offered by Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Starlink satellite constellation. A Starlink transmission dish was placed aft on Ocean Valor, with receiving dishes at the UNREP Test Site less than a mile away.
On the third day, participants were again encouraged to collaborate. Examples included capturing data from one participant’s technology and incorporating it with another system to form the best outcome. These collaborations are a hallmark of REPTX events and allow for the Navy to identify field-ready solutions that can have an immediate impact on the fleet.
In all, the sponsors of REPTX Distance Support designed 40-plus scenarios.
Some scenarios took place aboard Ocean Valor, some at Fathomwerx, and others on hydraulic transmissions needed for work on a winch at the UNREP Test Site and an electrical box needed to recalibrate a lollipop-shaped metal pole that moves up and down to keep the tension wire between two ships taut. The lollipop serves as a valuable prop when ocean waves rock two ships connected by wires and fuel hoses.
In the drone cage at Fathomwerx, webcam photos from a drone were fed into a software interface monitored on a laptop while a participant wearing a headset virtually opened a technical manual needed to make a repair. This allowed remote visualization from a drone and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets simultaneously.
AR headsets enhance experiences in both the virtual and real world. VR headsets take over the user’s vision to give the impression of being somewhere else.
The industry and academia partners that attended REPTX Distance Support included Waltham, Massachusetts-based Boston Engineering Corp.; Dana Point, California-based Edlore Inc.; Pleasanton, California-based Klatt Works Inc.; Boston-based Northeastern University; New York City-based Persistent Systems LLC; Boston-based PTC Inc.; Beaver Creek, Ohio-based Sable Systems Technology Solutions LLC; Seattle-based Taqtile Inc.; and Richmond, Virginia-based TurnAround Factor Inc.
Also attending were representatives of Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s Creative Lab in Lakehurst, New Jersey, which developed the ARMS system.
About 50 representatives from industry and academia attended the exercise, with an additional 40 from NAVSEA, NSWC PHD and other governmental agencies.
MSC representatives from Norfolk, Virginia, said they were impressed by what they saw.
“There are a lot of good, viable solutions we could use to help solve the distance support problem,” said MSC’s Rebecca Dupirack, lead experimentation engineer.
“As long as the technology is viable, we’ll end up with a product to serve our purpose,” said Carmen Iannello, MSC’s lead on automation controls.
Even UNREP is anticipating the possibilities of supporting its own personnel.
“A very important part of this exercise was to show ease to the user,” said Ken Guinto, NSWC PHD’s UNREP engineering and logistics branch manager.
UNREP Division Manager Rich Hadley agreed.
“My team didn’t know what we were walking into with this exercise,” Hadley said. “Everyone was enthused by what they saw.”
|Date Posted:||05.03.2023 11:55|
|Location:||PORT HUENEME, CA, US|
|Hometown:||PORT HUENEME, CA, US|
This work, REPTX Distance Support Validates Technology to Assist Sailors at Sea, Others in Military, by Patrick Maio, identified by DVIDS, must comply with the restrictions shown on https://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright.