In an ideal world, every ship in the fleet would have a standard C4I configuration. Hardware and software upgrades would be planned and implemented across the fleet with planned, precision regularity. One of the basic ideas behind the Navy’s Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) program was exactly that: to modernize and replace existing legacy afloat networks with today’s technology. CANES is also supposed to reliably keep these networks up to date.
The reality is much more difficult. Delivering a complex computing environment to a 300 plus fleet of seagoing vessels is a monumental task. A typical CANES installation takes many months to complete and must be done in port, in a shipyard. Navy programs a 4 year software refresh and a 6 year hardware refresh. They almost never meet that goal. Keeping the fleet modernized and standardized often falls prey to pressing operational needs. Imagine working with 7+ year old hardware and 4+ year old hardware?
Today, less than half the Fleet have been modernized with the CANES configuration, and those delivered include many variants on the standard CANES framework. Imagine troubleshooting, from shore, a ship that has problems at sea, when you can’t even know what the component pieces consist of. Imaging training the sailors to operate this equipment, and then managing their transition from one ship to another. Imagine trying to decide how to incorporate the new capabilities that unmanned systems bring to the mix. Imagine paying for all that extra work! The problems are real, and important.
To resolve some of these issues, Navy has started to build virtual replicas of ships systems. Can a Digital Twin help Navy deploy new technology without pulling the ship into port? Can a Digital Twin reduce the chance of breaking important mission critical systems?
The GCCS-M and CANES configuration onboard the USS Pinckney (DDG 91) was digitally “cloned” last year. This first iteration may well pave the way for future system-of-systems configuration testing. Maybe they can even do inspections on the Digital Twin – saving valuable time and resources. COVID travel restrictions this year has especially highlighted the value of this effort.
Still in the R&D phase, if successful, this could completely transform the way the Navy keeps track of their ships. Next year, Navy plans to migrate the Digital Twin to the Cloud (currently demonstrated using Amazon Web Services). Digital Twin will move from the early exploratory phase to PMW 160 (Afloat Tactical Networks) early next year and become standard for all ships. Digital Twins may be just what the Navy needs to speed up innovation.