USS Blue Ridge Gets Comms Upgrade

Monday, November 10, 2008

Months of planning to create the Navy's most sophisticated at-sea communications platform went on-line Oct. 10 aboard amphibious flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) to provide Commander, 7th Fleet and his staff with increased command and control capabilities.

According to Lt. Cmdr. Mark Baehr, the flagship's communications information systems officer, the estimated $3.5m project was necessary to upgrade the aging hardware and dated software to keep up with the ever changing world of technology.

With an increase of information traffic on the ship's networks, the upgrade was necessary to keep up with work flow.

"On an average day, Blue Ridge moves 60 Giga-bytes of data and significantly more during exercises," said Baehr, who is also the communications department head.

To meet the demands of the communications ship, 30 new servers were installed as were 472 individual work stations or personal computers. Windows XP and Compose 3.0 network client user software also had to be loaded onto the more than 1,200 work stations throughout the ship to make it all work.

"The new install also brought Blackberry services to the ship — the first ship in the Navy to have such capabilities on board," said Communications Systems Engineer Matthew Tuttle, a DoD support contractor from L-3 Communications Corp., supporting Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR).

Blackberrys are handheld PC devices that enable their users to access their e-mail, programs and retrieve data resources remotely from anywhere in the world.

The Global Command and Control System Maritime (GCCS-M) or "geeks" was also improved upon from maritime to joint (GCCS-J) capability during the upgrade to provide Commander, 7th Fleet and his staff with the same geographical common operational picture as Commander, Pacific Fleet and Commander, 3rd Fleet.

According to Baehr, this joint capability is another first for an afloat Navy platform.

For SPAWAR, L-3, and the communications department aboard Blue Ridge, the project called for unique solutions to their unique environment's problem.

"One of our unique responsibilities is to maintain operability for 7th Fleet 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year… so the big challenge here was to perform the network upgrade during a timeframe that would not inhibit 7th Fleet's operational capability," said Baehr.

"SPAWAR and L-3 came up with some newer ways of doing things like loaning PCs and loaning servers to minimize our down time," said Baehr.

Jay Barlis, the Blue Ridge SPAWAR/C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) ship's superintendent, and Tuttle both believe thorough planning and communication between all the agencies and ship's force involved attributed to a seamless transition.

"It was a team effort between SPAWAR, L-3 Corp., and ship's force," said Barlis.

"SPAWAR began planning for this upgrade four months ago and continued adjusting the plans as needed."

Tuttle noted that L-3 had two hardware experts and seven software experts assisting with the install, and Baehr had 60 information systems technicians (IT) working 12 hours a day, day and night shift, for three weeks to make preparations for the install.

"Normally an install this large would take at a minimum 120 hours to complete," said Baehr. "However, with the great help from SPAWAR, L-3 and a foundation of ship's force making all the necessary preparations, we were able to complete the network upgrade in only 58 hours. This is an unprecedented accomplishment in the Navy."

Blue Ridge is commanded by Capt. Thom W. Burke and serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7/Task Force (CTF) 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

(Source: Navy News Service)

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