Four years after an advisory panel briefed senior US Navy officials on the prospects of substantial savings from cutting the numbers of people aboard ships, the Navy is spending millions of dollars to transform its fleet into one that relies less on redundant personnel and more on technology. The experiment began on the guided-missile cruiser USS Yorktown (CG 48) and the results are now being applied to all of the Navy's cruisers and destroyers and many of its aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.
By 2005, the "Smart Ship" program, which aims to reduce the number of sailors by replacing them with new control, automation, and information technologies, will be implemented on the Navy's 27 CG 47 Ticonderoga-class cruisers. Not long after, all 57 of the DDG 51 Arleigh Burke- class destroyers will be fitted with the labor-saving systems. It is believed that new technologies and new methods of fighting fires and containing floods may respond more quickly and effectively and still require fewer sailors.
Those technologies are part of a suite of new systems that will be fitted onto most of the Navy's combat ships. They include an integrated bridge to automate navigation, a machinery-control system and integrated control-assessment technology, damage-control devices that rely on sensors to stand in place of watchmen, a wireless communication system that enables key people to stay in constant contact, and a fiber optic Local Area Network that will allow access to any computer display from any work station.
The price of these improvements doesn't come cheap. The Navy is spending $124 million alone to retrofit its 27 cruisers. The cost to convert carriers, destroyers, and amphibious ships will be even greater. But according to a Navy assessment of the Smart Ship program, spending money will also save money. With lower manpower costs, less maintenance, and fewer support costs, the 1997 report said the Navy would save nearly $3 million a year in a ship's life-cycle costs.
Manufacturing.net , By David Abel, New Technology Week (December 13, 1999.