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Across the U.S. Navy enterprise, we are in an era of transformation. It is an exciting time that is driven by, and driving, a broad spectrum of factors, from the lightning speed of technological change and the revolutionary impact of the Internet, to an uncertain global political landscape and asymmetric threats to our security. The pace of our transformation continues to accelerate. And by necessity, it will continue to accelerate, conceivably throughout the careers of every Sailor and officer who reads this article.

Nowhere within the Navy is the pace of transformation more evident than within the Naval Oceanography Program. This multi-disciplinary effort provides naval, joint, and coalition warfighters with environmental understanding of the air, surface, and subsurface maritime battlespace to ensure knowledgeable decision-making, to assure safety and readiness for unencumbered global operations, and to enable dominant Sea Power. Supporting all facets of naval warfare, the Naval Oceanography Program is, of necessity, on the leading edge of Navy transformation efforts.

The Naval Oceanography Program
The U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington, D.C., serves as the headquarters for the Oceanographer/Navigator of the Navy. Its missions include maintaining a precise time reference and a celestial reference frame for the Department of Defense.


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A prototype of a new atomic clock, currently under development at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. When completed, this clock will provide more precise positions for weapons targeting, more reliable digital data transfer, and enhanced integrated voice and data capabilities across the Department of Defense.

The Naval Oceanography Program is composed of a combination of interwoven capabilities that affect nearly every aspect of Sea Power. Oceanography, meteorology, navigation, hydrography, geospatial information and services, astrometry, precise time, and time interval are all captured within the program. As a result, our Sailors, officers, and civilian employees – our most valuable resource – are critical enablers of every Naval force across all missions from peace to war. Small and nimble, the Naval Oceanography Program has been working to keep a lead angle on Navy transformation efforts to ensure we are always ready to provide the support our operating forces require.

The broad spectrum of mission areas of the modern naval force, the proliferation of quiet, inexpensive diesel-electric submarines around the world, and the strategic importance of shallow water coastal environments (the littorals) combine to require unprecedented environmental awareness for our strategic, operational, and tactical commanders. For example, in the littorals, bottom depths and characteristics are continuously changing due to the outflow of riverine sediments, the churning of coastal storms, and surf action on the coastline. Conditions are made more challenging by high ambient noise from coastal industry, high commercial ship traffic, coastal fisheries, recreational boaters, and noisy aquatic life. There are also significant variations in salinity and temperature affecting sound transmission and reception.

All together, the littorals are a challenging environment, characterized by poor acoustics, high reverberation and ambient noise, and treacherous navigation conditions. Through sensing, fusing, and integrating data and providing environmental awareness of the littoral battlespace, the Naval Oceanography Program is determined to provide our commanders with the information, tools, and decision aids needed to continue to succeed.

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(above)Bathymetric imagery off Panama City, Fla, provided by the Compact Hydrographic Airborne Rapid Total Survey (CHARTS) system. This airborne survey system uses laser imaging to provide rapid surveys of shallow water areas.

(right)Located at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, DC, this historic 26-inch refractor telescope is still used operationally to take precise astrometric measurements of the position and motion of visible stars for celestial navigation. It was with this telescope that the moons of Mars were first discovered in 1877.

While remaining aligned to requirements across all mission areas, the Naval Oceanography program is maintaining a robust pace of transformation in all areas. For example, we are changing the way we survey and sense oceanographic, meteorological and hydrographic information, including a greater use of autonomous vehicles. We are improving our environmental models and our ability to predict the future environment of the battlespace. We are working to make better and more effective use of future command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) and net-centric warfare tools in support of commanders. And, we are working closely with partners across the Department of Defense, and the interagency and international communities to maximize our effectiveness.

Naval Oceanography Program Support to Submarine Navigation

Submarine navigation has a third-dimensional complexity different from surface or air navigation, and has more rigorous requirements. To meet these requirements, the Naval Oceanography Program maps both the ocean bottom and the stars, and provides a precise time reference.

  • Hydrographic Surveys: The Naval Oceanographic Office provides high-resolution bathymetric surveys using a variety of assets:
    • A fleet of seven forward deployed USNS Pathfinder (T-AGS 60)-class multi-mission ocean survey vessels
    • Small hydrographic survey launches for shallow water and riverine surveys
    • Airborne laser bathymetry systems
    • Sea surface altimetry measurements from environmental satellites
    • Deployable Fleet Survey Teams.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) places this data on their Digital Nautical Charts (DNC®) and Tactical Ocean Data (TOD®) charts, both essential to submarine navigation. The quality and precision of the data makes these the most detailed and accurate charts currently available.

  • Gravity and Geomagnetism: Oceanographic survey vessels also provide sensitive gravimetric and magnetometric measurements to aid submarine navigation. In addition, geomagnetic surveys provide baseline data for antisubmarine warfare aircraft that use magnetic detectors to find disruptions in the magnetic field made by lurking submarines.
  • Precise Time: The U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. maintains an atomic time reference for the Department of Defense that is critical to precision targeting, tactical communications, and satellite-based navigation. With an accuracy of one billionth of a second (one nanosecond) per day, the Naval Observatory Master Clock is the most precise operational provider of continuous time service in the world.
  • Astrometry: Astrometry is the determination of the precise positions and movement of celestial objects. The Naval Observatory maintains a celestial reference frame of over a billion stars used for positioning all space-based navigation, communication, and weapons systems. These include the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation and other Department of Defense satellites. The celestial reference frame is also essential for azimuth calibrations of the inertial navigation system used by weapons systems. From their astrometric work, the Naval Observatory also produces the Nautical, Air, and Astronomical Almanacs.

The pace of change is great; the challenges are complex, and anything less than complete success is not an option. The Naval Oceanography Program is working hand in hand with the Undersea Enterprise to meet current and future challenges. It is an exciting time to be on the leading edge of the Navy’s transformation efforts!

(Right) The U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock, located in Washington, D.C. Achieving an accuracy of one billionth of a second per day, it is the most precise provider of time services in the world.

(Below) Capabilities of the T-AGS 60 Pathfinder-class multi-mission oceanographic survey ship.

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Rear Adm. Byus is currently the Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy. He has previously served aboard USS Swordfish (SSN-579), New York City (SSN-696), and Plunger (SSN-595); he also commanded USS Tautog (SSN-639) from 1993–1995.

Naval Oceanography Program Support to Submarine and Undersea Warfare Operations

Commander Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command provides tailored environmental characterization to support safe submarine operations and ensure that submarines and other undersea warfare assets have a tactical advantage from a thorough understanding of the operational environment.

  • Ocean temperatures and currents: Oceanic data acquired by satellites and various other sources are used to track changes in the location and speed of ocean currents, fronts and eddies, and areas of tactical importance to undersea warfare operations. The Naval Oceanographic Office’s supercomputers maintain the most robust operational oceanographic database in the world. Their global temperature database is a useful tool in predicting sonar performance and ranges.
  • Surf zone: As submarine mission capabilities expand, so do requirements for environmental awareness products. For example, special warfare team insertions will require more detailed knowledge of surf conditions, rip tides, near-shore currents, beach slope characterization, water temperature and luminosity, lunar illumination, and so forth.
  • Bottom characterization: Since mining operations are frequently executed around harbors, approaches, and chokepoints, much of the same information required for the surf zone is required there, with a special emphasis on sediment characteristics in areas where bottom mines might be used. Recent bottom surveys are needed to discern mine-like objects from debris in the sediment.
  • Weather forecasts: The Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey, Calif. maintains the Navy’s global air-ocean coupled computer models, which are used by highly trained forecasters to produce the most accurate marine weather predictions possible.
  • Polar ice: Accurate knowledge of the marginal ice zone and pack ice locations is essential for continuing submarine operations in the Arctic. The National Naval Ice Center in Suitland, Md. uses aircraft and imaging satellites to provide high quality, worldwide analyses and forecasts of ice cover, thickness, density, and movement.