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A Sailor aboard the USSOklahoma City(SSN-723) uses the Voyage Management System (VMS).
Photo by Seaman Kelvin Edwards.

USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723) took the next step in technological advances this April, adding the Navy’s newest navigational tool to its arsenal. The Voyage Management System (VMS)—a combination of digital charts, electronic system fixes, environmental sensors, and enhanced command and control features—will allow the submarine to eliminate many aspects of paper chart navigation.

Chief Petty Officer Robert Jacques, Submarine Force Assistant Navigator, explained VMS will provide greater benefits than paper navigation.

“VMS will reduce manpower workload by almost 40 percent and it will allow for plans to be utilized at a future date or shared with other units in the same ports,” said Jacques.

“The computerized voyage plan safety checker assists the operator in finding hazards to navigate around and the integration of contact data from various sources including BPS-15/16 Radar and fire control onto the electronic chart will allow for easier situational awareness for the contact management process,” he continued.

The new system will save space, which is a valuable commodity on submarines. All charts are stored on compact discs.

“Imagine the entire world’s charts in your CD holder,” said Jacques.

A wide range of associated publications such as sailing directions and an atlas of pilot charts, normally kept on subs, will also be converted to CDs. The digital nautical charts can be downloaded or ordered from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) web site along with other data provided by NGA which add needed bottom contour features necessary for safe navigation.

Capt. Mike Brown, Submarine Force Navigator, says the many different features VMS offers will be vital to efficient navigation.

“In the past the Quartermaster of the Watch (QMOW) would do all of this work that could take anywhere from ten minutes or more just to plot our position. By the time you completed that task you would already be ten minutes beyond that plot. With VMS, it’s plotting for you as you are moving along which allows the QMOW to look ahead more,” said Brown.

Brown describes the whole process of VMS much like that of using newer computer software, saying that at first many will be frustrated at the newer technology.

“I would compare it to using Mapquest instead of conventional maps. In the past you would get out your map and physically plan the route you were going to take. These days you can just pull up Mapquest, type in where you want to go and follow the directions given by the computer,” said Brown. “It just takes a different way of thinking. I happen to think this way is much easier.”

Brown says training is a key factor to get the submarine crews ready for the implementation of the VMS.

“There’s really two steps to certifying the sub. Making sure the submarine meets the requirements and training the crew for certification,” said Brown.

Training for VMS is well underway said Jacques.

“There is a formal two-week school taught by Submarine Learning Center (SLC) for the VMS operator and a weeklong school for the Assistant Navigator,” he said. “Portions of the Submarine Officer Advanced Course (SOAC) are also dedicated to VMS operations. Of course there will always be on-board training. It’s conducted as part of qualifications as QMOW.”

According to Brown, once the system is installed and the crew is fully trained it’s really up to the squadron to declare it certified for use.

“The process is really given to Fleet Forces Command but they delegate the process down to the Submarine Force. Once the crew is certified the submarine is deemed ready for paperless navigation,” said Brown.

Oklahoma City is the first submarine to operate on this version of VMS. USS Cape St. George (CG-71), the first naval vessel to use the system, has been navigating paperless since May 2005.

Brown believes the system could be fully implemented on all submarines by 2009. USS Norfolk (SSN-714) is the next submarine scheduled to implement the program, and is scheduled to be certified later this year. In May, USS Florida (SSGN-728), in conjunction with Operational Test and Evaluation Force will begin the first phase of testing followed closely by USS Virginia (SSN-774) later in the summer.

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TheLos Angeles-class attack submarine USSOklahoma City(SSN-723) returns to Naval Station Norfolk, Va.,
following a routine six-month deployment. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Christina Shaw.

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