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TANG touch screen photo and headline

By Josh Smith, JHU/APL

On the midwatch, a boring transit—have you ever wished that the systems onboard the submarines were a little more like your iPad, Xbox, or Android phone? Imagine replacing the wardroom table with a large multi-touch collaboration surface like in the latest James Bond movie or in Corning’s “Day Made of Glass” video ( Visualize all of your publications and maintenance material on your own tablet. Think about using an Xbox360 controller to operate the periscope. Imagine a redesigned Sonar, Imaging, and Combat System that looks and feels like one system with all of the information at your fingertips just like at home. That’s what a bunch of hand-picked junior officers and Sailors imagined at the first-of-its-kind Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG) Forum in November 2011. These creative and energetic Submariners looked beyond their current technology and challenged the notion of “this is how we have always done it.” Instead, the TANG participants asked, “How might we...?” The ideas and prototypes they created were so compelling that they were incorporated into development for the next Advanced Processing Build (APB). APB-13 will feature some of their ideas...all within two years!

So how did this happen? Simple. By giving these “digital natives”—those who have grown up with the Internet, Microsoft, Google, Adobe, and Apple—a forum to be inspired, collaborate with each other, and create a vision of future submarine systems. The TANG Forum was a three-day workshop in sunny San Diego co-sponsored by Commander Submarine Development Squadron TWELVE and PEO IWS 5 (the submarine advanced development program office that develops Advanced Processor Builds).

Then-Vice Adm. John Richardson, COMSUBFOR, challenged PEO IWS 5 and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory to make APBs more intuitive. TANG was the result. Vice Adm. Richardson’s strong belief in the creative power of the junior officers and Sailors was such that he keynoted the event and challenged the attendees to “arrive at better ways to synthesize the data from around the ship and come up with some displays that will allow us to be better decision makers.”

He was looking to these innovators to help visualize the future of the submarine combat systems.

Junior Officers and operators brainstorming and rapid prototyping their future submarine consoles at TANG 2011.

A Creative Space
A submarine upkeep in port can be an extremely busy time with plenty of distractions for a Submariner, so in November 2011 we brought all 27 attendees away from their homeport to San Diego and asked them to leave their uniforms at home. We wanted to enable them to completely focus on this new innovation event. The attendees were hand-selected by Commodore Bill Merz, CSDS12, following nominations by their home squadrons. Vice Adm. Richardson and Rear Adm. Caldwell asked squadron commodores to “nominate two switched-on JO/ST/FT (three-man) teams from each squadron to participate. Ideally, your nominees should be motivated, energetic, creative Sailors with recent deployment or patrol experience.” The nominees had to be either junior officers or E-6 and below. We were targeting the junior operators to take advantage of their experience in the latest commercial technology along with their new and fresh ideas. We asked for an exceptional group, and we got it!

To make it even more exciting, we invited Microsoft and other commercial technology companies to showcase the realm of the possible in a technology expo. The tech expo allowed the attendees to see and touch some of the newest commercial technology. From the Kinect and Microsoft Surface to a new multi-touch table and tablets running the next generation navigation system, the tech expo succeeded in our goal to inspire the attendees!

The cool technology and the San Diego fish tacos set the stage for the event, but we wanted to bring in the innovation experts to guide the attendees on their journey. We consulted with Eric Haseltine, former head of science and technology for the entire U.S. intelligence community and former Executive Vice President and head of R&D for Walt Disney Imagineering; he recommended an industrial design firm called IDEO.

IDEO (pronounced “eye-dee-oh”) is an award-winning international innovation consultancy that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow. Even though IDEO has worked with companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, P&G, Qualcomm, and NASA, they were really impressed with the initiative and creative energy from the 27 hand-selected Submariners at the TANG Forum. IDEO has been involved with some interesting projects such as EA Sports Madden Football ’09 and Ford Vehicles, but helping create a better experience for the submarine warfighter was an opportunity they didn’t want to pass up.

We paired IDEO with members of the submarine advanced development process, who provided subject matter expertise, in the workshop sessions. Together, the IDEO and subject matter expert (SME) team crafted a workshop using the Design Thinking innovation process (see sidebar).

Armed with the design thinking principles, the three-day event took the attendees through a series of brainstorming and rapid prototyping as they visualized new interactions, displays, and concepts using nothing more than arts and crafts materials like sticky notes, foam core, clay, glue, and construction paper. The simple supplies allowed the innovators to quickly turn hundreds of their ideas into concepts in physical form that invited collaboration and creative discussion with the group.

Design thinking chart

Here are some of the concepts that came out of TANG:

Data Mobility: Go-Anywhere Tablet (GAT)
The TANG attendees conceptualized different uses of their own version of tablets for data mobility: Go-Anywhere Tablet (GAT). The GAT concepts applied the power of allowing the user to move throughout the boat while maintaining continued access to the information and displays. Pre-watch tours and briefs while using the GAT allow the users to access various levels of information to improve situational awareness, watch team collaboration, and overall ease of use. Accessing screen shots of troubleshooting techniques outside of the control room can enable better collaboration among the maintenance team without affecting the on-watch section. The GAT concept is a prime example of fast-following the commercial sector in user interface design, therefore making the interface familiar to the user warfighters.

Targeted Adaptive Training
The attendees asked themselves, “Why do I have to complete mandatory training during my off-watch period when I just did the real thing while on watch? Why can’t it be more like video games where you receive experience points for completing tasks?” Their idea was that the operators and officers are “users” who could receive credit for tasks they complete during their normal watch routine. Whether it’s achieving points for completing training modules and guided work flows or successfully carrying out certain real-world missions, the user could achieve similar experience points that will follow him/her throughout his/her Combat System journey. Taking credit for completing different tasks immerses users in a different environment that helps them “train like they fight.” Motivating the users on watch to maximize the capability of the system will benefit the section, the crew, and ultimately the Submarine Force.

Immersive Imaging
Combining the power of augmented reality and multi-touch interface, the attendees wanted to be able to compare the combat system solution to the periscope information. Simply touching the “ghost image” generated from the fire control solution, the operator could drag the ghost image onto the actual contact. The TANG innovators envisioned the system being able to auto-fit the ghost image to the real contact, therefore updating the solution using the raw data.

Control Room Vision
Ever wonder why the control room is arranged such that the supervisors are talking to the backs of the operators’ heads? What if that was how we communicated outside of the submarine? The TANG team conceptualized a more natural layout of the control room, one that leveraged the multi-touch tables as well as the ability to move most of the electronic servers and processing out of the control room to provide more space for the watch team. Replacing workstations with flat panels can create more flexibility in the control room. Watch teams could communicate face to face around a digital table, similar to planning around the navigation plot. Taking the concept further, the attendees envisioned a 360-degree visual display inside the control room to immerse the watch team in the visual picture.

Impacting the APB Process
After the TANG attendees created the vision, we needed to turn their ideas into software ready for the submarine. Applying the design thinking principles to the APB process, the APB design team turned the foam core concepts into submarine tactical software. Over four months, we brought in more fleet operators to participate in a series of smaller “deep dive” workshops focused on building and iterating the concepts that started from the TANG Forum. These workshops were called Concept User Experience Events (CUE2) and included fleet users, integrators, developers, system testers, and Human System Integration (HSI) experts. The CUE2 workshops allowed the developers to actually turn the user-generated concepts into display prototypes using cheap, commercial programming software. The group could then try lots of different views, interfaces, and controls in a cost-effective way before the system was built. Concepts that began as sticky notes and foam core quickly turned into impressive tools for the submarine warfighter.

Our next challenge was to prove that the software prototypes were “more intuitive.” We tested using commercial industry practices (such as a User Experience Measurement, System Usability Scale (SUS), Task Load Index, and Tobii eye-trackers). We were striving for concepts that were intuitive and required minimal training. APB Step 2 testing leveraging the eye-tracker and other tools allowed us to identify issues and make additional low-cost changes before the concept was integrated into the rest of the system in preparation for APB Step 3 lab tests and Step 4 sea tests. So some of the ideas that started in the TANG Forum will be tested and delivered to the Submarine Force in APB13!

A Vision of the Future: Area 51
One of the best ways to experience what the future systems could look and feel like is to immerse yourself into a facility that showcases the art of the possible. Lockheed Martin, motivated by the TANG experience, built a unique facility they call Area 51. Area 51 provides a test bay that allows developers and fleet customers to try out a variety of commercial software and hardware technology in the physical constraints of a Los Angeles-class and Virginia-class submarine control room and wardroom. The facility couples the latest APB software with multi-touch tables, tablets, Xbox controllers, Kinect, Google Earth, and a variety of other technologies. Many submarine crews and instructors have already experienced the magic of Area 51, including some of the TANG 2011 alumni. The Area 51 mission is simple: “Why wait for the future to do what can be done today?” The APB development community can try out their software in an environment featuring the latest user interface technology to better understand the end user’s experience. Some of the concepts from the TANG Forum are integrated with the rest of the system and are up and running in Area 51. Even the ideas for revolutionizing the submarine wardroom have been implemented!

TANG tech expo images
Google, Adobe, and Microsoft demonstrate their new technologies

The TANG Forum Series Continues
AUS-US TANG Forum: This past July we conducted the first international TANG Forum event at HMAS Stirling in Rockingham, Western Australia featuring 18 Royal Australian Navy and five U.S. Navy officers and Sailors. Three of the U.S. participants were alumni from the first TANG. This time the AUS-US TANG Forum harnessed the creative power of the two submarine forces as they conceptualized ideas that will shape the future submarine systems on both sides of the world. Their concepts could show up as early as APB15.

Executive TANG Forum: On September 9-12, 2013, the Executive TANG Forum event will bring hand-selected PCOs, COs, and Post-Commanding Officers to Pearl Harbor for the next design thinking workshop event. The goal of Executive TANG is to leverage the command perspective on how to access and interact with command-level information and develop ways to free the CO from the cognitive load associated with operator tasks and instead facilitate risk vs. gain determination, pattern recognition, managing uncertainty, and keeping the CO “above the fray.” Concepts generated from this workshop will drive the future development of submarine systems and processes.

The IDEO team will get underway onboard USS Hampton (SSN 767) in order to fully experience submarining first-hand.

Commercial Technology Collaboration is Growing
Submarines are cool and other commercial technology companies are excited to be part of the submarine culture. Microsoft was the first large company to participate in a TANG Forum event but, since that time, Adobe and Google have joined the team. All three companies showcased their amazing technologies at the AUS-US TANG Forum and are going to show even more cool stuff at the Executive TANG Forum! The commercial industry is always creating new things that will continue to drive the realm of the possible.

Staying Connected
One of our biggest goals with the TANG Forum initiative is to stay connected with the past and future TANG attendees as great ideas can happen anytime and anywhere. There are plenty of opportunities to tell the TANG story, and it’s always great to have the stories come from the warfighter. Look for the TANG Forum on the Internet as we share the excitement and creativity generated by our submarine innovators.
TANG Forum Facebook page:
TANG Forum Video:
TANG Forum and Beyond Video:

The powerful engine that drives the TANG Forum initiative is the creative energy of Submariners. By starting with the submarine warfighter and applying design thinking principles, commercial technology, and the rapid APB delivery process, the Submarine Force is creating an exciting and awesome future. We will be looking for more energetic and creative Submariners to participate in the next TANG Forum event.

I thought that it would be a bunch of U.S and Australian Submariners sitting in a room complaining about problems and frustrations that we have with our combat system. Solving all the world’s problems with grand solutions ... and then that would be that. And I was really wrong ... When you took structured thinking and you took the art of the possible and the technology that is out there, we could then be the third element and put that together and look at ‘Here’s a proposal of ways we could move ahead and make systems help us do our job better and make our job easier.’”

– LCDR Dan Sutherland, Executive Officer
HMAS Dechaineux (SSG 76)

TANG Forum ’11

FT1 Don Moreno—USS Bremerton

Lt. j.g. John Dubiel —USS Bremerton

FT1 Rich Gunter —USS Charlotte

STS2 Charles Augustine —
USS City of Corpus Christi

Lt. j.g. Jason Frederick —
USS City of Corpus Christi

FT3 Jordan Larry —USS City of Corpus Christi

Lt. Dan Kohnen —USS Columbus

Lt. j.g. Dan Justice —USS Florida

FT1 John Keagle —USS Florida

STS1 Randy Kelly —USS Florida

STS2 Don Grubbe —USS Houston

Lt j.g. Stephen Emerson —USS Houston

FT2 Thaddeus Sciongco —USS Houston

Lt. David Camp —USS Key West

FT3 Glen Elam —USS Key West

STS1 Robert Sarvis —USS Key West

Lt. Tim Manke —USS New Hampshire

STS1 J.P. Whitney —USS Norfolk

FT1 Brent Caraway —USS San Francisco

Lt. Eric Dridge —USS San Francisco

STS1 Rich Hering —USS San Francisco

STS2 Chris Remiesiewicz —USS Virginia

FT1 Brandolf Schlieper —USS Virginia

Lt. Arlo Swallow —USS West Virginia

FT1 Ben Lang —USS West Virginia

STS1 Gabe Brazell —USS West Virginia

STS2 Jake Malone —SLC Det. San Diego



Lt. Dan Kohnen Yale ROTC

FT1 John Keagle—USS Florida

Lt. Tim Manke—CSDS12

FTCS David Fennell —CSDS12

Lt. Tony Le —PEO-IWS 5A

18 RAN Officers and Sailors from:


• HMAS Dechaineux

• HMAS Farncomb

• HMAS Sheean

• Submarine Training and Systems Centre


Mr. Josh Smith, JHU/APL

Mr. Don Noyes, JHU/APL

Mr. Dave Blakely, IDEO

Mr. David Haygood, IDEO

Mr. Dan Soltzberg, IDEO

Mr. Peter Macdonald, IDEO

Mr. Deuce Cruse, IDEO

Mr. Ray Rowland, NUWC Newport

Mr. Andy Leal, Lockheed Martin

Lt. Josh Hausbach, Submarine School


Mr. Pete Scala, PEO IWS 5A

Mr. Don Noyes, JHU/APL

Mr. David Latham, Lockheed Martin