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D B S – Naval Combat Management Systems by Nick Watts

In Nelson’s navy a seaman 30 feet up a mast could see the horizon about six miles away.


(Photo: Raytheon)

The advent of wireless, radar and sonar has increased situational awareness but also the number of threats to the mariner. Add in airborne and stand-off weapons and the threats begin to appear too numerous to manage. The advent of electronic data processing has given the mariner the opportunity to organise a response. What was initially referred to as Action Information Organisation (AIO) in the 1940s has burgeoned into Combat Management Systems (CMS).

Presenting the commander with an accurate picture of what is happening above and below the surface, as well as in the air is now only part of the task. Fusing inputs from satellite and other sensors demands the highest level of technical competence. The mariner – or submariner has a choice of responses; weapons, electronic and cyber capability, all of which must be at his fingertips.

The Amphibious Ready Element on the flight deck of HMAS Canberra during Sea Series 2015. *** Local Caption *** Australia’s newest military capability, the Amphibious Ready Element (ARE) is training in the waters off Far North Queensland from August to October.
The Townsville based 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR from the 3rd Combat Brigade) with MRH-90 helicopters from the 5th Aviation Regiment and 808 Squadron, have combined with the Navy’s HMAS Canberra and Royal Australian Air Force assets to focus on the planning, conduct and certification of amphibious operations.
This Sea Series of exercises will enable the amphibious force to achieve an interim operational capability.

Rear Admiral Anthony Dymock joined the Royal Navy in the 1960’s, “weapons were controlled by analogue computers, lots of servos and gear wheels, and picture compilation was almost entirely manual based on observations taken from own ship’s sensors – some with direct inputs (radar) some requiring manual interpretation and input (sonar). Gun systems were largely autonomous.” Dymock notes that long range radars and missile control drove the requirement for real time computer systems, which were still using valves rather than transistors, and picture compilation developed on the back of it.”

Combat Management Systems are estimated by industry sources to constitute up to 50% of the value of a submarine or warship. In the next 10 years (2015 – 25) it is estimated that the market for Naval radars (including missile tracking systems) will exceed $ 10bn: Naval Electronic Warfare (EW) systems will match this figure, while the market for sensors including Sonar, Electro-Optical and Infra-Red systems is likely to exceed $ 20bn.

Modern CMS

(Photo: Raytheon)

CMS includes Sensors, EW and Communications systems. Navies now require both active and passive Electronic Support Measures (ESM), to both listen to and counter enemy radar and communications. Warships need to be able to react to fast moving missile attack as well as small boat threats. Threats may lie beneath the surface, on the surface and in the air. The commander needs a menu of options to choose from in a situation where both the threat and the rules of engagement may change.

Modern CMS assists the commander with both situational awareness and the safe navigation of the ship. The information from sensors needs to be presented in an easily digestible manner, and to those of the crew who need to take action. Modern sensors comprise both radar and electro-optical (optronics) which can assist in hazy or low light situations. Keeping information and data flows secure is now an integral part of a modern CMS suite.

Early developments

As early as 1944 the Royal Navy recognised that the variety of threats – surface, air and sub surface required the management of information presented to the commander. The RN established the Action Information Organisation (AIO) function on a warship the same year. In the 1950s developments in the air presented the most immediate threat. Jet engines, improvements in both rocket propulsion and homing warheads led the RN to concentrate its efforts on the development of a system that could cope with a rapidly developing air threat.

The technology of the day was such that radar detection, while advancing, needed to be assimilated by the commander.

(Photo: Saab)

The first Comprehensive Display System commissioned by the RN in 1958 was designed to manage the data from the long range 984 air warning radar on HMS Victorious an aircraft carrier. It required information to be fed manually into analogue data stores. A subsequent iteration of what the RN called Action Data Automation (ADA) was developed by Ferranti for another aircraft carrier HMS Eagle which commissioned in 1964. This system used germanium transistor technology to achieve a digital effect: more storage capacity and greater power, resulting in faster resolution of a manageable picture.

The first system which could deal with all three environments, sea, sub-surface and air, was installed in RN county class destroyers. The first unit was installed in HMS Fife in 1965. This was designated Action Data Automatic Weapons System (ADAWS) and was built by Pye ltd. A similar system which could be used by smaller units such as frigates was developed by Ferranti based on their FM 1600 B computer and designated Computer Assisted Action Information System (CAAIS). This system was installed into Leander class frigates during the 1970s.

US developments

The US approach to the changing post-war environment in the 1940s and 50s resulted in the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS).

(Photo: Saab)

The aim of this system was to combine on board computing and communications with a visual display. The aim was to achieve a shared picture between the members of a task group. This system was superseded by the AEGIS system; early development work began in 1964 drawing on the experience of NTDS, and benefitting from developments in computer capability. The first trials were carried out in 1973 and the system went to sea in 1981 on board USS Ticonderoga.

For the US Navy the Cold War requirement to match the Soviet threat called for adequate communications. This drove development in satellite communications, but it also drove secure ship to ship communications. Without ‘total spectrum dominance’ made possible by the Revolution in Military Affairs’ in the mid-1980s, the US would not be able to effectively operate a world-wide military and naval force.

The move from low data rate HF(long range communication) to satellite SHF in the 90s provided the data rates that could support much more effective shore support of picture compilation with a mixture of current and time late intelligence. So by the turn of the century ships had moved from autonomy to being part of potentially global systems including ships, aircraft and shore HQs. The availability of powerful commercial computers enabled the navy to move away from very expensive development-heavy dedicated ship class CMS to more generic open architecture systems capable of spiral development which is much more responsive and affordable. With interconnected and open systems comes the cyber challenge, which has to some extent been managed by still having a man in the loop. That option is diminishing to man on the loop (with a veto rather than as a participant) and will be exacerbated as more unmanned surveillance and weapon systems are deployed.

Raytheon Anschütz based in Kiel Germany, provides Integrated Bridge Systems, recently selected for the UK Type 26 Global Combat Ship. Thomas Lehmann who leads the Command and Control segment for Raytheon Anschütz says: “we see an increasing demand to combine navigation system, command and control system and combat system to an entire ‘mission management system’. This demand comes from small and medium naval vessels to combat asymmetric threads, up to Corvettes to add self-defence capabilities to the bridge.” Raytheon supplies its SYNTAC system optimised for smaller vessels, such as OPVs, but has migrated up to the MEKO 100 corvette, providing Technical Bridge Enhancement.

Current British CMS

BAE Systems provides its CMS 1 system to the Royal Navy for use in its major surface vessels and NAUTICS for use by Mine hunters.


(Photo: BAE Systems)

Frank Cotton is the head of technical development for Combat Systems. “The underpinning of our CMS system (known by the RN as DNA) is a system called ‘Shared Infrastructure’ (SI). Shared Infrastructure is an innovative hardware solution that can host software from multiple technology providers on a single system.” This means the ship’s crew has the capability to access all software, such as navigation, communications and sonar, needed to operate the ship’s combat systems through a single console. This provides significant savings to the MOD, including a reduction in the space and power needed for computing equipment, makes it simpler for crew to operate, as well as reducing the amount of spares which are required to be carried on board and therefore significantly decreasing through-life costs.”

French Developments.

French Naval efforts post-war revolved around its Systeme d’Exploitation Navale des Informations Tactiques (SENIT) which forms the backbone to the development of its weapons and sensors system. Philippe Sathoud, Marketing Manager in Naval Systems at DCNS explains their approach: “To cope with the increasingly complex environment, including missile defence for the FREMM frigate, we worked with the French Navy and the DGA (Direction General de l ’Armament). We looked at how we could use automation to optimise the numbers in the crew.” DCNS’s solution was to optimise each console, making them re-configurable. Each console has a different role, but can be reconfigured quickly to cope with a new threat scenario. DCNS supplies CMS to the French Navy based on its SETIS system, as well as to the many foreign navies that buy French equipment.”

Data links

Rear Admiral Dymock notes: “Although primitive single purpose data links had previously existed from Airborne Early Warning Gannet aircraft, it was the digital revolution that enabled inter-ship data links albeit only at UHF so they were initially only used intra-task group. It was really the introduction of HF Link 14, actually using a broadcast teletype signal that could be displayed in simple format on a dedicated HP desk top) that introduced long range picture compilation in the late 70s.”

Dymock summarizes: “The single ship ‘action information, target evaluation and weapon allocation’ progressed through task group coordination in the 70s & 80s. Proper ‘Combat management systems’ became possible only when sensors and weapons became digitised and interlinked, but there was still a problem in that ‘picture’ information could be slightly time late as delivered by a packet switched network, but weapons still required real time data – which was not something the civilian market place delivered, so naval CMS remained bespoke and expensive. So in the Type 21 the commercial CAAIS did the picture compilation but not the weapon control. As computer power and speeds increased and higher sampling rates became possible it was easier to integrate weapon control and picture compilation.”

Dymock notes: “CMS simulation for training has been something of a poor relation, often with unsophisticated remote manual initiation, but I think simulation is becoming a critical part of mission rehearsal which is the only way to ensure safe and timely response in high speed engagements. In sum the “S” in CMS has grown geographically and conceptually as well as in technical complexity.”

(Photo: Saab)

Dutch developments

Jan Wind served 34 years in the Netherlands Navy from 1973-2007 and retired at the rank of Captain of the Weapon Electronics Corps. For 25 years he worked in the Directorate of Materiel of the Royal Netherlands Navy managing development and procurement of advanced new capabilities. He observed the development of integrated combat management systems, which started in the early 1970’s. “The Tromp class frigates were commissioned in 1975 and 1976 equipped with an SMR computer system, its hardware specifically designed by Hollandse Signaal for this purpose. The computer programme was contained in 64 kb of magnetic core memory. Its software was developed by the naval software house in Den Helder and integrated several radar and sonar sensors onto several operator displays. Petty officers manually maintained computer tracks following radar or sonar). The Principal Warfare Officer and the CO used these synthetic tracks for command decisions and weapon engagements.”

Members of the Royal Australian Engineers Regiment and Royal Australian Artillery Regiment witness a medium calibre Mk75 Mod 0 76mm gun firing from the Operations Room of West Head Gunnery Range, Flinders, Victoria. *** Local Caption *** Retired members from two Army associations, the Royal Australian Engineers Regiment and Royal Australian Artillery Regiment visited West Head Gunnery Range, Flinders, Victoria on Thursday 24 September 2015. Their visit consisted of a full tour of the facility and observed firings of the medium calibre Mk75 Mod 0 76mm Gun during Principal Warfare Officer Week.
The component of Principal Warfare Officer Course week that is conducted at West Head Gunnery range is to expose the Warfare students to the command and control aspects of firing serials. This is the first Principal Warfare Officer course firing week conducted since the installation of the new combat management system at West Head Gunnery Range. (Photo: Saab)

Wind explains that tactical data link systems like link 10 and link 11 were already present and actively used in these early combat management systems. “The Tromp class frigates were quickly followed by the Kortenaer class frigates in 1978 with a similar setup.”  Automation increased in several steps when new ship classes were introduced. Fully automatic detection, tracking and weapon engagement commenced on the Karel Doorman class frigates in 1991. With the upgraded SMART-L and APAR radar systems on the four ‘Seven Provinces’ class frigates commissioned from 2002. Hollandse Signaal was part of the Phillips group from 1956 until it was sold to Thomson CSF of France in 1990. In 2000 the company became Thales Netherlands. Thales’ current CMS offering is TACTICOS.”

 Other European offerings

Vicente E. Santamaría, Systems Director, Business Development & Commercial Division Of Navantia  (Grupo SEPI)  explains that “Navantia has a dedicated business line called Navantia Sistemas, which is located in the plants of San Fernando (Cádiz) and Cartagena.” The company provides Combat Management Systems and Combat System Integration, with several families for different types of missions, frigates, OPV, mine hunters, submarines, and a so called CATIZ CMS for the export market; DORNA Fire Control Systems, radar and electro-optic; HERMESYS Integrated Communication Systems and a very powerful Integrated Platform Management System IPMS, well beyond the standard concepts in terms of scope and performances.”

Santamaria explains: “For more than 20 years, Navantia Sistemas’ main customer has been the Spanish Navy, for whom we are the only provider for new ships of CMS, Fire Control for naval mounts, Integrated Communications Systems and IPMS. From this credited and privileged position, Navantia has been developing a growing commercial activity in this area, with positive results in Australia, Indonesia, Peru, Mexico, Algeria, New Zealand and others.”

Concerning collaboration, Santamaria notes: “We are specially working with Indra, a Spanish company with excellent products, mainly in the EW field, and we are promoting a very attractive joint solution of Combat System for light frigates, OPV’s and modernizations.”

Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Clare Wheatley on the multi-function console in the operations room on HMAS Parramatta.
Mid Caption:
HMAS Parramatta has commenced its role in Operation SLIPPER after replacing HMAS Toowoomba in October 2011. Parramatta has deployed to the Middle Eastern Area of Operations (MEAO) as part of the Combined Maritime Force, which is responsible for maritime security operations in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean to conduct counter-terrorism, prevent piracy and reduce illegal trafficking of people and drugs. These operations help develop and maintain security and promote stability and prosperity. HMAS Paramatta’s current deployment is the 27th rotation by a RAN ship to the MEAO since 2001. (Photo: Saab)

The Italian company Selex – ES, part of the Finmeccanica group provides a CMS based on its Architecture & Technologies Handling Electronic Naval Application (ATHENA); SAAB of Sweden offers  a CMS based on its 9LV system.


The principal difference between submarine operations and that of surface ships is the need for stealth. This affects the gathering of information to present to the commander. Passive sonar sensors require longer to acquire an accurate picture of a contact, where the commander of a surface unit has several inputs from radar and sonar – as well as visual observation. Communications are intermittent. The commander needs both tactical and navigational information, to keep the boat safe. Jan Wind notes: “in the Netherlands Navy in 1992 a system similar to that used by the Tromp class was adapted for use by the Walrus class submarines, where micro-SMR computers were introduced. A reduction from roughly one cubic meter to just about 25x25x25 cm for one of the four computers on board.”

For the submariner, a key priority was to ensure the accurate delivery of torpedoes to the target. This resulted in the development of a variety of mechanical and later electronic fire control systems, to resolve the track for the torpedo to accurately reach its target. The advent of longer range torpedoes designed to attack both surface and submarine targets required the assimilation of fire control solutions from long range sonar sensors and occasionally from visual sightings by periscope. The most celebrated example of this was the sinking in 1982 of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano by HMS Conqueror.  (Photo: Saab)

As with its surface ships the RN began to develop tactical data handling systems with Ferranti, Its Oberon class of diesel submarines being the first type of submarine to see integration of both navigational data as well as tactical fire control systems. The commander had a navigation display as well as a separate Contact Evaluation Plot (CEP) – which enabled all tracks to be plotted. The advent of submarine launched long range weapons such as Sub-Harpoon in the 1980s and Tomahawk in the late 1990s introduced the requirement to input targeting data into the weapon system.

Phillipe Sathoud of DCNS notes that the company supplies SUBTICS to the French and other navies for its Scorpene class submarines. “We pay a lot of attention to the noise generated by a submarine especially at high speed. We can keep a high level of detection at high speed.”  (Photo: DCNS)

Future capabilities

As weapons and sensor capabilities evolve, so do tactics and the demands placed on navies by governments. It is expected that ballistic missiles can be detected and tracked by ships radars acting in concert with other sensors, up to 2000km. This Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence capability adds an additional dimension to their combat management systems as integration into complex networks of sensor and shooter ships and command centres ashore has to be achieved. A demonstration of this capability was performed in October 2015 off the coast of the Hebrides. It is reported that the British government has considered Type 45 Destroyers for this role, but industry sources declined to comment on this.
Frank Cotton of BAE Systems noted that his Naval Ships division of the company is currently involved in exploring what impact the use of autonomous vehicles would have on future fleet tactics.      (Photo: BAE Systems)

The use of remotely controlled underwater vehicles is now widely used for mine hunting. Autonomy will be the next step. This he referred to as “extending combat systems off-board”. This is part of a joint initiative under the Franco-British Defence co-operation agreement, and is being conducted jointly with Thales. He also cited a recent collaboration with Agusta Westland, part of the Finmeccanica group, which used a remotely piloted helicopter as an airborne observation platform. “This enables it to provide both video and radar tracks to on board systems.” Other areas of exploration are in the mine hunting domain involving collaboration with Atlas Electronik under the guise of a project called UK SWEEP.”

Plug and play

A possible future requirement may be to make CMS operations similar to  the PCs and smart phones that future crew members will be dealing with at home. Open system architecture will make up-dating simpler, but will pose Information Assurance challenges. Flexible ship architecture may also require increased modularity with systems and sensors, as ships switch roles. Future power and propulsion technologies may enable CMS to be more efficient, requiring less electronic power, or cooling. They may also need better battery life, as energy consumption measures may be imposed on naval forces. With western navies looking at tighter budgets in future, crew numbers will come under pressure. The fewer personnel required to man a ships CMS consoles, the more will be available to keep lookout.



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