The primary means of communicating between ships and stations is known as telecommunications. Telecommunications refers to communications over a distance and includes the transmission and reception of intelligence by wire, radio, and other electromagnetic systems and equipment. The naval communications system consists of strategic group and tactical groups. Strategic communications are generally worldwide and operated on a common user (Navy, Army, DOD, etc.) or special-purpose basis. A strategic system may be limited to a specified area or specific type of traffic, but its configuration is designed to permit combined operations with other strategic systems. An example is the automatic voice network and automatic digital network. Tactical communications are usually limited to a specific area of operations and are used to direct or report the movement of forces. Tactical networks may be used for operational and/or administrative traffic, e.g., task group and broadcast networks.
The Naval Computer Telecommunications System [NCTS] provides, operates, and maintains US Navy shore communications and non-tactical information resources and those elements of the Defense Information System assigned to the US Navy. NCTS is a worldwide network of voice and data communications systems that support U.S. Navy surface, submarine, aviation, and special force users at all levels. Commander, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Command (COMNAVTELCOM) reports directly to the CNO as type commander for all NCTS activities and is responsible for their administration, maintenance, and readiness.
The rapid, accurate exchange and display of tactical and strategic data is the great force multiplier that enables our combat forces to operate as a single integrated fighting force. Interoperability is achieved when each ship and aircraft in the force can exchange tactical and strategic information smoothly, quickly, and reliably with every other platform in the force so that each platform has the same coherent tactical picture.
With the formation of the earliest naval flotillas, interoperability took the form of simple communications between ships. These communication methods generally consisted of semaphores, lanterns and other signaling devices in the hands of human operators. They were restricted by environmental factors such as fog, darkness and line-of-sight, procedural problems such as message formats and definitions as well as general training and interpretation issues. The advent of radio in the early 20th century overcame many of the environmental problems of previous methods, introduced several new environmental problems and is still subject to many of the classic procedural and training interoperability issues.
In the mid-20th century computer systems began to appear on board ships and took on increasingly important functionality in support of shipboard missions. Over time various computer systems were linked to each other within a ship and finally computers on different ships linked to each other as well as to airborne, submarine and shore-based platforms. Today, inter-computer connectivity between ships or any group of platforms has become mission-critical and various interoperability issues that can impact the mission of the platform and the battle group have accompanied each expansion in connectivity.
Even early attempts to connect computer systems within a ship experienced interoperability problems. These problems were often caused by procedural and training deficiencies, with interface specification and interpretation as a key contributor. These problems have been overcome or mitigated by implementing systems engineering discipline, accompanied by rigorous intra-platform integration and testing. Today these disciplines are usually supported by several dozen stand-alone land-based combat systems that faithfully replicate the computer hardware, computer program and support equipment configuration of the ship combat system. These stand-alone facilities enable development, integration and validation of complex systems within a controlled, repeatable environment.
In the past decade, the fleet has seen a significant growth in tactical networking capabilities such as LINK-11, LINK-16 and Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). These capabilities are enabling battle groups consisting of many platforms including ships, submarines and aircraft to increasingly operate as a single warfighting system. At the same time, this level of integration of previously independent platforms has lead to interoperability problems within the battle group. Systems engineering discipline points to the need for a land-based battle group testbed as one tool to help address these interoperability issues while engineering and certifying emerging battle group capabilities.
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