The US Navy focuses technology as it's strategic advantage, except if you want to connect with those on land. The Ship is a self contained world that manages information to allow it to carry out the mission. That works for the battlespace but not so much for those who want to get information from the World Wide Web.
Guess that really cuts into the Facebook time, eh? As the officers would tell you, the mission comes first.
I was always amazed at the technology we used as it seemed to be rooted in the past but part of that is because it has to be built to take a lot of abuse, especially in battle.
On Navy Warships, the Web Slows to a Crawl
By Spencer Ackerman - Wired.com
ABOARD THE U.S.S. WASP — This 40,000-ton assault ship can launch deadly sea and air attacks against enemies ashore and afloat. Just don’t expect it to load a website in under three minutes.
The big-deck ship is a formidable floating base for sailors and Marines — who had better prefer to stay in limited contact with the outside world in their off-hours. The communications infrastructure onboard is a reminder that the Wasp began its service to the Navy in 1989: the flight control station has a big, black telephone with a big, black spiral cord attached. Marines temporarily stationed to the Wasp for this week’s giant Navy-Marine war game, known as Bold Alligator, sigh when they need to get online and say that the best way to get in touch with their comrades aboard is to walk the narrow metal halls until they physically find them.
But looks can be deceiving. The ship’s communications gear feels like a throwback to a pre-wired era, and it runs up against some serious bandwidth limits. But it’s also got advantages on civilian communications infrastructure: Iridium satellite hookups mean that the Wasp can sail around the globe and never encounter a dead zone.
The Wasp presents a microcosm of the strengths and the limitations of communications infrastructure aboard Navy ships. And to understand both, those serving aboard her say, it’s best to remember first what a ship is and isn’t.
The Wasp’s top communications officer, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Angela W. Elder, points out that her ship is a self-contained organism. Its on-board generators have to power everything from the communications gear to the propulsion systems to the navigation systems to the fluorescent lights. “It’s one system, and everything connects into it,” Elder says.
When we civilians on dry land make a cellphone call or send a text, we don’t have to worry about draining our car batteries. Navy ships don’t have that luxury.
That helps highlight the differences with the other military services. The Army has prioritized developing its data networks in the hope of rapidly getting tactical information down to low-ranking soldiers, possibly through smartphones in the future. The Air Force hearts bandwidth, in order to stream video captured by its family of surveillance tools, from drones to giant blimps to manned spy planes. All that is less feasible aboard a ship commissioned in the Reagan era.
Then there are the security restrictions. For most of Sunday, the Wasp switched off its internet access for hours as part of the Bold Alligator exercise, to simulate the precautions the ship would take in a real amphibious assault. “Sometimes we don’t want information to leave the ship,” Elder says, “so we’ll take down information that’s not vital to what’s going on. That impacts our NIPR net,” an unclassified military network.
If the unclassified web feels like a non-priority aboard, that’s because for the most part, it is. With limited bandwidth for voice, text and data — Elder won’t disclose specific connection speeds — the ship must prioritize the communications channels that sailors and Marines need to do their jobs. “This [ship] is designed to support the warfighter,” says Marine Maj. Robert Evans, the communications chief for Expeditionary Strike Group 2, which is headquartered on the Wasp for Bold Alligator. “Facebook, Twitter — that’s not taken into account.”
During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. military extended enormous effort and treasure to allow troops could email at home. Even at the lonliest, tech-starved outposts, there was access to the unclassified internet. At sea, it’s a very different story.
There are exceptions, though. The Wasp rations access to the broader civilian web through judicious disbursement of logins. But Marines and sailors can relax or eat through their downtime by playing Call of Duty in the ship’s library computer lab.
Communications upgrades are a long time in coming, usually occurring during the six to nine months the Wasp spends in the shipyard between deployments. Patches are more typical than comprehensive upgrades. The last one aboard this ship occurred 18 months ago — and the Wasp has better bandwidth than many other ships, Elder and Evans say.
But don’t think for a second that the Wasp — which Evans calls a “giant floating tactical electromagnet” — is out of touch. The Navy needs very, very badly to stay in touch with the approximately hundred ships it always has deployed around the world. The satellite connections aboard the Wasp make sure that the ship is always communicating with the chain of command, absent a major power failure. “No dead zones. Ever,” says Evans.
Still, both Evans and Elder concede that bandwidth limitations are a challenge — especially as newer intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance gear comes online to give the fleet more persistent pictures of what’s over the horizon. The Navy’s Fire Scout drone is already used in Latin America to help spot drug-mule ships; more sea-based drones are on their way. “The ship is not equipped to receive full-motion video on demand,” Evans says. “I would think, eventually, that would need to change.”
But it’s not as if extracurricular web browsing is impossible. Login, click on Internet Explorer, and prepare to wait. “You may not hit the website you need on the first, second, third try,” Evans says, “but it’ll get done.”