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The US Navy will replace its touch screen controls with mechanical controls on its destroyers

The US Navy will replace its touch screen controls with mechanical controls on its destroyers
The US Navy will replace its touch screen controls with mechanical controls on its destroyers
The U.S. Navy will replace the throttle and touch controls currently installed in its destroyers with mechanical controls beginning in 2020, says USNI News. This decision comes after the National Transportation Safety Board issued an accident report concerning a collision in 2017, which makes the design of the ship's controls a determining factor in the accident.

On 21 August 2017, the USS John S. McCain collided with the Liberian tanker Alnic MC off the coast of Singapore. The report provides a detailed overview of the actions that led to the collision: when crew members tried to distribute the throttle and steering control between consoles, they lost control of the vessel and placed it in the tanker's path. The accident killed 10 sailors and injured 48 on board the McCain.

The report indicates that, while fatigue and lack of training played a role in the accident, the design of the vessel's control station was also a determining factor. Located in the middle of McCain's deck, the vessel's control console (SCC) includes two touch screens on Helm and Lee Helm stations, through which the crew can steer and propel the vessel. Investigators discovered that the crew had placed it in "manual emergency mode", which eliminated computer-assisted assistance because it allowed "a more direct form of communication between the steering wheel and the SSC". This setting meant that any crew member from another station could take over pilotage operations and when the crew attempted to regain control of the vessel from several stations, the control "moved from leeward to aft direction, to aft direction, to aft direction, and back again".

THE SHIP'S TOUCH SCREEN CONTROLS AND PROCEDURES WERE TOO COMPLICATED
The NTSB report describes the configuration of the bridge systems, noting that the decision to transfer controls in the Strait contributed to the accident and that the procedures for transferring controls from one station to another were complicated, contributing to confusion. More specifically, the panel points to the touch screens on the bridge, noting that mechanical accelerators are generally preferred because "they provide the operator with immediate and tactile feedback". that there was a problem from the beginning and recommends that the Navy better adhere to the best design standards.

Following the incident, the navy conducted fleet-wide investigations and, according to Rear-Admiral Bill Galinis, in charge of the ships program, staff indicated that they would prefer mechanical controls. Speaking at a recent Navy symposium, he described the orders as"'Just because you can doesn't mean you should do it,'' and that the ship systems were simply too complicated. He also indicated that they were reviewing the design of other vessels to see if they could provide common system features between different classes of vessels.

THE NAVY WILL START REPLACING ORDERS IN THE SUMMER OF 2020
Admiral Galinis told USNI News that projects are underway to replace the systems. "We are already in the procurement process and the kit will be delivered as a relatively easy to install kit." According to Naval Sea Systems Command, all Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with the integrated bridge and navigation system will be physically butterflies, starting in the summer of 2020 with the USS Ramage.

Touch screens were not the only problem of the collision: the report indicates that several crew members on the bridge at the time were unaware of the systems they were monitoring and lacked experience in their roles, and that many were tired. An average of 4.9 hours of sleep between the 14 crew members present. The report recommended that the Navy better train bridge systems, update orders and associated documentation, and ensure that Navy personnel are not fatigued at work.

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