Vessel is a System. Potential of the Shipbuilding Industry also Includes the “Advanced Technologies”

PUBLISHED AT: Saturday, 12 November 2016, 10:43

The sea trials of the “Kormoran II” minehunter, which are taking place on the waters of the Bay of Gdansk, constitute a proof that the Polish industry remains in possession of capabilities required to pursue and implement convoluted undertakings for the Polish Navy. The vessel has been fitted with domestically designed, autonomous innovative battle system, developed by the OBR CTM S.A R&D facilityas it has been written in his article for Defence24.pl by Hubert Jando PhD, spokesman for OBR CTM S.A.

The core of the consortium which is working on the “Kormoran” vessel is formed by the Stocznia Remontowa Shipbuilding S.A. facility (RSB), and Ośrodek Badawczo-Rozwojowy Centrum Techniki Morskiej S.A. based in Gdynia [Research and Development Center – Center for Maritime Technology] (also known as CTM). Both companies remain in possession of expertise, and are organizationally prepared to face a challenge in a form of a task, the goal of which would be to build a specialized vessel. This has been proven, among other factors, also by the fact that “Kormoran II” ship’s constructors have, at a record-breaking pace, created an innovative platform made out of austenitic steel, featuring a Voith-Schneider propulsion system.

Nonetheless, it should also be noticed that another challenge which has been long anticipated by the Polish experts working in the field of high tech, had to be dealt with. It is hard to doubt that the combat potential of the given vessel is dependent on its being equipped with modern armament, effectors and sensors, the realistic capabilities of which are conditioned by the fusion of those elements taking place within a system, also known as a battle management suite or a command system.

This system acts, at the same time, as the brain, heart and nervous system of the ship. The whole package consists of wiring and light fibres, servers, local computers, a variety of sensors and executive elements. This “bloodstream” makes it possible to maintain circulation of combat data, navigation and weather data, engine room management and management of the executive elements. The system also allows to provide the crew with the information on the status of the monitored components, which have an impact on efficiency of operation and safety of the vessel. Here, data and information is also being transferred and exchanged through radio and satellite communications, which guarantees that the ship is capable of being independent, as well as of being operated in groups.

The whole data package needs to be processed in a way which is expected by the commander and by the crew. The system, thus, before presenting the data to the operators, processes it in all of the required ways: segregates it, and transforms it into a form which is legible for the sailors. Where it is required to ensure rapid reaction times, scenarios are prepared, in which actions are executed without the human factor being taken into equation.

CTM has been getting ready to carry out the aforesaid task for many years. The facility has been making effort to prepare more and more advanced mine-hunter class vessel systems which, now, are being operated onboard the 206 FM design vessels that underwent modernization several years ago. CTM has also been actively involved in the offset which was being implemented by the Thales company. Integration of numerous armament systems was carried out for the OBR CTM centre, and the facility has been, consequently, deepening its knowledge and creating a proper team of people. Moreover, relevant software design management procedures were also introduced.

As an effect of the effort above, on its own, the facility has created its original SCOT (Ship COmbat Tactical) system. It is not a licensed solution. This universal suite is to constitute a basis for battle management systems of a variety of classes, which would be implemented onboard the vessels operated by the Polish Navy. In case of “Kormoran”, the system bears the SCOT-M designation.

The design assumptions implemented within the SCOT system are simple. The suite features a layer of fixed elements, which is responsible for carrying out joint operations in national and allied settings, information security and for fixed tasks that are carried out by any of the Polish Navy vessels. This layer is also tightly tied to cyber-security. 

The second layer is “flexible”, and it consists of a number of replaceable functional blocks that are adequate for the scope of tasks that is assigned to the given class of vessel. For example, “Kormoran” has been fitted with a specialized subsystem, the purpose of which is to control the complementary unmanned mine-countermeasure platforms. Thanks to the adopted approach, in justifiable cases, it is also possible to replace some modules with a different package, moreover, such design also allows for preparation of an individualized variant of the system for any specific vessel.

Often, questions and doubts emerge, regarding the level of complication of such system, or the significance of such system for the whole vessel. It is said that for the vessel hull, cannon and radars are the most important elements. This, to a large extent, is true, however the capabilities of a modern tool, the purpose of which is to carry out complicated tasks, are dependent on the functionality of the installed software. And this applies both to the equipment utilized in the civil sector (PCs, smartphones), as well as to the military hardware. The vessel’s battle management suite is the main element which determines the value of radars, sensors, armament or specialized systems (in case of Kormoran – mine countermeasures), and their ability to act together, cooperate, and carry out the relevant operations effectively.

The carrier platform and the system form an inseparable element. They form a vessel, with a well defined combat potential.

A modern surface combatant is, nowadays, fully dependent on its computers. It is that system, which integrates all of the physical functional elements, that makes it possible for the crew to effectively and safely carry out the tasks and face the challenges that are placed in front of the ship. The trend which has been visible for a long time now, assumes that the crews are becoming quantitatively smaller, with simultaneous increase of the complexity of the systems that provide the said crews with relevant support. In the IT world, number of code lines is one of the comparative parameters which defines the abilities offered by the software. The sources claim that in case of the Apollo 11 lander which touched the surface of the Moon on 20th July 1969, the software included around 300 thousand lines of code. For the sake of comparison, the software solutions, adopted for the Polish “Kormoran II” vessel, consist of more than 3.2 million lines of code. Obviously, one should remember how big is the gap between the applied technologies, nonetheless, the difference does not create any doubts.

It is worth to view the whole initiative from the organizational perspective, concerning the scope of tasks that were to be effectively carried out, which would make it possible to create the “Kormoran” ship in so short period of time.

Dozens of computers and electronic hardware, tons of steel, millions of lines of code (beyond the battle management suite) had to be delivered, on right time and in the right place. This should be seen as a confirmation of the following: not only are the companies involved in the project well organized and cooperative among themselves, as they also have an ability to manage dozens of contractors and the whole supply chain.

Even if, in line with the contract, we still have to wait for the formal finalization of the undertaking, we may certainly state the following: “Kormoran II” vessel which is soon going to be operated by the Polish Navy, should be viewed as a satisfying icing on the cake, when it comes to the joint effort of the Polish experts, including shipyard employees, electronics experts, IT professionals, and many other employees, including, above all, the representatives of the Ordering Party.  

Hubert Jando PhD, spokesman for OBR CTM S.A.

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