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Composite Applications Take a Swim


Last week I watched The Hunt for Red October for the first time since I was 11. That first time, the only lasting impression I had was how fast Sean Connery, as the defecting Captain Ramius, chewed his food (seriously, it’s fast). This next go around my nerd energies were focused on their super-cool-for-1989 computerized map kiosk where the positions of various vessels were plotted. It looked a lot like Space Invaders, with the black background and pixilated features marching here and there.  When someone touched a vessel the entire map was replaced with the vessel’s name –probably not the best interface but heavy on drama. It got me to thinking what a map interface might really look like for a submarine, or at least what I would recommend for one.


USS Virginia

This is a big consideration.  There are going to be long periods of utter non-connectivity punctuated by satellite or other connections when surfaced or near port or when a beacon buoy is sent up. Dynamic data would almost always be stale, so the positions of analyst estimates would be a big player.  This also means that non-dynamic map layers would be stored locally right there in the sub.


Microsoft’s Surface

A large, collaborative, immersive (pun intended?) touch-table display would be a must. Also, massive amounts of memory would be required to store detailed land and bathymetric basemap tiles locally. Really, a lot of memory. Considering the immense expense of a submarine, the hardware to plot courses, navigate, and in-general keep it off the bottom of the ocean, would be commensurate. Somewhere around a zillion dollars.



Submarine navigation includes depth, so a 3D (or at least pseudo-3D) display would be a must. Seafloor depths and geologic features inherently require a third display dimension. One of the Soviet navigators had the cool line, “Give me a stopwatch and a map, and I’ll fly the Alps in a plane with no windows.” With the right composite application, the no windows part is a technicality.

Map Layers

  • Last known locations and analyst history/predictions for foreign vessels
  • Last known locations and charted courses for native vessels
  • Satellite imagery identifying recent sea surface anomalies consistent with submarine wakes
  • Ports, Berths, Bases
  • Historical locations of dangerous Internal Waves caused by density discontinuities.
  • Known ice flows and the location of large bergs.
  • Detailed seafloor survey color-shaded by depth
  • Areas of geologic risk


  • Navigation.  Three-dimensional charting would be a big improvement over the "Twelve degrees starboard on my mark. Four…three…two..one…mark!"  As the sub varies its speed, the time remaining to the next and cascading turn commands would update.  It would be the digital equivalent to the charts, compass, and dry erase board marker.  Included in this nav set would be a multi-part ruler tool with editable estimated speed with full distance and time summary.  Also, path collisions with known geology would raise a flag. "Are you sure you want to crash?"
  • 3D ping pinning.  If an unknown underwater entity is encountered, its distance and relative position can be plotted and added to the map model, then tracked/identified.
  • Line of Site.  Or Line of Sound, rather.  If a sub is exposed when it is pinged, then knowing the available sphere of water where ping candidates are would be so cool.  Also the estimated ping-able sphere of the tracked vessels would be pretty useful.
  • Audio profiles.  Every military vessel on active record probably has an audio signature, like a fingerprint, on file that can be matched with some sense of certainty to a pinged vessel that is encountered.  A selected unknown vessel would provide a list of relatively confident matches based upon that signature, and the intel set on each of the possibilities.

John Nelson / IDV Solutions / john.nelson@idvsolutions.com



7 responses

  1. Daniel

    The saying when I was navigating subs for five years was, the most important piece of navigation equipment on the boat is the fathometer.

    December 4, 2007 at 5:51 pm

  2. Unknown

    thank you .

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    ماهي أقوى مباراة في تصفيات آسيا ؟!

    August 30, 2008 at 3:55 pm

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