Back in September 2002, the CONSORT bridge simulator was installed at the Maritime Warfare School (MWS) in HMS COLLINGWOOD, Fareham — built by Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) and using LCD projection. However, as COLLINGWOOD discovered, this technology suffers from wear of the liquid crystals, which results in a degradation of the projected picture.
CONSORT (named after one of the four ships involved in the 1949 Yangtze River incident), was used for up to 15 hours a day, five days a week, and this high usage resulted in either large blotches of the primary colours appearing on the screen, or the picture taking on a tint of one of the primary colours, which was particularly poor in night time exercises. Since the problem was related to utilisation, it was clear that a longer-term solution than progressive refurbishment of the existing kit would be required.
In Oct 2004 the Royal Navy, in conjunction with CSC, investigated the options and it became apparent that newer DLP projection technology presented a better option. Coincidentally, at around the same time, CSC were partnering with Christie in the USA for the provision of visual systems for future simulator projects.
Back in the UK, the Royal Navy contracted UK Ministry of Defence DCSA catalogue approved contractor, Reflex Ltd, to propose a number of solutions and then provide the solution itself. The company recommended the Christie Matrix 3000 DLP projector, and since Christie were already familiar with the CSC system it was considered a logical and low risk option. The projectors have the potential for a higher (SXGA+) resolution picture should the image generation resolution be increased, subject to CSC modifying the graphics database.
The Matrix 3000 projectors were tasked with taking and projecting the visual channels generated by the simulator onto the screen, while Christie was able to identify the essential elements of the existing CSC system and interface accordingly.
The reconfigurable simulator system itself consists of two identical full mission bridges, plus four radar navigation rooms (Blind Pilotage Cubicles), and a central control room. The bridges consist of a 270° horizontal field of view, with nine visual channels on each bridge (each channel has an approx 36° field of vision to allow for overlap with adjacent channels).
The Matrix 3000 was recommended as it is purpose-built for simulation environments and has a relatively easy alignment and edge blending system. One projector is assigned to each visual channel and the installation in each bridge is identical. The system is controlled by CSC’s VSHIP programme.
“The CSC architecture is based around 64 PC’s, each with a specific function within the overall network,” explains Lt. Cdr David Goddard, Navigation Systems Officer. “At the time of installation, this was the most complex system they had built, with multiple bridges and blind pilotage cubicles. They had previously used PCs for single bridges and they simply scaled it up for our system.
“The advantages are that the system is very flexible and should one PC fail, it is a fairly simple operation to change it — normally only affecting one bridge or radar room rather than the entire system.”
As a result, the system is now the most sophisticated bridge simulator currently available in the Royal Navy.
HMS COLLINGWOOD has 19 ship models available for use as an ‘Ownship’ (the ship which is being driven by the students on the bridge, or the radar navigation rooms) and can operate in one of nine geographic areas. The 19 ownship models allow HMS Collingwood to conduct training in almost any class in service with the Royal Navy and vary in size from mine countermeasures vessels to aircraft carriers, and include surfaced submarines and auxiliaries (tankers, stores and logistics ship) operated by the civilian-manned Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
“The ship modelling is especially good,” says David Goddard, “and really allows the students to manoeuvre the ‘ships’ in the same way as they would at sea.”
Environmental features — such as the height of tide and tidal streams (currents) — are included and correctly modelled to replicate the actual conditions that should be experienced on a particular day at a particular time. Visibility, sea state and wind effects are also modelled and can be changed as the exercise controller decides.
Also included are the depth of the sea bed and all significant features required for navigation. The databases were built around four years ago and will be refreshed (to include recent changes in the real world such as the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth) by CSC in the near future.
In addition to the 19 ownship models which have very high fidelity to the ships they are replicating, HMS COLLINGWOOD has a library of other ships and aircraft to allow them to add background shipping and aircraft to give the exercises greater realism. “While we do not have all ships and aircraft that might be encountered at sea, we have sufficient for our needs.”
The geographic databases include Portsmouth and the Solent, Devonport, Clyde (the three main naval bases) and also the entire English Channel for coastal passages, the ports of Falmouth, Poole and Portland, plus the Channel Islands, Dover Strait and open ocean.
Within the simulator two main types of training are conducted, with about 65% of the usage is for courses being run by the Navigation Training Unit of the Maritime Warfare School. These courses range from relatively simple exercises for junior officers commencing their bridge watchkeeping careers, through to complex multi-ship formations being navigated by more advanced navigation students. Commanding Officers about to join their ships can practice handling their ships prior to arriving on board and gain some confidence and experience prior to their first actual entry or departure from port.
The second type of training consists of bridge teams from ships that wish to conduct continuation training to ensure their procedures and drills are up to Fleet standards. Ships normally visit at least one year for two or more days, depending upon their operation programme.
Three main groups of personnel support training in the simulator. Four controllers operate the system and control the exercise, there are two on watch at any one time, with two controllers in each watch. In addition, three maintenance staff keep the system and the projectors serviceable to meet the training schedule.
Then there are the instructors and assessors, who train the students in the classroom and then supervise/assess their training in the simulator. These tend to be the more experienced officers — qualified to navigate the largest ships in the Royal Navy, with many having previously commanded ships.
Today HMS Collingwood operates to 90%-plus of its capacity and has an annual student throughput in excess of 1000 (as well as visits from the navies of Chile, Saudi Arabia and Romania as part of training provided and managed by the Royal Navy).
“The capability of the new system is certainly enabling us to meet our training objectives — and there is still a lot more training potential to be realised,” says David Goddard.