Defense Media Network

Surface Warfare Officers School Employing New Technology and Training Methods

Courtesy of Surface SITREP, published by the Surface Navy Association (

Veteran surface warriors can recall the training they received as ensigns in steamy hot plants and rudimentary bridge trainers. Today the engineering, tactical and navigation and ship handling training has become more sophisticated, with simulators that can create a variety of realistic worst-case scenarios to challenge students, and better prepare them for the fleet.

Much has changed at Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) to train engineers. Fewer U.S. Navy ships are steam powered today, but the Navy still have steam plants, and must train the engineers. The steam hot plant at Newport, R.I., built in 1942, has been dismantled. “It was effective, but expensive,” said Rich Callas, the executive director and senior civilian at SWOS. “Because if it was a real boiler, you couldn’t initiate real training scenarios such as a boiler explosion.”

SWOS was also home to the next-generation engineering simulator, the “plastic palace” in Robinson Hall, a full-size fiberglass mockup of a steam plant, complete with sounds and vibrations, making it possible to create worst-case scenarios. However, it was also expensive, Callas said. “We could only train one student at one watch station with one instructor at a time.”

Each class of ship has a complete engineering plant digital model—including electrical and firemain distribution–for training. The simulators are available on desktop computers, and can be used for a full range of training–from plant layout and familiarization, to fully functional plat where students can get multiple reps and sets of scalable scenarios, from less difficult normal steaming to very challenging casualty control situations.

The system can be adjusted to the type of ship the student will be reporting to. “If I’m going to a flight I DDG 51, I’ll get that system. If I’m going to a Flight IIA I’ll get that, and if I’m going to a Flight I that’s had the engineering mod, I’ll get that.

Bridge simulator 2

Students at Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) train on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Full Mission Bridge (FMB) simulator. The LCS Full Mission Bridge simulator is a full-sized trainer that uses the same software as the FMB and Conning Officer Virtual Environment (COVE). The LCS trainer has every Navy homeport modeled and allows the student to navigate in and out of designated ports using the highly sophisticated controls of a littoral combat ship. U.S. Navy photo

“The average chief engineer requires several months on his or ship before they qualify as engineering officer of the watch (EOOW), because they have to go through the entire ship,” Callas said. “But now they can get qualified in less than a month because they’ve done it all in the simulators.

Callas said SWOS now has engineering simulators that use avatars. Most navy ships are powered by gas turbines or diesels. But even the new steam plant simulators uses avatar that represent the watchstanders, such as upper levelman and lower levelman, so students can interact with other watchstanders.

International students train there, too. Even though the U.S. Navy has decommissioned its Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates, it still maintains the capability and other nations that operate the FFGs can take advantage of the training.

The desk top training is followed by a full scale mockup. “We use the mock up as a sort of finishing school to get the touch and feel,” Callas said.

The virtual engineering task trainer (VETT) 80-plus systems modelled, and is used for training enlisted operators and maintainers.

The LM 2500 gas turbine engine, for example, and its thousands of components can be examined so students can understand it and how it works. VETT show you how to take it apparat in accordance with procedures and put back together. “You can put the program on a Toughbook and take it with you to do PMS. It has all the tech manuals. You can pull up the software to check the procedure, the advisories and warnings, and what tools will be needed, before you begin,” Callas said.

Robinson Hall now contains new classrooms with high-end PC-based high-fidelity simulators to conduct LCS bridge training. “We’ve jumped 50 or 60 years in technical sophistication from the ‘plastic palace’ PC-based trainers,” Callas said.

The bridge on LCS is unlike traditional Navy ships. Therefore, the training has to be different.

The LCS JOOD course at SWOS includes pierwork and transits in congested waters and on traffic management at high speeds. The course is focused on both individual and watch team skills. “We teach the proper interaction between the JOOD and OOD working together, like the pilot and co-pilot division of labor on an aircraft,” Callas said. “One person handling the navigational picture, the VMS (vessel management system) and the automated radar plotting aid (ARPA), and the other has eyes out the window and making sure the ship is on course and operating safely.

Callas said SWOS plans to integrate the bridge trainers with CIC trainers, so the two teams can be trained to work together.

Cmdr. Tim Wilke is the SWOS executive officer and was commanding officer aboard USS Freedom for her first deployment to the Western Pacific in 2013. “I can make a broad statement that people were well trained and ready to go when they reported aboard Freedom. I received the first three ensigns reporting to LCS, and they arrived after going through the pipeline – which included the new JOOD course for LCS – the day prior to us deploying. I got to see two evolutions with those new ensigns in the LTF (LCS Training Facility). We got underway with the ship, stood one UI watch, and at that point I felt comfortable and confident in qualifying them – and we spent a lot of time transiting the Singapore Straits.”

Wilke agreed with Callas that the division of labor between the OOD and JOOD must be formalized and practiced. “One might have ARPA set for three miles, and the other might set it for six. If the ship is driving on VMS track control one of them might be laying down the next course while the other remains on the current track. They can change that responsibility by calling ‘heads up’ or ‘heads down.’ It’s understood who’s looking outside the window and who isn’t, and it reduces the uncertainty that nobody is looking out.


Lt. Michelle Tanalega, an instructor at the Surface Warfare Officer School (SWOS), goes over the operation of a Conning Officer Virtual Environment (NSS COVE I) simulator with Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) Midshipman 1st Class James Olsen, a rising senior at the George Washington University from Portland, Oregon. U. S. Navy image by Scott A. Thornbloom

Even with new technology and high fidelity simulation and virtual reality, Capt. Scott Robertson, SWOS commanding officer, it’s still about the basics of seamanship and navigation. But for LCS, the ship is different, so the training must also be different. “There is a uniqueness of LCS, and those watchstanders have to be really good at multiplexing because they’re doing more functions simultaneously than on a traditional bridge. The other element with LCS is the ability to think further in advance because of the speed the ship is travelling. But the same rules of the road apply. In the end, safe navigation is safe navigation.


Combat Information Center

SWOS is providing combat systems training for LCS department heads, to include tactical action officer (TAO) and CIW watch officer, with experienced trainers using simulator for both LCS variants.

“At Department Head School you learn about the tactical advantages and limitations of establishing EMCON; and here you learn about your actual radars, emitters and sensors. Here you sit at the actual console and stand the watches. We teach the fundamentals and parameters of systems and concepts of operations, and we front load the training so students will be ready when they get to their ship,” Callas said.

SWOS has trainers for both the Independence and Freedom variants of LCS, each with a different combat management system (CMS). –The Freedom variant has the Lockheed Martin Combatts 21 system, derived from Aegis. The Independence variant has the General Dynamics Mission Systems Integrated Combat Management System (ICMS). Many LCS systems are not found on any other U.S. navy combatant.

Students learn about how the consoles work, such as how the trackball and various drop down menus function. But Callas said it is more than just “buttonology.”

“Students start thinking tactically about how they will deploy their weapons and ship in tactical scenario,” Callas said.

Students participate in progressively more aggressive scenarios without having to take a ship to sea. After four weeks at SWOS. Students get a larger more integrated combat systems trainer at LCS Training Facility (LCS) at either San Diego or Mayport before they get to their ship.

“Experience is our shield against disaster and adversity,” said Callas. “The more experience we can give our students the better we are at arming our students against challenges such as those our ships faced in 2017.”


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...