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Following recent deadly collisions between US Navy guided missile destroyers and cargo vessels in crowded shipping lanes, the Navy is now considering whether it’s surface fleet is often too stealthy.
The collisions may have been caused by the inability of civilian ships from spotting them early or judging their size and proximity accurately.
Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson were peppered with questions about their efforts to prevent further collisions while appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, according to news.usni.org.
One of the immediate changes to fleet operations, according to Spencer and Richardson, is the Navy’s surface fleet ships will now announce their presence in heavily trafficked shipping lanes.
The Navy is very good at disguising itself at sea, Richardson said. Navy ships are designed to appear as something much smaller when detected on the radar screens of other ships. Even in daylight, Navy ships are painted Haze Grey to make it very difficult for crews on enemy ships to make visual contact.
“We design our warships to have a lower radar cross-section. Some are designed to be very low,” Richardson said. “That degree of stealth makes us more effective from a warfighting standpoint.”
But this stealth also imposes a burden on Navy crews to understand non-threatening marine traffic will have difficulty recognizing the size, location, and speed of Navy ships, Richardson added.
To fix the problem, Richardson said, the surface fleet will use its automatic identification system – AIS – when in high traffic areas.
“AIS is primarily and foremost a navigation tool for collision avoidance,” according to Coast Guard instructions. “The AIS corroborates and provides identification and position of vessels not always possible through voice radio communication or radar alone.”
The U.S. Coast Guard requires most maritime traffic to use AIS in U.S. waters. U.S. Navy ships, and other government vessels, are not required to use AIS.
According to the Coast Guard, AIS sends out vessel information including identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status, and other safety-related information. The system also receives such safety-related information from other ships. While the Navy has for years had AIS onboard, Richardson said the system was rarely used.