The Navy Installed Touch-screen Steering Systems To Save Money. Ten Sailors

It’s a bit scary when a sailor is calling a destroyer “a giant-ass battleship” but maybe that’s the point.


Blaming the Mc Cain disaster on bad engine control systems is a giant-ass stretch.

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I visited a working destroyer once as a kid. I don’t remember what class, if I ever knew. All I remember of that visit is the wheel, which was an inch (2.5400000000 cm) thick disc of solid steel a foot or so across.

If you’re going to take people and throw them on a ship with no training/familiarization on the differences in the control systems compared to their own ship, you’d better be handing them something with big brass knobs with little brass labels under them, so to speak. Putting a green hand, or someone from another ship, in control of a big touchscreen full of stuff that he has NFI what it does is just asking for it IMO.

Not saying there’s not plenty of blame to go around, but the aviation community learned long ago about people getting killed because of confusing controls, and switches that all look alike.


How could anything possibly go wrong. Relying on green crews to steer a ship through heavy traffic at night using touch screens instead of a wheel and hand controlled throttles.


A couple items I don’t recall from the earlier reports, the system gave a false alarm about 45 minutes before the collision and in general was not trusted. The other is the computer-assisted vs the back-up mode.

Typically as a rule of thumb the thinking is while maneuvering in close quarters more direct control and less automation is considered better but in this case in the back-up mode which the captain preferred but did not fully understand there was no requirement for both sailors to acknowledge the control station switch.

Move along, nothing to see here folks. Blame the machinery, electronics, component failure or the engineers whenever the bridge team fucks up. Oldest trick in the book.

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It’s a good thing they weren’t playing chicken with a crazy rooskie or they’d have been toast. How this system is supposed to improve control of the ship in active combat situations where seconds count boggles the mind.

“There was actually a lot of functions on there that I had no clue what on earth they did,” Bordeaux (helmsman) said of the system.


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Looks to me like the quartermasters were set up to fail.


How fucking stupid do you have to be to find this confusing after a hour of training?


I suppose as stupid as a kid from Oklahoma, a high school graduate fresh out of basic training where they learn how to salute and keep their hands out of their pockets, 4 months total in the navy who before joining had never seen the ocean or been aboard a ship and who trusted his superiors after being quickly trained on a system by one who admittedly had no depth of understanding on how it worked and didn’t trust it. Failure of the entire system.


Just for a start – one tiny little green checkbox to show the throttles are ganged or not? Puh-leaze! When they’re ganged, the image should change to a single throttle. And all that text crap at the bottom? The guy’s supposed to be steering the ship, not running a system console. Anything that isn’t helping him steer and work the throttles shouldn’t be there. Not his job to figure out what’s the matter when it goes wrong, or fix it. “Helm not answering sir!” ought to be the extent of it, seems to me.

Not to mention, how are you supposed to run that thing when you’re bleeding, or wearing heavy gloves, or when the bridge is full of smoke? Pee Yew.


There was absolutely no depth of understanding in the entire chain of command. Absolutely horrifying. Some of it I can forgive the crew for because they weren’t trained on IBNS, but some of it, like the folklore around “the big red button” is completely unacceptable - that override has existed for over 25 years and is a holdover from the previous helm control console.


To paraphrase MM1 Holman, USS San Pablo, “It’s all monkey see, monkey do. They don’t know how it works.” I have worked with sailors who didn’t even have drivers licenses - there is absolutely no baseline of knowledge you’re starting from. But besides the training, IBNS is garbage. It’s buggy. It was designed by someone who had never put to sea in their life. The touchscreen is sensitive as hell, which is a real treat when you’re trying to dial in a specific RPM while you’re alongside an oiler. I don’t pretend to be an expert in human machine interface performance standards, but big clunky controls beat out intricacy every day of the week. Turn the wheel left, it goes left. Push the throttle forward, it goes faster. Adding increasingly complicated controls while simultaneously reducing training was a recipe for disaster, and everyone afloat knew it, and said so, but nobody who actually makes these decisions cared. And they still don’t.


It’s funny you bring up the fictional MM1Holman to describe the “monkey-see-monkey-do” mentally in our maritime trade. That character died in 1926 & was created by Richard McKenna who had a navy career from 1931-1953. I believe what he described way back then for the navy is surely true in the private sector today & apparently still in the US Navy as well. As an engineer I couldn’t even guess how many times I used a jumper, screwdriver, hammer or crescent wrench to make a faulty sensor show green on a display just so the bridge team could complete a checklist to do a simple task. I have worked with scores of monkey-see-monkey-do “engineers” just like the ones in The Sand Pebbles book who would put fans & wet rags on over heating bearings to keep them running instead of changing them out. Richard McKenna’s book, The Sand Pebbles should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to be a maritime engineer. His description on how to work with know-it-alls & those with insecurity issues are probably the most valuable lessons a new engineer can learn IMO.

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But to tell a newspaper

There was actually a lot of functions on there that I had no clue what on earth they did,” Bordeaux (helmsman) said of the system.

Dude should have been used as a barnacle remover, get some actual use out of him.

It’s been pointed out that while operation tempo was increased training was decreased and the complexity of the equipment has increased. At some point something is going to break.

Almost inevitably the people who get the blame are going to be the ones closest to the point where the system finally breaks. And the single person closest to the breaking point, in this case the helmsman, is likely not going to turn out to be an Albert Einstein.

As I recall in this case three people were punished, the captain was at one point up against homicide charges.

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Touch screen throttles is terrible system design, cost cutting at its very worst, and played a major role in the accident, the famous straw that broke the camel’s back. To argue otherwise would be silly, but so is suggesting that it was the problem.

But it was a “without which not” in that accident. Handing steering back and forth between the bridge and steering flat, and a throttle/pitch control that only operated the port throttle. And the whole thing started because the helmsman was having trouble handling both steering and throttles, so they were trying to relieve his personal overload by taking the throttle away from him.

Fair enough, but I’m more shocked by the institutional dysfunction that led to both the selection of said system and the assignment of under trained personnel to a highly challenging navigation regime.

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