Tool helps future officers develop wartime skills
Naval students learning how to conduct warfare on the open ocean now have a new tool to work with that can teach them how to maneuver through hostile, mine-filled waters or identify potentially threatening vessels passing by in the dark.
The state-of-the-art Mariner Skills Simulator unveiled Tuesday at the Southern University Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps Unit is one of only six in the nation. It’s a $90,000 gift from the U.S. Navy designed to teach midshipmen how to navigate warships and how to react to different threats.
Lt. Erik Gardner runs the simulator program at Southern. He can load maps depicting any part of the world into the program to give his students a realistic, three-dimensional look — down to the buoy — of any waterway they may find themselves navigating in the future.
The simulator can mimic every conceivable situation, such as high winds and rough seas, as they learn how to operate using radar or track another vessel through sonar.
A few situations Gardner will put his students through involve learning how to navigate a ship at night when it’s difficult to tell the difference between the sky and the water and how to use sounds and any available light to identify commercial ships passing by that could be mistaken for other warships.
“Our midshipmen don’t get out on the ships very often. With this, they can learn the intricacies of navigating anything from a warship all the way to an aircraft carrier on the high seas,” Gardner said. “This generation learns well with virtual simulations.”
On Tuesday, guests sat in front of a series of computer monitors on Southern’s campus to go through a simulated mission. The simulator is equipped to mimic the exact look of a warship control room with the instruments to manipulate the ship’s rudder and regulate its speed.
Young officers-in-training gave quick lessons on the intricacies of controlling cruisers, destroyers and aircraft carriers through a narrow channel on the open sea.
The mission: a military coup in an imaginary country while Navy ships were docked in a port. Navy leadership were evacuated to an embassy, leaving the young officers in charge of moving the warships through a busy oilfield corridor dotted with mines.
The early part of the simulation was uneventful as the ships traveled in tight formation through the channel. But later, as the waterway became more congested with small sailboats and large cargo ships, a loud siren went off just in time for guests to look up from their monitors to the large screen in the front of the room and watch disaster unfold.
A small cruiser being controlled by Southern University Chancellor James Llorens and a young midshipmen took a poor angle on a narrow, curvy part of the channel as a large tanker bore down on the ship.
The cruiser’s hard turn to the left was too late to avoid the collision that set off hooting and hollering in the room and left Llorens and the student pointing fingers at each other.
Afterward, Llorens maintained his innocence. “A tanker got in the way; it came upon us pretty quickly. There were two of us on the controls. If I’d done what I wanted to do, I think we would’ve avoided it,” he said.
Collision notwithstanding, Llorens, a U.S. Army veteran, called the simulator “a huge win” for Southern.
“It’s a very up-to-date piece of equipment. It’s encouraging to young men and women thinking about pursuing careers in the military to know they have this state-of-the art-tool available here for them,” Llorens said.
Capt. Alton E. Ross Jr., commanding officer of the 80-plus student SUNROTC Unit, said the Navy will rely on his students from Southern, LSU and other schools to check the system for glitches as more simulators are rolled out to the other Navy ROTC units around the country.
Ross said the simulator will give young officers up to an 18-month head start on their careers as they train to become surface warfare officers.
“Without this navigation, they would have to learn this out of a book,” Ross said. “This will help them understand a multibillion-dollar piece of equipment and make them capable of giving the correct orders.”