The Case For Lasers And Sensors On Ships


Checking Your Systems Without Checking Under The Hood

LaserNet Fines Online

Photo: U.S. Navy

Ever wonder what it takes to check the oil on a 388-foot, 3,400-ton, U.S. Navy warship?

Here’s a hint -- it’s not a really long dipstick.

Give up? The answer is lasers.

That’s right. Using laser technology, sailors on the U.S. Navy’s newest vessels – the revolutionary Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) – can monitor the purity of ship fluids that flow through critical equipment to keep the ship running smoothly.

“On your average larger U.S. Navy warship which is manned by about 200 sailors, the crew members go to engine rooms to take samples of fluids, then analyze them, which can take hundreds of hours,” said Joe North, vice president for Littoral Ships and Systems for Lockheed Martin. “With the Littoral Combat Ship program, the Navy wanted a heavily automated ship since it was going to have a 40-person crew. LaserNet Fines Online ™ helps a smaller crew be more efficient by helping reduce equipment downtime, manpower and scheduled maintenance needs.” 

In a partnership with the Office of Naval Research, Lockheed Martin developed LaserNet Fines Online (LNF-O ™) for use aboard the Freedom variant LCS. It uses laser technology embedded into fluid systems to provide on-the-spot analysis by detecting, counting, classifying and trending fluid contamination. And, it works in real time so crews can track and measure fluids from any laptop or remote monitoring station to determine how clean they are and offers instant analysis in oil, water or gas.

LNF-O can be used with all types of machinery and equipment, including turbine engines, marine propulsion thrusters, inaccessible equipment, large diesel engines and deck machinery, plus it can analyze the fluid systems themselves. Originally envisioned for fuel testing on a desktop computer, Lockheed Martin ruggedized the technology for use in marine environments.

The technology has been tested on USS Freedom, the first LCS, and is currently installed on USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) for the ship’s 16-month Southeast Asia deployment.

Another example of automation on board a Freedom-variant LCS that helps a smaller crew keep track of complex ship systems is a tool called Visionary ™. Using about 7,000 sensors placed throughout the ship, Visionary monitors and collects data from major electrical and mechanical systems. It crunches the data to help the crew predict potential mechanical issues and determine root cause. It feeds readings from the equipment hourly to satellites, which goes back to Navy / industry teams for analysis.

The Visionary monitoring system also serves as a data historian, compiling all the data for trend analysis and helping determine what change may be needed. It’s an innovative way for the Navy to monitor hull, mechanical and electrical systems and can be expanded to focus on combat system equipment.

Both automation technologies are supporting the U.S. Navy’s requirements for minimally-manned crews on board its revolutionary Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ships, and can be applied to other military or commercial equipment in the future.