Two U.S. Navy ships recently were involved in collisions at sea. It seemed impossible that one event, involving the USS Fitzgerald, would even occur. Then, a second collision occurred in the same region. In fact, in the last year, the Pacific fleet has experienced four serious navigational awareness errors, which has raised a question: Could the Navy have become so slack in discipline and readiness that these events were destined to happen?
We all know that, just as in the military, frontline leadership in the utility industry has a direct bearing on performance in the field. Yet after-action analysis indicates that when the Navy incidents occurred, the front line performed above expectations, indicating their competency and competency in their training as demonstrated by the actions of sailors. As was expected of the military, a quick response by Command relieved the ships’ leaders of their duties, citing loss of trust. Was Command correct? Did the ships’ leadership lose trust, or was it something else?
Some speculation arose among naval defense analysts that hackers may have caused electronic mayhem. A naval ship’s protection system depends on its electronic eyes and ears. Systems have evolved greatly since the days of the direct-wired blip from the antenna to the screen interpreted by a trained radar man. Early radar sent out a specific frequency wave that was several meters wide. The return wave depended on density of mass to return a reflection of that same frequency wave. The blip was interpreted by a trained observer to differentiate between an enemy bomber and a flock of geese. Today’s electronic radar frequency wave shifts are as small as 1 millimeter. A radar reflection comes back as thousands of bits that are interpreted by a computer. The radar screen now delivers an information-laden message to the radar man, who reads and reports the information displayed to him – by the computer. Some reports suggest that contemporary radar used by the military can detect a suitcase-sized drone that is miles away. The same types of systems scan for other threats, such as missiles and warplanes. If a hostile force wants to disable such protection, hacking a ship’s digital protection capabilities would make it vulnerable.