CNN published a report today on the US Navy’s new, sophisticated, and somewhat stealthy Zumwalt-class destroyers. Rather than doing any actual investigative reporting on the new ships (for example their $3.5 billion cost per ship–that is, about the same as the annual budget of the entire UK Royal Navy—or questions about their mix of sensors and weapons systems, or even their stability in rough seas), CNN decided to highlight what is clearly most important from an operational and strategic perspective—namely that the ship was designed for the video gamer generation.
Thus the reader is told:
In the operations center — which in many ways is the heart of the ship — sailors are surrounded by an array of video displays that have been designed to be used by a generation raised on video games, Knudson says.
Raytheon tested the technology configuration in the operation center with young, gamer sailors, Knudson says. “We’ve brought them down to our labs and we got direct feedback from them using human-factor engineers in order to make sure that we’ve integrated all the displays and information in a way that they can use the systems most effectively.”
The way all the ship’s weapons, radar and other systems are displayed to users and the captain, Knudson told CNN, “it really give them unprecedented situational awareness.”
“That ability is truly going to be a game-changer.“
The whole operations center technology array saves manpower by allowing sailors to monitor multiple weapons systems or sensors, Gallagher reported. The Zumwalt, Gallagher wrote, also includes limited wireless networking capability.
…one day it could be fitted with advanced weapons systems that are currently experimental, including a laser weapon and an electromagnetic railgun.
Electromagnetic railguns don’t need to fool around with needless explosive warheads or propellants. These fearsome weapons inflict damage by sheer speed. The gun uses electromagnetic force to blast a missile 125 miles at 7.5 times the speed of sound, according to the Navy.
The laser weapon — which could be fired by one sailor on a video game-like console — is designed to take on aircraft or small surface vessels.
I don’t doubt that (as one would expect) the Zumwalt class has very sophisticated C3I capabilities, and that computerization, automation, and mechanization reduces crew requirements. However, CNN (and the US Navy) appear to have entirely missed all the possible drawbacks of having the “gamer generation” drive and fight their expensive new ship. For example, anyone who has ever played a first-person shooter can imagine all of the following:
- Gamer-sailors refuse to use some of the most effective weapons systems on the ship, decrying them as “n00b tubes” used only by unskilled combatants. “Sure, we’ve got all these Vertical Launch System cells with Tomahawks, but who uses those? Real sailors run up to a Chinese ship and stab it with a knife.”
- Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the stealth architecture of the new ships, gamer-sailors view stealthy “camping” as unsportsmanlike. Instead they prefer to rush about at high speed, trash-talking their opponents by radio using the computer-generated voice of a foul-mouthed semi-literate 13 year old.
- No one worries about the ship’s lack of vulnerability to anti-ship missiles or its lack of a close-in weapons system because of an almost religious belief that they’ll simply “respawn” in San Diego or Norfolk, Virgina if sunk.
- When bored, crews entertain themselves by ganking newbie navies that haven’t worked out the intricacies of naval combat yet.
- Someone attaches the ship’s controls to a Xbox Kinect, requiring the crew to prance about in the Operations Centre to operate basic ship’s systems, with often hilarious results.
- Much time wasted cruising around Pacific looking for “power-ups.”
- The voice-activation capability of the ship systems means that sailors accidentally sink neutral shipping when casually saying “kill Panamanian tanker” in unrelated conversation.
- The ship’s “limited wireless networking capability” is constantly overloaded with pirate music downloads and Netflix.
- The ship insists on having an active internet connection, and becomes obsolete quickly unless the Navy pays for expensive downloadable content.
- Naval victories rewarded by badges and the ability customize the ship with bling, such as cool (but militarily-counterproductive) colour schemes for the hull.
- Shortly after ship is ordered into combat for the first time, Captain realizes s/he lost the necessary “activation code.”
- Rival navies wait a few years and then buy Zumwalt class ships at one-tenth original cost on Steam.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few, so additional suggestions are welcomed.