Category Archives: Emerging Tech Week

Emerging Tech Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

In recent weeks CIMSEC featured submissions sent in response to our call for articles on emerging technologies, issued in partnership with the Naval Warfare Studies Institute and Lockheed Martin, for CIMSEC’s Project Trident.

The evolution of technology has been a driving force in how naval forces are developed and employed. Technology has been central to defining how naval platforms can contribute to the fight, what systems can constitute a naval asset, and how sailors interact with machines to exercise naval power in all its forms. 

Emerging technologies today constitute some of the greatest risks and most pressing opportunities that face naval forces. Artificial intelligence could transform the nature of naval command and control while augmenting what decision-making the warfighter can contribute to the fight. Autonomous undersea vehicles could broadly proliferate and pose widespread yet silent threats. Virtual reality could offer new avenues and methods of training warfighters and exploring future threat environments. 

Amidst all this change, the pursuit of emerging technologies and the drive to harness their warfighting potential is characterized by competition. A range of actors and great powers are in an accelerating race to explore these technologies, capitalize on their supposed advantages, and be best prepared to employ or guard against them.

Below are the authors and articles that featured during CIMSEC’s Emerging Technology week. We thank them for their excellent submissions.

The Influence of Technology on Fleet Architecture,” by J. Noel Williams

“It is critical that strategy-derived functions and missions, operating concepts to accomplish these missions, and technological opportunity guide the development of naval forces to realize a fleet fit for the purposes required by national, defense, and military strategies. Measuring the benefit of a new platform by comparing its performance to its predecessor or comparing a class of ship to an adversary’s like ship class does not answer the question.”

Leviathan Wakes: China’s Growing Fleet of Autonomous Undersea Vehicles,” by Ryan Fedasiuk

“Over the past decade, details have sporadically emerged about China’s unmanned (UUV) and autonomous undersea vehicle (AUV) projects, but questions linger about which kinds of vessels the Chinese defense industry may be developing, and how the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might use them in a future conflict.”

Red Cell Analysis of a Mobile Networked Control System Supporting a Ground Force,” by Larry Wigington, Ruriko Yoshida, and Doug Horner

“Our analytical models correctly identified the ground force’s intended movements in both scenarios. The ground force’s predicted path deviated from the actual path by an average of only 39 meters. The implications of these results are far-reaching as DoD begins to focus on competing with near-peer adversaries in the Indo-Pacific Theater, and the Marine Corps identifies the need for reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance capabilities when conducting operations within the ‘weapons engagement zone.'”

A Roadmap to Successful Sonar AI,” by LT Andrew Pfau

“Recently, NORTHCOM has tested AI/ML systems to search through radar data for targets, a project that has received interest and participation from all 11 combatant commands and the DoD as a whole. Due to its niche uses, however, passive sonar ML systems cannot match this level of department wide investment and so demands strong advocacy within the Navy.”

Solving Communications Gaps in the Arctic with Balloons,” by Walker D. Mills

“Communications issues are a consequence of the polar operating environment and an obstacle for the military services operating there. But just because the environment is difficult does not mean that US forces have to go without persistent and reliable communications. High-altitude balloons could plug the communications gap not just for maritime forces but also for the Army and special operations units operating in these extreme latitudes.”

Cognitive Lasers: Combining Artificial Intelligence with Laser Weapon Systems,” by Dr. Bonnie Johnson

“In many cases, the human operators may be well-served with an automated decision support system that can quickly calculate preferred weapon options based on the situation, such as doctrine statements. The emerging capabilities of artificial intelligence can be leveraged to enable automated decision aids for laser weapons—thus creating a cognitive laser approach for laser weapon systems.”

Responding to the Proliferation of Uninhabited Underwater Vehicles,” by Andro Mathewson

“UUVs are becoming an important tool within the realm of international security. Naval forces across the world are quickly developing and acquiring a variety of UUVs due to their furtive nature, dual-use capabilities, and multifaceted functionalities. While the technology is still in relatively early development stages and leaves much to be desired, UUVs have quickly become an integral element of modern navies but also appear in the arsenals of lesser developed armed forces and non-state actors due to their utility as an asymmetric tool for sea denial.”

Human Factors Meets New Technology in 2025,” by John Cordle and Robert Sweetman

“The Navy has monitored the temperatures and pressures of its fluid systems, and the voltage and current of its electrical ones, for literally centuries; the idea of doing the same for its people was a long time coming. To assess his alertness, J.T. then looks into the eyepiece of a Psychomotor Vigilance Self-Test (PVT) machine, pressing the mouse with each flash of light, speaking into the voice machine, and after three minutes is cleared, by a series of proven technologies leveraged together, to take the watch.” 

Drones and Starlink: Combining Satellite Constellations With Unmanned Navy Ships,” by Brandon Wall and Nicholas Ayrton

“It is these two emerging technologies, maritime drone vessels and large satellite communication constellations, that could allow for the Navy to solve some of its ongoing issues and permit the creation of a more nimble, lean, and modern force able to better confront the rising security threats facing the United States in the years and decades to come.”

Use Virtual Reality to Prepare Maritime Crews For Terrorist and Piracy Attacks,” by Selina Robinson and Dr. Amy Meenaghan

“The future of VR has a rightful place in maritime security. Already, the use of VR has been implemented by armies around the world who are able to train in battlefield scenarios and normalize high stress situations, whilst improving a range of fundamental skills from effective communications to critical combat techniques. In the maritime industry, the unexpected and ongoing attacks at sea require a different way of thinking and a different point of view on safety and procedures.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: Lt. j.g. Sheryl Anne Acuna, assigned to the Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), plays Officer of the Deck during live-action, interactive virtual-reality training at the Littoral Training Facility, Naval Station Mayport, June 27, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alana Langdon)

Use Virtual Reality to Prepare Maritime Crews For Terrorist and Piracy Attacks

Emerging Technologies Topic Week

By Selina Robinson and Dr. Amy Meenaghan

Sea blindness (the tendency toward ignorance of the role and importance of the maritime domain by uninvolved persons) must be carefully considered when planning and implementing measures designed to prevent maritime terrorism and piracy. Governments and security apparatus across the world have dedicated billions to fight against perpetrators of violence, terrorism, and destabilization efforts, collectively known as violent non-state actors (VNSA) on land.1 However, the maritime domain has been relatively overlooked. Efforts to mitigate risk at sea and plan responses are largely limited to the threat posed by piracy within discrete geographical locales. A key factor influencing this is the fact that it is exceptionally difficult to manage the physical space of the maritime domain. There is also the additional struggle to allocate limited resources, such as coastguards or police, especially for states with minimal assets in the maritime domain.2 As a result, VNSAs have exploited sea blindness to their strategic advantage and have been left largely unchallenged by law enforcement agencies.3

Despite the pandemic, 2021 has seen the Gulf of Guinea remain a hotspot for piracy, including a new trend where violence against crew members onboard ships have increased in comparison to previous years. It is becoming increasingly clear that technological advantages in communication and movement by sea may pose a considerable threat to various subcategories of vessels, particularly as the capacity for VNSAs to take advantage of existing shipping channels to their advantage grows. While maritime piracy tends to pose a threat to large cargo ships, terrorism presents a risk to a range of ‘soft’ targets, such as cruise ships, ferries, and yachts, which collectively form the bulk of the leisure industry in the maritime domain. The scale of media attention possible in response to attacks on the leisure industry demonstrates the potential for significant political gain. This, combined with the potential to disrupt the essential logistical work conducted at sea, highlights the need for consistent, reliable, and evidence-based policy and training.

The leisure industry should exploit new training technologies, in particular virtual reality (VR), to prepare maritime crews for terrorist and piracy attacks. Simulated environments have been demonstrated to be effective in facilitating the development of intuitive, implicit, and functional knowledge. The use of VR allows for a flexible learning environment that is not limited by time, cost, and practical constraints. Gamification can be utilized in formative and summative assessment with positive effects on learner satisfaction and outcomes. In the current research a simulated environment, designed in Unity Pro, will be developed to reflect training needs identified by maritime security experts.  The simulation will undergo rigorous testing to inform further refinement to produce a training package that reflects the specific and current requirements of the industry. A flexible design will allow for adaptation according to vessel type, anticipated area of risk, and the fluidity of offence type.

The State of Training 

Existing training and guidance aimed at enabling crew members to mount a quick and effective response is arguably inconsistent and limited. Indeed, there may be a lack of agreement regarding the nature of any mitigation efforts or response planning, particularly as there is no one singular means of attack. Drone attack, attempted boarding, threat from radicalized passengers and crew, environmental damage, IEDs, remote weapon assault, and cyber-attack are just some of the diverse areas of concern.4 Already, the frequency of such attacks is worryingly high: in the first three months of 2021, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) reported 38 piracy incidents: 33 vessels boarded, two attempted attacks, two vessels fired upon, and one vessel hijacked.5 Recent incidents demonstrate that areas of risk extend beyond those traditionally known for piracy, prompting calls for comprehensive training in hostile takeover situations for all maritime crew members, not just those navigating the traditional ‘high-risk’ areas such as Somalia.6 7 In 2020, for example, events following the discovery of a group of Nigerian stowaways on board the Nave Andromeda, an oil tanker off the coast of the Isle of Wight in the UK, escalated to a point where the lives of the crew were deemed to be at considerable risk.

Current training in pirate and terrorist response by maritime crew is largely guided by the Best Management Practices for Protection (BMP5) manual; however, the specific procedures and guidance vary widely according to the location and management/flag status of the vessel. Managing the physical space of the maritime domain, securing, and preventing terrorist attacks, and navigating a tangle of dated legal clutter (including the laws of the flag state, international law, exclusive economic zones, and domestic law) is fraught with complications.8

Additional and updated training would be invaluable in reducing the impact of any attempted strike, but the capacity for, and commitment to, such an initiative by cruise and ferry companies may be hampered by the ongoing impact of COVID-19. The global pandemic has hit the tourism industry hard, and the priority of organizations that rely on maritime travel is understandably to get ships back in the water. As such, changes to policy alongside innovative approaches to training are needed to ensure the required buy-in. The use of VR presents a cost- and time-efficient approach to instruction, while also providing the opportunity for interactive learning.9 Standardized, evidence-based training programs would provide a valuable step forward in protecting maritime vessels and their crew from unpredictable events, including terrorist attacks.10

Make it Virtual

Simulated environments have been utilized for teaching and learning in a range of domains, most notably aviation, medicine, and the military, with undeniably positive results. The scope for the use of VR in andragogy is boundless. Skills and knowledge can be modelled and repeatedly practiced, hard-to-reach situations can be replicated, and a wider range of scenarios can be presented. A simulated environment allows for learning objectives to be demonstrated and practiced with ongoing feedback, enabling learners to experience high risk situations in a safe and replicable virtual space.11 Technological advances, including not only virtual reality, but also augmented reality and 360 immersive videos show considerable promise for facilitating the development of intuitive, implicit, and functional knowledge. The immersive nature of the experience increases learner engagement, improving the transfer of knowledge to the real world.12 With the technology to host VR capabilities becoming more affordable, this is an opportunity to take formidable steps forward to strengthen security and risk management capabilities for an under-developed discipline across the maritime leisure industry.

For cruise ship crew and security staff, pilot work is currently underway in the development and testing of an evidence-based training program. This program has been informed by an in-depth evaluation of existing protocols and discussions with experts in maritime security, training, and industry. Initial feedback and research-based findings show great promise for the development of this approach to tackling real and current threats in the VNSA domain. Nonetheless, to provide a comprehensive response to terrorism, piracy, and the related security issues associated with trafficking, illegal trade, and thievery, this must be located within robust policy development and increased awareness of the national dependence on the accomplished and essential work of the wider maritime industry.


The future of VR has a rightful place in maritime security. Already, the use of VR has been implemented by armies around the world who are able to train in battlefield scenarios and normalize high stress situations, whilst improving a range of fundamental skills from effective communications to critical combat techniques. In the maritime industry, the unexpected and ongoing attacks at sea require a different way of thinking and a different point of view on safety and procedures. Already, maritime simulators have become one of the most advance forms of education across the world. Even the most experienced professionals are regularly trained in such simulators on emergency operations, demonstrating a renewed emphasis on operator training. VR-training software is an efficient and easy alternative to face-to-face training. It increases learner attention, promotes flexibility and accessibility, and results in higher levels of information retention. It also enables measurable training progress indexes. VR presents an invaluable, evidence-based approach to promoting the efficient and effective decision-making required to respond to and minimize the impact of an attempted attack on a maritime target at sea.

Selina Robinson is a Teaching Fellow in Forensic Investigations at the University of Portsmouth. Her areas of research lie with maritime security in cruise ships and the use of XR simulations in education and training. Previous work experience involves counter terrorism and crime scene investigation.

Dr. Amy Meenaghan is a lecturer in Psychology in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth. Her background is in the use of virtual reality to understand offender decision making. She is currently working on various VR projects within the field of Criminal Justice, with a focus on optimizing such technologies to benefit education, training and crime prevention initiatives.


[1] Violence at Sea: How Terrorists, Insurgents, and Other Extremists Exploit the Maritime Domain. (2020, August 11). Stable Seas.

[2] Ahmad, M. (2020). Maritime piracy operations: Some legal issues. Journal of International Maritime Safety, Environmental Affairs, and Shipping, 0(0), 1–8.

[3] Lehr, P. (2006). Violence at sea: piracy in the age of global terrorism. Routledge.

[4] Barnett, R. W. (1983). The U.S. Navy’s role in countering maritime terrorism. Terrorism, 6(3), 469–480.

[5] IMB Piracy & Armed Robbery Against Ships — Report for the Period, 2021.

[6] Onuoha, F. C. (2009). Violence at sea: the ramifications of maritime piracy in Nigerian and Somali waters for human security in Africa. Institute of African Studies Research Review, 25(2), 21-44.

[7] Pérouse de Montclos, M. A. (2012). Maritime piracy in Nigeria: Old wine in new bottles?. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 35(7-8), 531-541.

[8] Bell, P., & Webster, J. (2010). Teaching and Learning in Maritime Security: A Literature Review. Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, 5(2), 23–39.

[9] Markopoulos, E., Lauronen, J., Luimula, M., Lehto, P., & Laukkanen, S. (2019, October). Maritime safety education with VR technology (MarSEVR). In 2019 10th IEEE International Conference on Cognitive Infocommunications (CogInfoCom) (pp. 283-288). IEEE.

[10] de Armas, C., Tori, R., & Netto, A. V. (2020). Use of virtual reality simulators for training programs in the areas of security and defense: a systematic review. Multimedia Tools and Applications, 79(5), 3495-3515.

[11] Gibson, D. & Baek, Y. K. (2009). Digital simulations for improving education: Learning through artificial teaching environments. Hershey PA.

[12] Berki, B. (2020). Experiencing the sense of presence within an educational desktop virtual reality. Acta Polytechnica Hungarica, 17(2), 255-265.

Featured Image: An advertisement for VR training applications for the fire, oil and gas, and aviation sectors. (Credit:

Drones and Starlink: Combining Satellite Constellations With Unmanned Navy Ships

Emerging Technologies Topic Week

By Brandon Wall and Nicholas Ayrton

As times change, they demand that military doctrine and strategy change with it. Key to this is ensuring that the American military is ready to act anywhere and with short notice, requiring that it embrace the latest technologies to overcome the latest operational problems. From the reaper drones of the American wars in the Middle East to the Azeri drones that came to define the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, land-based drones are rapidly shaping the battlefields of the modern world. But the maritime domain has yet to fully embrace the use of drone technology.

The area of maritime drones seems to be a field where the civilian sector is more rapidly embracing new technology compared to the military. Norwegian company Kongsberg Maritime has recently concluded initial tests of an unmanned cargo container ship, making its first delivery to a fertilizer company, while South Korean technology giant Samsung is also investigating crewless vessels as a means to cut down on labor and maintenance costs to better stand against its Chinese competitors. It is in this second area of potential for advancements in cost-cutting and smaller crew requirements that the United States Navy (USN) could benefit most due to the increasing problem of an aging fleet of transport ships in need of replacement, as well as a personnel shortage that has only gotten more dire with time. 

Unmanned Solutions to Logistics Problems 

The dire state of naval logistics is hardly anything new, with General Stephen Lyons, current head of USTRANSCOM having said that in the event of a major conflict, there would not presently be sufficient naval sealift capacity to supply the United States military. Indeed, the capacity of the Navy is presently stretched so thin that, by its own admission, it would be unable to defend the military’s maritime supply lines in the event of a large-scale conflict. This is compounded by the nearly obsolete ships that are still in service and declining in numbers. In addition to this, the USN has been facing an ongoing shortage of sailors, falling several thousand below its targeted number year after year. This has led only to more problems, as currently serving sailors are then forced to pull extra weight, leading to overworking, lack of rest, and a generally less effective fighting force. In this area, one then finds a maritime logistics force in need of a modernization effort, coupled with a Navy that needs to either find more recruits or cut down on the number of jobs it needs sailors to fill.

Here unmanned maritime vessels offer a solution, allowing for the logistics ships of tomorrow to be built more cheaply and not requiring bulky spaces for crew compartments, food, water, and other aspects. More efficient designs could better fulfill their mission of carrying supplies where they need to go. Further, if naval logistics could be rendered more autonomous, this would theoretically allow for a much smaller number of sailors to command a much larger fleet of supply vessels, perhaps permitting a single sailor to monitor several largely autonomous ships, with direct control being needed only in particularly critical moments.

While the USN does appear to be looking into autonomous vessels, the focus seems to be on relatively small vessels, only around the size of a corvette, not on the large logistics vessels that would seem to be the most well-suited for automation and heavily demanded in sustained conflicts. While tests with these vessels have been promising, being able to operate without human intervention for all but the most delicate phases of their missions, the Navy’s program still lacks the ambition needed to truly capitalize on the potential for an unmanned naval logistics force. It is currently focusing more on small, rapid-response supply vessels, while continuing to neglect the larger vessels that would be needed for a large-scale conflict. 

Starlink and Commanding Drone Fleets

Extending beyond logistics, there also exists the potential for maritime drones and unmanned ships to be more involved in the observational and informational sides of warfare. Indeed, if admittedly biased sources out of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are to be believed, then the U.S. is already making limited use of maritime intelligence drones, with one having supposedly been captured while operating off the coast of Jiangsu province to the north of Shanghai. If this is to be believed, then it offers the possibility of further using small, risk-worthy maritime drones to conduct surveillance, such as for general intelligence gathering or targeting for fires. A small fleet of semi-autonomous drones could also act as a screening force for operations, acting to provide an extended sensor net and provide greater tactical awareness, be they for combat operations or as an early warning system for unescorted logistics fleets.

However, with these hypothetical drone systems, whether in the form of logistics vessels, intelligence gatherers, or as a sensor net, there still exists the crucial question of establishing a reliable method of controlling them, since even an otherwise autonomous vessel may encounter a situation where a human operator must provide input. Current military communication satellites, while advanced, are also chronically overburdened and fighting for bandwidth with what little is available having to be rationed out to only the most crucial of systems and operations.

Enter Starlink. SpaceX’s new Starlink satellite constellation provides many options for military communications, provided the network could be rendered secure enough. The Starlink constellation currently consists of over 1,600 satellites, with plans to have thousands more of the mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit in the coming years. If successful, such a program would be theoretically able to provide easy and reliable connectivity for a globally-operated network of maritime drones that could be set up with only minimal infrastructure, allowing for large numbers of these units to be commanded.

A batch of 60 Starlink satellites awaiting deployment. (Photo via SpaceX)

The main issues are testing if the basic premise could function and if the system could be rendered secure. The first issue is whether a commercial system currently designed to provide connectivity to a variety of static locations could work as a command-and-control network for a fleet of autonomous vessels traversing the world’s oceans. Similarly, the United States Air Force has already begun the process of testing if Starlink technologies could function onboard a moving aircraft, likely a far more difficult task than connecting a relatively slow-moving ship onto which one could fit a larger array of communications equipment.

Secondly, concerns have been raised about the security of Starlink for military applications, as the network relies on communication with several ground-based hubs to function, while the military tends to prefer direct satellite-to-satellite optical communications. However, this too seems to be a solvable problem, with ten Starlink satellites with intra-network communications capability having been launched into a polar orbit this past January. Indeed, SpaceX has recently confirmed that all future Starlink satellites will be launched with the capability to use laser communication systems between satellites. If SpaceX could successfully work with the Defense Department, it could be feasible to bring the network’s security up to the standards needed to coordinate a fleet of maritime drones.


It is these two emerging technologies, maritime drone vessels and large satellite communication constellations, that could allow for the Navy to solve some of its ongoing issues and permit the creation of a more nimble, lean, and modern force able to better confront the rising security threats facing the United States in the years and decades to come.

Brandon Walls is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis. 

Nicholas Ayrton is a U.S. Navy veteran and current undergraduate student at the University of Arkansas.

Featured Image: A stack of Starlink internet satellites just before a launch. (Photo via SpaceX)

Human Factors Meets New Technology in 2025

Emerging Technologies Topic Week

By John Cordle and Robert Sweetman

A glimpse of what the future could hold in Human Performance Monitoring – and Improvement

This article is an exercise in “visualization,” looking at the art of the possible in combining science and technology— and changing Navy culture—to improve shipboard human performance. 

The year is 2025. Onboard USS Halberg (DDG 217), my fictitious grandson, who we will call LTJG “J.T.,” is about to take the watch as Officer of the Deck. In accordance with the Navy’s Force Crew Endurance and Fatigue Management instruction, signed by the CNO in 2023, he is standing a circadian watch rotation (three hours on watch, nine hours off) which is based on decades of research demonstrating the advantages of a repeatable, stable schedule to the body’s internal clock, a policy supported (as we shall see) by modern technology that creates a holistic assessment of his performance over time. 

After the deadly DDG collisions in 2017 and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Fatigue Management and Crewing in 2021, the Navy re-examined its response to the 2017 Comprehensive Review and (finally) realized that the human is the most important part of any weapon system. This led to a fundamental shift in priorities as manpower requirements—which had long been underfunded and under-executed by as much as 15%— were made the number one priority, as GAO had recommended that “The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Office of Chief of Naval Operations uses crew requirements to project future personnel needs)” and the Department of the Navy (DON) concurred.1

Even as new technology allowed for fewer people to man the DDG Flight IIIA warships in their multi-mission role, the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act mandated 100% funding to the sea duty manpower account and ordered the Navy to measure against the full Ship’s Manning Document (SMD) requirement, instead of the funded portion. With its ability to coordinate manned and unmanned surface and airborne vehicles, which use artificial intelligence (AI) to learn about the environment and adjust tactics to an ever-changing threat, the ship is an awesome example of the implementation of the newest technology. But the heart of its warfighting capability—what makes this now fully-manned crew so formidable—is a well-honed team that is attuned to its own strengths and weaknesses thanks to human factors science and technology.

The first evidence of this is in the crew makeup. The Agile Manpower Model (AMM)2 uses AI to track and continually recalculate requirements. Gone are the days of manual calculations on a 3-year rotation by ship class; this has been replaced by an increasingly agile system that uses artificial intelligence and ever-adapting, comprehensive workload calculations, as well as a four-section Condition III watch rotation instead of the three-section model that had been used (with no real scientific basis) for decades. 

AMM does not exist, but given advances in AI and the complexity of the manpower management system, it is probably just a matter of time until it does.

This approach was formally adopted in 2022 as OPNAV policy, via change to OPNAVINST 1000.16, as a necessary foundation for the unique combination of work and watch that a Navy crew needs to maintain the ship, adding a formal requirement for eight hours of protected sleep time; this despite the fact that it resulted in a slight increase in the cost (less than ten percent) of manpower. Human factors research (including a 2008 study that showed a positive correlation between manning levels and lower mishap rates)3 tipped the scales in favor of the idea that it was in fact “worth it” to man ships to the calculated requirement. In addition, improvements in technology and a focused manpower analysis showed that the idea of underfunding manpower (previously funded at only 95% and manned to 95% of that) was not conducive to optimal performance and, in fact, not cost effective when balanced across the lifecycle maintenance cost of the ship; so in 2024 the Navy decided to leverage savings in other programs to fully fund the manpower account. 

It was only through an intense collaboration of Navy research centers, including the Naval Health Research Laboratory, the Naval Postgraduate School, the Center for Naval Analysis, and others that science eventually carried the day. The Expanded SURFMEX model was a big help, matching sailor experience to fleet needs and enhancing the detailing process.4 Lots of barriers had to come down to make that happen, including making human physiology research a funded program of record instead of an ad-hoc set of independent programs, but the resulting manpower modeling software, combined with AI protocols that inject real time data from the Fleet, made this process possible. 

While there have been great strides in planning, executing, and funding an improved manpower and manning process, much has been done to improve the command’s awareness of the well-being and performance of the individual crew members and teams as well. Warrior Toughness training, implemented along with the Expanded Operational Stress Control program way back in 2020, uses science to teach skills such as mindfulness, mediation, nutritional science, and exercise that have all combined to make the sailors of 2025 tougher and more resilient upon arrival, and build on that toughness throughout their career. The initiative to add Deployed Resiliency Counselors and a Chaplain to each deployed ship has paid off, as has the Behavioral Health Technician program that gives Independent Duty Corpsmen the ability to assess crew readiness and stress levels and get them assistance—before they become unplanned losses. 

Other psychology and physiology-based programs such as the Command Resilience Team, the Human Factors Council, and the availability of remote psychological counseling via unclassified video teleconference have expanded the level of mental health and resilience support to those on the front lines. All of these are examples of what is special about the human factors field, where technology and knowledge combine to provide increased awareness of the human condition – and how to improve it. 

There are new shipboard technologies as well. As J.T. heads to watch, he takes off the colored and lighted glasses that he put on when he awoke, designed to complement the body’s natural endocrine response that occurs during the transition from sleep to wakefulness in a process called “circadian entrainment”. He has another pair of glasses that he wears before going to bed to minimize the negative effects of blue light.5 The rack he slept in was not that of his father and grandfather— it has been replaced by the Advanced Rest and Recovery Integrated System (ARRIS). This was his safe place to retreat and recover from the stresses of the workday.6 In 2023, after the GAO report, and a series of research efforts by the Naval Postgraduate School,7 ARRIS were mandated to curb the fatigue epidemic in the Navy.

ARRIS does not exist, but it could. This would represent a new “human-factors centered” approach to a complete makeover of the Navy rack, turning it into a temperature and noise controlled environment. It includes a mattress tailored to individual preference, a full spectrum LED light to facilitate sleep and wakefulness using the optimal light wavelengths, and a set of noise reducing headphones that are also tuned to provide the sailor with a choice of white noise, natural sounds, or music as he falls asleep, bring him back to wakefulness with a gradual noise increase, and sound any ship alarm or emergency announcement that may occur during his protected sleep period. It also includes a passive heart and temperature monitor that (much like his computerized watch does at home) records his sleep quality and any disturbances that might impede his performance during his next work/watch period.

Having consumed a cup of coffee (energy drinks are generally frowned upon unless recommended by the Personal Performance Profile, PPP), another notional program that could provide a comprehensive look at each sailor’s daily alertness and fatigue levels. He checks in at the Physical Readiness Kiosk and gets a readout on his fatigue and performance level. J.T. completes a short self-assessment, where he rates his alertness level as a 6 out of 7, knowing that he fell short of the required eight hours of sleep due to an equipment casualty in his division that required overtime and supervision. 

The Navy has monitored the temperatures and pressures of its fluid systems, and the voltage and current of its electrical ones, for literally centuries; the idea of doing the same for its people was a long time coming. To assess his alertness, J.T. then looks into the eyepiece of a Psychomotor Vigilance Self-Test (PVT) machine, pressing the mouse with each flash of light, speaking into the voice machine, and after three minutes is cleared, by a series of proven technologies leveraged together, to take the watch. 

The PVT is used in various forms throughout industry; for example, on the International Space Station a Reaction Self-Test provides crewmembers with feedback on neurobehavioral changes in vigilant attention, state stability, and impulsivity. It helps crewmembers objectively identify when their performance capability is degraded by various fatigue-related conditions that can occur as a result of ISS operations and time in space (e.g., acute and chronic sleep restriction, slam shifts, extravehicular activity, and residual sedation from sleep medications).

 Lessons learned (and applied) from past incidents (e.g., the bombing of the USS Cole, and collisions involving USS Fitzgerald, USS John S. McCain, and other near misses) have shown the need not just for toughness—the ability to recognize, analyze, and mitigate stress though mental and physical readiness—but also for resilience, since when a missile or a mine puts a hole in the ship, the first minutes—and the next 48 to 72 hours—will test the mettle of the entire crew. During these crises the crew (including the Captain) start at whatever level of personal readiness—or fatigue—that they had when the water started coming in. 

J.T. remembers reading the GAO Report from 2021 where one of his (then) peers was quoted as seeing “fellow officers taking the watch in a state of senselessness driven by fatigue, unnoticed by shipboard leaders who looked the other way and ignored crew endurance principles.” My, how times (and culture) have changed! 

At the end of his three-hour watch, J.T. downloads his actigraph from the motion detecting “wearable” that he wears at all times in the form of either a ring or a watch, so that his information can enter the continuous monitoring data feedback stream under the Crew Readiness, Endurance, and Watch standing (CREW).8

CREW is a pilot program to “create a decision support tool so that you can understand how fatigued people are and how much sleep they are or are not getting,” explained Dr. Rachel Markwald, a sleep physiologist from NHRC. “We can then determine how those fatigue levels correspond with the health of the individual so that we can provide a way or course of action to offset some of the risks that come with fatigue and poor health.”  The long-term goal of CREW is to aid command leadership in making educated decisions about a sailor’s sleep pattern and/or their level of fatigue, capturing this data and combining it with the rest of the crew to place a real-time picture of the crew’s readiness at the CO’s fingertips. Each sailor’s data is secure, restricted from being used for any punitive measure, and and is not tied to him personally, but is available as a means of monitoring his own watch standing and work performance. 

A huge part of the culture of readiness is the idea that one’s own psychological and physiological readiness relies heavily on the concept of personal responsibility. 

Going over his past 24 hours and noting any deviations or issues, J.T. remembers that, in addition to the next watch cycle, he has to man the boat deck for an underway replenishment, one of the evolutions that is tagged for an Individual Risk Assessment. Looking ahead at a Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST)9 printout of the next 24 hours, J.T. sees that in order to be at peak performance for the evolution that follows his next watch, he needs to take a 45-90 minute nap during the next nine hours. He programs that into his rack display, a monitor that shows his schedule for the next 24 hours so that anyone entering his stateroom will know that he is in a “protected sleep” period (if they did not see the red light outside the door, indicating such). J.T. calls it the “NORP” light, short for “Naval Officer Rest Period”. He learned that from his dad. 

In the end, J.T. rests easy, knowing that he has done his part to leverage the science and technology of Human Factors to maximize his own readiness, and by extension , the performance of his team and the safety of the crew that was able to sleep soundly while he had the watch. During his Protected Sleep Period (PSP) J.T. retires to his ARRIS. The Navy had acknowledged fatigue as a major contributor to errors in judgement, mental health and operational lethargy. J.T. enters his ARRIS to begin his breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. He knows from his training that the stressors of managing the ship are carried with him in the form of nor-adrenaline as he transitions to sleep. If he wants to have restful sleep, he needs to trigger a physiological change in his brain first. Much of this knowledge was provided during pipeline training and periodic updates and under the Crew Endurance and Fatigue Management program, a Navy- wide initiative that was expanded in response to the 2021 GAO report. 

In this version of the future, the implementation of human factors technology and fatigue management/crew endurance expertise, along with the combination of science, education, and technology—and finally, culture change—has been a game changer. Since the program’s inception, satisfaction at work has shot up dramatically, along with retention and operational performance scores. Reductions in mishaps and unplanned losses, combined with the savings from maintenance by fully-manned and less fatigued crews, has more than paid for the cost of research and development as well as the extra manpower that it justified. The Navy has (finally) made the decision to put sailors first and the results have been astounding. Granddad would be proud.

Dr. John Cordle is a retired Navy Captain who commanded two warships, USS Oscar Austin and USS San Jacinto, and was recognized with the 2010 Navy League Award for Inspirational Leadership, the Navy Bureau of Medicine Epictetus Award for Innovative Leadership, and the 2019 American Society of Engineers Solberg Award for his contribution to Navy Crew Endurance. This article is a figment of his active imagination built upon scientific research as it exists today – and as it could be.

Robert Sweetman is a former US Navy SEAL who served for eight years before being medically retired. He completed two tours at SEAL Team Seven, and one as an instructor at Naval Special Warfare Advanced Training Command. After retiring and following the suicide of a SEAL teammate, Mr. Sweetman continued his education at the University of California where he focused on sleep science, the link between sleep health and mental health, and designing technology to help with that problem.


[1] GAO 21-366, Actions Required to Address Crew Fatigue and Manning, May 2021.

[2] AMM is a capability that does not yet exist, but it could, using existing technology.


[4] Eckstein, Megan, “SWO Boss: Pilot Programs for Training, Manning Will Lead to More Experienced Fleet,” USNI News, 13 January 2021.

[5] Roza, David, Navy submariners are testing out their own version of ‘birth control glasses’ Make the Silent Service well-rested again. Task and Purpose, May 17, 2021.

[6] ARRIS is another capability that does not exist, but it could, using existing technology.

[7] Matsangas, Panagiotis Lewis Shattuck, Nita, Habitability in Berthing Compartments and Well-Being of Sailors Working on U.S. Navy Surface Ships, NPS Calhoun, May 2021.

 [8] Harkins, Gina, “Why 300 Sailors and Marines Deployed on an Amphibious Ship with Smart Rings,”, 14 Apr 2021.

[9]  FAST is one of many fatigue modeling tools used by industry to predict levels of performance degradation based on fatigue.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 10, 2021) Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Armando Herrera, a native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, assigned to the “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, inspects an F-35C Lightning II on the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tyler Wheaton)