VAST Frees Navy from Target Range Constraints (Dec, 2002)

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2002

The “holodeck” from “Star Trek” has taken a step closer to reality through efforts by the US Navy to free itself from the ever-tighter constraints being placed on land bombing ranges. With existing ranges such as Vieques, Puerto Rico, and Dare County, VA, under increasing assault from environmentalists and political activists, and with newer long-range weapons straining the size of existing ranges, VAST – the Virtual At Sea Trainer – allows ships and aircraft to fire at virtual recreations of target landscapes. VAST simulates the terrain of any location, including buildings, infrastructure, and topographical features such as rivers or seaports. The profile is then superimposed on open ocean areas set up for ordnance delivery.

VAST uses a set of five dedicated sonobouys placed within the virtual target area. Laptop computers aboard ship or ashore collect acoustic triangulation data from the bouys to generate a picture of the “hits” from the ordnance used. Manned or unmanned aircraft can be used to provide a real time picture of the hits. Radar operators see land mass simulations on their screens. For gunners, the landmasses appear realistic and three-dimensional, of a quality similar to that now used for virtual small arms training. The system will be integrated, allowing for simultaneous training of plotters, gunners, radar operators, and navigators.

Three VAST sets – each costing approximately $ 50,000 -- were scheduled to have been delivered to the Atlantic Fleet by November.

“VAST was created primarily for surface impact scoring, “ said CAPT Jim Scholl, Training Branch Head for CINCLANT. “It began as a prototype by ONR a year and a half ago and was first tested last year.” Based upon that test the decision was made to build the three hardened systems for shipboard use and development, which are to be delivered by November. While no decision has yet been made regarding the ultimate number that may be built, the technology has proved promising.

According to Scholl, VAST was created not only to allow ordnance impact training free from land range constraints, but also to enhance training in which the crew never visually acquires the target – a characteristic of the newer long-range stand-off weapons. “We envision using this system to support training events, from single ship training up through large-scale exercises where we can support naval or air bombardment,” he said.

There are two exercises planned for November, according to Scholl. One will be in the Gulf of Mexico and one Eglin AFB. The ships involved will probably be Burke class guided missile destroyers or Ticonderoga class guided missile cruisers (whose 5/54 naval rifles are scheduled to be replaced by the 5/62 Extended Range Guided Munition gun). If these tests go well, CINCLANT plans to buy an additional ten VAST sets in FY04.

The increase in range from 13 to 62 miles of the US Navy’s 5-inch naval rifle demands enhanced target range flexibility (pictured: USS Benfold)