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CHIPS Articles: SPAWAR Improves Speed and Quality of Communications for Warfighters at Sea

SPAWAR Improves Speed and Quality of Communications for Warfighters at Sea
By Elisha Gamboa, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command - February 1, 2019
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) successfully concluded a rapid prototyping effort in December of 2018 for the Office of the Secretary of Defense to explore the use of 4G LTE technology as a communications system for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications.

Efforts included fleet experimentation, field testing, in-lab testing, rapid prototyping and a mixed reality technology demonstration led by the Naval Medical Center in San Diego (NMCSD) Tele-Critical Care Unit (TCCU).

SSC Pacific supported NMCSD TCCU during a virtual critical care communications exercise, Nov. 15, to explore the use of 4G LTE and mixed reality technology to rapidly deliver telemedicine solutions to deployed Navy ships.

The 4G LTE technology selected for use was the General Dynamics Mission Systems (GDMS) 4G Tactical Backbone (4GTB).

“The 4GTB was selected for operational demonstrations and further rapid prototyping as a result of successful demonstration at the Ship-to-Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation Advanced Naval Technology Exercise in April 2017,” said Neil Hoff, SSC Pacific wireless communications branch head.

Today, many Navy ships have an independent duty corpsman (IDC) to provide both routine and emergency medical care. 4G LTE technology combined with mixed reality equipment can provide corpsman remote access to additional medical personnel such as doctors, surgeons, and other specialists, otherwise known as telemedicine.

Telemedicine uses telecommunication and information technology to provide clinical health care from a distance, providing access to medical services that are usually not available at sea.

During the virtual exercise, SSC Pacific supported testing of the 4GTB in conjunction with the Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality smart glasses prototype to test remote surgery procedures onboard Navy ships.

The 4GTB provides high capacity data transfer rates, allowing the exchange of high resolution files, full motion video, and telemedicine applications to quickly and efficiently provide Corpsman access to high quality medical support.

The virtual critical care communications exercise was conducted under the direction of Capt. Konrad Davis, the NMCSD TCCU director.

During the exercise, Davis was located remotely at the NMCSD TCCU, where he used the HoloLens to tele-mentor independent duty corpsmen on board the USS Independence, USS Fort Worth and Littoral Combat Ship Squadron One during a test surgery while at sea. The corpsmen successfully received remote tele-instruction support from Davis on chest tube insertion while operating on a medical manikin torso for instructional purposes.

The success of the exercise demonstrated a “proof of concept” tele-surgical mentorship capability with the 4GTB and the Microsoft HoloLens.

“Rapidly providing these types of telemedicine solutions to the warfighter will enhance the speed and quality of medical care, improving the health and safety of Sailors and Marines in order to preserve strength and increase the lethality of the fighting force,” said Davis.

Following the virtual critical care communications exercise, SSC Pacific produced a final report for the Office of Secretary of Defense to capture the results of the entire rapid prototyping effort, examining how 4G LTE technology can be used at sea, and where the Navy should invest to better support 4G and future 5G technologies.

SPAWAR identifies, develops, delivers and sustains information warfighting capabilities supporting naval, joint, coalition and other national missions. SPAWAR consists of more than 10,000 active duty military and civil service professionals located around the world and close to the fleet to keep SPAWAR at the forefront of research, engineering and acquisition to provide and sustain information warfare capabilities to the fleet.

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