Email this Article Email   

CHIPS Articles: Naval Fiber Optic Training

Naval Fiber Optic Training
By FCC(SW) Kevin W. Barks - October-December 2002
"If it is not carrying power, it will be fiber." This is what I tell every student who passes through our doors. With each passing day, these words ring true. The proof is in the number of systems that rely on fiber optics for the bandwidth required in today's Navy. According to Gair Brown of NAVSEA's photonics division in Dahlgren Va., "There are over 176 systems with variant amounts of fiber, of those 176 systems that use fiber for data carrying, 149 have been fielded with the remainder pipelined for installation." The Navy's need for increasing bandwidth, low loss, and electromagnetic interference (EMI) immunity has made fiber optics a viable technology for any new or developing system.

My job at Fleet Training Center, Norfolk (FTC Norfolk), as the curriculum model manager (CMM) and fiber optic course supervisor, is to ensure that what we teach the Fleet is correct, relevant and current. The only way to know that what you are teaching is correct is to have empirical data to support your requirements. Unfortunately, there was no data to support our requirements when the course was originally developed.

Therefore, we had to seek out this vital information by asking the end users – our customers. We also performed a data search of all maintenance records for the last three years. We queried the Fleet by asking, "What are the training requirements you need to support your systems?" We also gathered this information from the FTC Norfolk sponsored Fiber Optic Technology Meeting (FOTM) held in April 2000. This meeting brought together for the first time members of the Fleet, shipyards, contractors, TYCOMS, and schoolhouses to discuss the problems the Fleet was experiencing.

Retired STGCS (SW) Mark Roehm was instrumental in coordinating this significant meeting. He was able to see, first hand, the fiber installs onboard ships and how fiber was migrating throughout critical systems. Upon his return to FTC Norfolk, he worked with Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren (NSWC) in performing eight ship inspections. He provided photographs and reports to prove his conclusions. His informative findings set the tone of the meeting.

Issues and problems were discussed in the areas of training, parts support, standards, testing, installation, reporting and documentation. These discussions produced an increased awareness of where the problems were and the level of training that would be required to resolve them. Once the Fleet outlined their needs, we then set out to change our course of instruction to meet them. From this, we realized that we should include additional topics such as: single-mode fiber, documentation and reporting, Blown Optical Fiber (BOF) -- and provide industry certification to students in these areas.

New connectors were introduced to the curriculum due to the presence of single-mode fiber, the use of Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Subscriber Connectors (SC) on switch panels and the use of BOF that is used as the fiber backbone on all new platforms. New physical contact "domed" polishing techniques were also incorporated for the single-mode and pre-radiused connectors. A Blown Optical Fiber mock up is being installed in the classroom to demonstrate BOF furcation techniques. We also realized that some of the original course material was now out-of-date. To correct this problem, we deleted training for the rotary mechanical splice that AT&T no longer manufactures.

We revised the entire course to meet the needs of the Fleet. We were very pleased to be able to make all of these corrections to the course without going beyond the original five-day length. Through the use of PowerPoint presentations, industry videos, demonstrations and, most importantly, hands on training, we are able to provide the student with the necessary knowledge to perform his job. This gives the student a superior level of ability and confidence.

The troubleshooting lab is second to none. We have developed and constructed a classroom that mirrors what the student will encounter in the Fleet. The training given is realistic, meaningful and effective. "Hands on" is the key to our success. We provide the student with three different Optical Time Domain Reflectometers (OTDRs), three different Optical Loss Test Sets (OLTSs), two fiber trackers and a visual faultfinder. We are not aware of any other training program in either the military or private sector that provides the student with this level of experience and training.

We test the student in three areas of instruction. The first is knowledge. The student must pass a fifty-question test based on the Fiber Optic Cable Topology Installation Standard Methods for Naval Ships, military standards (MIL-STD) 2042. Second, he must manufacture a fiber optic patch cable within the MIL-STD 2042 standards. Once the first two components of the training are met, the student is required to pass two practical tests where casualties are inserted into the fiber plant. This tests his ability to apply his newly gained knowledge and find the fault.

Once the students meets the course requirements established by the Chief of Naval Education and Training (CNET) they are ready to take the Electronic Technician's Association (ETA) Fiber Optic Installer's Certification test. The purpose in providing this test to the student is to give him industry recognition for his military instruction. This is only the second course in the Navy to provide an industry certification to the Sailor. We will now be providing the Navy with Sailors who not only know the military standards but who are also versed in the industry requirements as well. This will assist the Sailor and the Fleet in identifying problems associated with incorrect installations due to non-qualified COTS materials used. It will also provide the required certification for those Sailors who will work on LAN systems at shore-based facilities where the Electronic Industries Alliance/Telecommunications Industry Association EIA/TIA standards apply.

The course is offered at FTC Norfolk and FTC San Diego. It is also available by the Mobile Training Team (MTT) through the Local Training Authority (LTA) Hampton Roads. The MTT is provided by KITCO Fiber Optics, a local vendor based in Virginia Beach, Va. They have also been contracted to instruct in the classroom at FTC Norfolk. The outsourcing of the course ensures that the same instruction that is provided to the student in the schoolhouse is also being provided to those students at remote locations. Through the dual usage of placing instructors in the classroom and then rotating them to remote sites, we ensure the identical lessons are taught. The MTT initiative provides fiber optic training to bases in remote places in the United States and also to countries as far away as Japan and Italy. The ability to take the classroom to the student is a major cost and time savings initiative.

The cost of replicating the fiber optic classrooms at FTC Norfolk and FTC San Diego is about $300,000 for each classroom. This includes test equipment, tool kits, consumables and building a classroom fiber optic plant mockup. It does not include the maintenance or the staffing of that classroom. The bottom line is how many students do you need to train in order to get a return on your investment?

Training is accomplished one of two ways: build a classroom, send Sailors to the established training site, or use MTT --sending one instructor with all materials to the students. The most cost efficient and effective way we can train is to use the MTT method. One set of test equipment, tool kits and consumables are used 52 weeks a year by moving them around the world. By using MTT Naval Bases such as Ingleside, Texas, Groton, Conn., and Bremerton, Wash., we are able to get fiber optic training to personnel at a fraction of the cost. For example: If a training site wanted to build a fiber optic classroom and planned to use it ten weeks a year, then the classroom would be empty the other 42 weeks of the year. The equipment gathering dust during those weeks would be better served if it could be utilized elsewhere. This concept provides a better return on investment.

We are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to get training and information to the Fleet. The next project the schoolhouse is working on is developing training videos. This would give the Sailor the capability to watch a "how to" demonstration of connectors that are not prevalent enough in the Fleet to warrant training in the classroom. The first two of these connectors to be filmed will be the Rotary Mechanical Splice (RMS) and the Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI). The qualified student can watch the video and emulate what he sees. No new skill sets are being taught, only the packaging of the connector is explained and the use of the associated tools that are required. These videos will be distributed to the student on DVD and will be added to as needed.

Another area that we are exploring is a Supervisors (E-7 to O-4 and civilian counterparts) course. Some supervisors have received little or no training in fiber optics. This limits their ability to interact with Alteration and Installation Team (AIT) supervisors and Sailors on the unique and special installation requirements of fiber optic systems. FTC Norfolk, along with KITCO Fiber Optics, is in the process of developing a computer-based training (CBT) video and/or a one-day formal course for supervisors, inspectors, division officers and department heads.

Fiber optic training is critical to the Navy's ability to maintain Fleet readiness. To date, we have trained USAF, USMC, USCG, Navy Reserves, naval shipyard personnel and 33 Naval ratings in fiber optic repair. This is due to the Navy expanding the utilization of fiber optics into all major weapons, communication, ship's self-defense, fire fighting and navigation systems. The reason we revised our course was that the knowledge level of the technicians responsible for accepting and maintaining these systems had not kept pace with advancing technology. When I was a young Fire Controlman, I was told that our mission was "to get the missile off on time and on target." In today's Navy that will only happen with a fiber link up that is fully operational.

Related CHIPS Articles
Related DON CIO News
Related DON CIO Policy

CHIPS is an official U.S. Navy website sponsored by the Department of the Navy (DON) Chief Information Officer, the Department of Defense Enterprise Software Initiative (ESI) and the DON's ESI Software Product Manager Team at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.

Online ISSN 2154-1779; Print ISSN 1047-9988
Hyperlink Disclaimer