August 4, 2007: In the
last two decades, the U.S. Navy has sharply reduced its training costs, and
accident rate, for bridge personnel (the sailors who "drive the ship") through
the use of computer simulators. On the down side, this technology is going to
make the Chinese navy a formidable force much sooner than otherwise.
The commercial fleets
took the initiative in developing these simulators, as they had more ships in
service, and much more financial liability if a ship had a collision (with
another ship, the seabed or land). This was particularly true with oil tankers.
So computerized bridge simulations were developed. The first ones cost millions
of dollars, with the graphics (filling the windows on the mock up of a ships
bridge) being particularly expensive. But as the accident rates have fallen by
more than fifty percent in the last two decades, the costs for these simulators
have dropped even more.
In addition to a new
generation of full scale bridge simulators, the U.S. Navy has been distributing
a PC based bridge simulator (NSST V1). Although the graphic aren't as extensive
as the full scale simulator, NSST V1 contains plenty of realistic scenarios
that get the blood pumping, and the mind racing. Sailors who have spent a lot
of time with NSST V1, are much more capable the first time they stand watch on
a ships bridge, or try one of the full scale bridge simulators.
In the past, it took
years of actual watch standing on a ships bridge to gain a useful amount of
experience. This made an enormous difference in the effectiveness of warships.
What was particularly valuable was experience in extreme situations (storms,
accidents). These events were rare, and for those who survived them, gained
some very valuable experience. With the simulators, newly minted sailors can
gain lots of useful experience in a short time. This is what the Chinese are
doing, and this accounts for the rapidly growing competence of their sailors.
The Chinese have long been using PC based military training simulators. They
began in the 1990s, and by developing their own skills, plus buying and stealing
simulator technology, they have created an impressive, and growing, list of
shipboard skill simulators.