Surface Forces: China Simulates Success


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.


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