Navy ditches modern touchscreen helm control for physical throttle in some destroyers

(U.S. Navy) Touchscreen helm controls that were overly complex will be replaced with manual controls in some Navy destroyers starting next year. (US Navy)

The U.S. Navy is reverting to its traditional helm control and a physical throttle in some destroyers in the next 18 to 24 months instead of using a modern touchscreen control system.

An investigation into the fatal USS John S. McCain collision found that the touchscreen was complex and that sailors had been poorly trained to use it, which contributed to a loss of control of the ship. It then crossed paths with a merchant ship in the Singapore Strait, leading to a collision that killed 10 sailors on Aug. 21, 2017.

The National Transportation Safety Board recently found that the most likely cause of the fatal collision was a “a lack of effective operational oversight of the destroyer by the U.S. Navy, which result in insufficient training and inadequate bridge operating procedures.”

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The decision to use a physical throttle came out of a comprehensive review and surveys of the fleet following the collision and another involving the USS Fitzgerald. The surveys were “really eye-opening,” Rear Admiral Bill Galanis said in a recent speech to naval engineers. He said that the helm control system in the destroyer 51 class that included the McCain has a helm control system that is “just overly complex, with touchscreens under glass.”

His comments were reported by USNI News.

As a result of the desire to incorporate new technology the Navy “got away from the physical throttles, and that was probably the number one feedback from the fleet,” Galanis said. “They said, just give us the throttles we can use.”

A NAVSEA spokeswoman told USNI that the Navy is designing and planning to install physical throttles in DDG-51 class ships, with the first installation set for the summer of 2020. A ship in service, the DDG-61, and a new construction ship the DDG-128, will be the first to receive the physical throttles.

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