NORFOLK. Va. --- Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center's (MARMC) Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) and Combat Systems (CS) Alignment Branch successfully completed alignment checks on board USS Bulkeley (DDG 84) pier-side at Naval Station Norfolk, April 1 to ensure proper alignment for combat readiness.
Rough seas, maintenance and repairs may change the ships structure. Even bumping into piers can cause the flexing of a ship, which may knock critical systems out of alignment.
"Tonight, we are out here measuring all the potential pointing errors between the different elements on the ship," said MARMC VLS/CS Alignment Technician Jerry Lupton. "The directors, the guns, the radars and the gyros - all of these combat systems and navigation elements are aligned to two references points. We are assuring that all systems are still aligned to those points."
When a ship is under construction, batting boards are set up to run the length of the keel in order to transfer an accurate heading line known as the zero line, which is designated by plates welded to the deck of the ship with holes punched in them that serve as markers known as directors. A second reference point, or horizontal reference, is known as the Weapons Control Reference Plane, which is also denoted by structures welded to the deck of the ship.
"No ship is ever perfectly straight, which is why these bench marks are so important," said MARMC VLS/CS Alignment Branch Head John Rivera. "Our guys shoot those bench marks with a device called a theodolite, which is very similar to the process of land surveying. This gives them a baseline for what straight is relative to the ship and they can use that measurement to detect the proper alignment of a gun or radar."
Using a Digital Inclination Data System (DIDS), which is the MARMC alignment team's precision leveling system, they are able to record all data gathered while shooting the theodolite.
"For the measurements we are taking tonight, we have the original values and readings that were taken during Bulkeley's last alignment," said Lupton. "Tonight's measurements will need to be within specific tolerances of the original measurements. If they are not correct, we have to update the entire system to reflect the new data."
With such stringent constraints on the measurement data, the alignment team takes their readings at night, which allows the ship to cool and settle to a normalcy state. This not only presents potential difficult working conditions, but has also earned the team members the moniker "vampires."
"We have to face a lot of weather challenges. We work outside at night 365 days a year, so we are out here when it is five degrees or 95 degrees. We have learned how to become very efficient when it is cold," said Lupton. "You never really get used to it. All of us have to check our emails and keep apprised to what is happening during the day too. A lot of scheduling, coordinating, and generating reports takes place during normal working hours."
A distinctive attribute of MARMC's alignment team is five of the six members have known and worked with one another for nearly thirty-five years. This is a unique set up that creates an amazing amount of proficiency in their work and makes them one of the premier alignment teams in the world.
Using their expert knowledge and advanced data collecting system [DIDS] as a baseline, Rivera and his team have begun working with the Alignment In-Service Engineering Agent located in Port Hueneme, Calif., to develop a standardized alignment strategy throughout the Navy. MARMC is responsible for all east coast alignments of both Navy and Coast Guard vessels.
"At the moment, there are very few teams around the world that are able to perform these alignments. Within those teams, the equipment that each of them are using is very different. Some are working with older analog systems and dated data collection techniques, while other regions are lacking a team entirely," said Rivera.
The goal of their initiative would not only be to upgrade equipment to meet current technological standards, but to also reduce the footprint of how much equipment is needed to conduct the alignments.
"Right now, the amount of equipment our guys have to carry onto the ship to perform alignment verifications is pretty substantial. If we can find ways to reduce that load by using newer light weight technology, then we want to take advantage of that. We have already procured funds to begin updating one of the outdated systems. This new system will not only require fewer components, but it will also provide more accurate data. Once we can show that, we hope that it will be adopted for all of the alignment systems teams across the board," said Rivera.
Currently, MARMC's alignment team is conducting alignment checks on board USS Oak Hill (LSD 51). Later this summer, they will begin working with USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72).