Acquisiton Directorate

Feature Articles

Engineering for Human Performance a Key Element of Deepwater NSC Platform Design

By Hunter C. Keeter

Monitors were installed on the bridge of the first National Security Cutter earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman)

The Coast Guard is embracing human performance as a key parameter in the engineering design and development of new platforms, such as the National Security Cutter (NSC). The approach carries significant implications for personnel, program cost, schedule and operational capability –and potential rewards in safer, more effective and more efficient equipment for the fleet.

“Human system integration always has been important to us, but it often has been an under-appreciated element of the acquisition process,” said Rear Adm. Gary T. Blore, Deepwater program executive officer. “We embarked on the Deepwater program with human factors engineering in mind. We have had some successes but we recognize that we still haven’t gone far enough; we still have more to do.”

The terms, human system integration, or human factors engineering, refer to a synthesis between system engineering and behavioral science. The discipline is to design a system according to the roles, capabilities and limitations of the humans that must use the technologies. The goal is to improve operational synergy between hardware, software and people.

The effect that human system integration already is having on program development may be illustrated by a comparison of legacy ships, such as the 378-foot high endurance cutters, with the NSC. The first NSC, the Bertholf (WMSL 750), is slated for delivery later in 2007. The Coast Guard plans to acquire eight NSCs to recapitalize its fleet of 12 high endurance cutters.

Capt. Patrick H. Stadt, the Bertholf’s commanding officer, said that design innovation aboard the NSCs will enable smaller crews to accomplish more.

“The NSC design incorporates more labor-saving technologies –an automated flight deck, integrated bridge system, an unmanned engine room, machinery control and monitoring system– that make our jobs easier out there,” Stadt said. “We have a crew that is a third smaller than the 378s, although our vessel is about a third larger.”

Cmdr. George E. Pellissier, surface transition manager with the Deepwater transition management office, added that the NSC design will bring a number of improvements based on operator input and a new approach to the problems of integrating a crew with the operational capabilities of the new cutter.

For example, on its flight deck the NSC will have an automated fire fighting system, which will be capable of projecting foam and water onto a burning aircraft and the flight deck, while the cutter’s crew remains in a protected area. The NSC’s flight deck also will feature and automated landing system, which when fully operational will eliminate the need to have crewmen on hand to receive and tie-down an arriving aircraft.

Below deck, the design of the NSC’s safety equipment and compartment architecture is based on some tough lessons learned. In May 1985, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Chase (WHEC 718) endured a major engine room fire in which a crewman died. The tragedy underscored challenges with equipment, including fire pump reliability, as well as with the layout of the engine room compartment, with its single point of entry and exit.

“The crews of the 378s have done a phenomenal job of developing our knowledge and procedures for how to manage fire-fighting and evacuation more safely,” Stadt said. “That knowledge, including the experience that came from the Chase incident, together with human-centered design aboard the NSC, will help us deliver a safe platform to operate in.”

Thoughtful human engineering in the spaces aboard the NSC also may reduce the cost and time requirements of cutter maintenance. For example, the NSCs’ machinery control and monitoring system includes approximately 4,000 sensors to continuously update displays of equipment condition information.

“The Coast Guard has used technology to help perform condition-based, rather than time-based maintenance on our cutters,” Pellissier said. “The idea is to maintain our machinery based on its actual condition, not only on the stated lifespan of its components. Other cutters have these technologies, but the NSC is the first cutter to be designed from the keel up with condition-based maintenance in mind; this will help reduce the periodicity of our maintenance work, saving money and man hours.”

From an occupational health and safety standpoint, human factors engineering aboard the NSC will mitigate exposure to environmental hazards, such as noise and heat. Aboard some cutters, the Coast Guard requires hearing protection and limits crew stay-time within an engine room. Automation will enable fewer crewmen to monitor remotely the NSC’s engine room.

“The machinery control and monitoring system will help reduce the number of personnel required to stand watch,” Stadt said. “For example, the WHECs have a four-person watch section in the engine room. … We won’t need to assign all of those people to the engine room aboard the NSC.”

Cmdr. Timothy J. Ciampaglio, Coast Guard external coordination division chief and former commanding officer of a 110’ cutter, said that human system integration applied to the NSC also will bring important improvements in crew habitability.

“I was a non-rate on a [cutter] that had 24 people sharing one berthing area; we all shared two showers, two toilets, and two sinks,” Ciampaglio said. “Now we are going to have berthing areas on the NSCs for four to six people, each area with its own head.”

The Coast Guard values gender-integrated crews, Rear Adm. Blore noted, but the architectures of the service’s legacy vessels have not always facilitated male and female crewing.

An important aspect of building physical architectures that support mixed-gender crews is to facilitate the training and mentorship of Coast Guard personnel of both sexes, according to Ciampaglio.

“There is a difference between providing our men and women ‘maximum opportunity,’ and achieving ‘critical mass,’ with 35 percent to 40 percent representation of females at all ranks and rates,” Ciampaglio said. “We talk about having mentorship in the Coast Guard and how important that is. In a maximum opportunity scenario, we may have two females reporting aboard ship, and no one there to help them work through the experience. On the NSC… with a critical mass approach… we will have females aboard as non-rates, all the way up to senior officers. That shows the junior people who come aboard that there is a way ahead for them. That is what mentorship is all about.”

With progress having been made, as Blore says, there still is more work to be done to make human system integration an organic part of the Coast Guard’s acquisition culture.

Stadt, Pellissier and others indicated that there will be a significant learning curve to overcome, as new platforms like the NSC arrive in the fleet and the Coast Guard operational community determines the right balance between people and assets in various missions.

Dr. Anita M. Rothblum, a specialist in human factors engineering with the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center, said that overcoming the learning curve of human factors engineering will require coordination among program management, the technical authorities and industry.

“We are working together to make human system integration part of the culture so that when we provide our requirements to industry, they will be better able to appreciate how a developmental system, or a version of software, fits into the broader Coast Guard mission context,” Rothblum said. “The Coast Guard must do a lot of the up-front work; we, the Coast Guard, are the experts on [the service’s] requirements and needs, and it is up to us to explain them to industry and then work with industry to come up with complete solutions to our requirements.”

Applying the human system integration discipline at the program and technical authority levels also impacts the culture of the Coast Guard’s personnel system, according to Capt. Daniel R. MacLeod, the Deepwater program’s human resources chief.

“The Coast Guard recognized early on that the Deepwater program precipitates a host of personnel management policy implications –such as optimal crewing and decoupling of personnel tempo and operational tempo of major cutters,” MacLeod said. “Consideration of human system integration has expanded our traditional approach to the personnel element to encompass system-wide workforce management.”

In recognition of the important affect human factors engineering has on asset design, manning and training functions, the IDS program’s Life Cycle Engineering Integrated Product Team has been directed to address human performance parameters. Additionally, the Coast Guard has established a working group focused on training initiatives, to reflect the importance of adapting the Coast Guard’s educational culture to match the human factors engineering aspects of new platforms and systems.

Beginning in 2007, the Coast Guard plans to consolidate its Acquisition Directorate to unite the Deepwater program and 10 other major programs. The Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center also will join the new Acquisition Directorate, with the intent of closely aligning all aspects of the technical authority with the project offices.

As the new directorate is established, one challenge to building a culture more cognizant of human factors engineering will be to balance investment to mitigate near- and long-term risks with the goal of improving overall operational performance.

With significant implications for workforce management, as well as for program cost, schedule and performance, investment in human factors engineering still must compete with other, perhaps more immediate project demands in each year’s budget cycle.

Nevertheless, those committed to the discipline of human system integration say building better understanding of a system’s requirements –and of how humans and technologies may best complement one another in meeting those requirements– may accelerate overall project development timelines, and reduce costs.

“A few months invested up front may save years of trying to get it right after operational test and evaluation have shown the Coast Guard what [may be] wrong with a system,” Rothblum said. “If we look at software developments [for example], the lifecycle costs are cut by a third to one-half if the Coast Guard invests up front in human system integration.”


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Last Modified 1/27/2011