Launched into the 21st Century

All Hands - Magazine of the U.S. Navy, March 2001

While you will not find the term in Webster's Dictionary, USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79) is "da bomb," so to speak. Well, maybe it would be better to say something as conventional as "da missile," or something as generic as "da weapon."

But, Oscar Austin needs none of those hip-hop generation labels to be recognized when her new, clean, streamlined body cuts through oceans. She's an Arleigh Burke-class Flight II destroyer with a powerhouse of technology, weapons and personnel all in the business of being - "da bomb," or, for the slang impaired, "the best."

One of the newest destroyers in the Navy, Oscar Austin has, for the last few months, been strutting her stuff and showing off what she can do - or more importantly, what her crew can do - since their custody transfer and commissioning in August 2000. Armed with some of the most high-tech gear the Navy has to offer, Oscar Austin is making waves as the example of how a 21st century Navy ship will operate and train.

DDG 79 has two hangar bays for helicopter support - a new install to the destroyer which increased her length by 5-feet and enables the addition of an aircrew compliment on deployment. Ninety-six vertical launch tubes and vast amounts of updated technology establish Oscar Austin as a true leader in at sea innovation.

"My crew is full of some real junior Sailors and officers," said CDR Paul Smith, commanding officer of Oscar Austin. "Yet, they continually amaze me while conducting operations, shooting missiles and in all their training getting used to a new ship. They have a real strong sense of accomplishment."

Although the crew and the ship were far from finished, every crew member felt a real sense of accomplishment after their training deployment to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, at the end of last year.

While Sailors were busy aboard the ship loading weapon systems, cooking meals and navigating, others were busy as tech savvy explorers discovering one of the many new systems installed on board the ship down in the darkness of the combat information center (CIC).

The Baseline 6 Combat System, the first ever installed on an Arleigh Burke Aegis destroyer, was used extensively while monitoring the many weapons systems fired during the training.

"I love this job," said Fire Controlman 1st Class Jacob Lampl, who got to fire one of the five missiles launched from the new vertical launching system (VLS) on board. "This ship is state of the art. Since all the systems are new, we spend a lot of time looking for bugs, but I would rather be testing new systems than playing catch-up trying to get them installed."

The shakedown cruise, "a total success," in CDR Smith's view, had many goals, the foremost being complete operational qualifications so they could enter the fleet as a ready asset to the Navy.

"We became the first platform to ever launch a Block 4 missile on the East Coast," said LT Tim Fontana, the ship's fire control officer. "It was an awesome experience watching from down here in CIC as the missile tracked down its target and destroyed it. It's moments like these that reassure us we are ready for any mission the Navy may need us for."

Inside the steel skin of the ship was yet another system being tested that could revolutionize damage control in the fleet. The Automated Common Diagram (ACD) and Tach 4 monitors, located in Oscar Austin's damage control central (DCC) and all its repair lockers, controls all fire mains, valves and power supplies on the ship that can be opened and closed from any of the ACD terminals.

"Once the system is approved, it will be a quantum leap in damage control," said LTJG Aaron Welch, the ship's damage control assistant. "We are now working out the kinks, and it looks to be very promising in the near future."

ACD not only alerts the watch-stander to damage, and isolates a system during a casualty; it also will tell Sailors the outcome of their actions, which could save lives and equipment.

"It's very helpful and interactive," said Damage Controlman 2nd Class Daniel Darling. "It's self-trainable and takes the place of running plot diagrams back and forth from repair lockers during a casualty. Each locker has one of these systems and sees what we see. It can update the conditions to us in a matter of milliseconds."

While Darling and his shipmates were busy learning the ACD, the ship was steering course as usual, yet with the help of a new friend to the quartermaster.

"The GPS input really helps in plotting the course," said Quartermaster Seaman Chris Ganter. "I can just push a few buttons, and I know when sunrise and sunset are almost to the second."

While the bridge gear, the NAV-SSI Geographical Positioning System, has not fully taken the place of the old traditional way of plotting the ship's course through use of a paper map, navigational compass and pencil, it does effectively assist the QM in his day-to-day tasks to ensure the ship is steaming in the right direction.

Of course, the ship goes nowhere without power and engineers to run the engineering plants. Sailors in engineering are working with the best in ship-board mechanics available.

"It gets pretty loud down here," yells Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) 3rd Class Stephen Palermo. "And the heat can wear you out fast, but the systems are all new, and I am learning a lot."

One of the new tools Palermo is becoming familiar with is the auxiliary power unit (APU). Oscar Austin is the first ship to have it installed, the APU is helping Sailors like Palermo get the gas turbine generator started electrically, replacing the old system of high pressure air. While this may not seem like much of a technological innovation to the internet generation, to the snipes of old, it is amazing.

In all, the changes you will find around Oscar Austin, the innovations and technology being used by high school graduates and college degree holders alike, is enough to make anyone take a step back and call her "da bomb."

Story and photos by PH2(AW) Jim Watson,
a photojournalist assigned to All Hands