Capt. Todd Leavitt, USN Ret., vice president for maritime systems at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, discusses the company’s 100 year heritage of cooperation with the US Navy on electronic navigation — starting with Elmer Sperry — shipboard power and US-UK partnership aboard USS Winston S. Churchill with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia. We are an SNA media partner for the event and our coverage is sponsored by Huntington Ingalls Industries, GE Marine, L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
VP Maritime Systems, Northrop Grumman
Surface Navy Association Conference
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Surface Navy Association’s Annual Conference and Trade Show just outside Washington, DC. The number one gathering of U.S. Navy Surface Force leaders from around the world. Our coverage here is sponsored by Huntington Ingalls Industries, General Electric Marine, L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
We’re starting our coverage here at the Northrop Grumman stand to talk to Todd Leavitt, a retired United States Navy Commander, former Commanding Officer of USS Winston Churchill, one of the cooler ships in the force, in part because of its unique U.S.-UK heritage and the fact that you always have a British Royal Navy navigator aboard the ship, and some illustrious former Royal Navy navigators have served on that ship including Nigel Essenhigh whose dad was First Sea Lord and going places.
You’re the Vice President for Maritime Systems in the Mission Systems Unit.
You guys and the business you run is, Elmer Sperry founded the great navigational unit in the company. It’s a 100-year partnership you have with the U.S. Navy. Obviously, it’s a time of intense discussion about the accidents. What have been learned. The challenges and problems with electronic navigation which have been discussed a lot in surface warfare circles.
Talk to us a little bit about some of the technological innovation you guys are bringing to the fore to give greater surety, greater confidence, greater usability and at the end of the day, everybody is looking for greater precision in navigation whether for warfighting or just for transiting on a daily basis.
Talk to us a little bit about some of the new things you guys are introducing to build a better navigational system for the future.
Todd Leavitt: Sure, Vago. First of all, I’ve been a big fan. First time on with you, I’ve been a big fan of yours for a while, so appreciate everything you do for national security for our nation as well.
Mr. Muradian: Thanks very much. That’s a real honor, sir. Thank you.
Mr. Leavitt: Thank you.
First off, as you mentioned, we do have a 100-year legacy working navigation with the United States Navy. You mentioned Elmer Sperry. 1910, he invented the gyroscope. That evolved in World War I where the first fire control system was supported on World War I battleships that evolved through the ‘30s and the ‘40s to where the legacy Sperry Marine had tens of thousands of employees creating navigation instruments to support our thousand-ship Navy in World War II.
Through the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s, we continued to evolve navigational products and navigation aids to help the United States Navy as we evolved through the Cold War to where we are right now.
Three big things that we’re working on right now that we think are very important are ECDIS, the Electronic Charting Display Information System. We invented the electronic navigation portion which really brings electronic charts and the ability to use navigation sensors to show where you are as opposed to where you were, and former visual aids and the way they’ve been used in the past. We’ve been working on ECDIS for a number of years and continue to do so with the Navy.
We’re also the producer of the [WIZN-7] and also working on the [WIZN-12] which are inertial navigation systems that both provide navigational capability for surface ships and submarines, but also links to weapon systems and combat systems to provide that navigation assurety.
Then the third thing we’ve been doing that really helped the Navy is on integrated bridge systems. We’ve worked throughout the years to bring together the various systems on a ship in an integrated manner to help sailors control and navigate the ship. We’ve been doing that for a number of years and continue to do so on integrated bridges right now for the U.S. Navy.
Mr. Muradian: You mentioned a little bit of a subtlety, you were on a ship where you saw both sides of how to navigate. The Royal Navy is always looking ahead and where you’re going to be, whereas we view our navigation base pretty much on where you’ve been and building forward on that track. It’s a combination of those factors.
But talk to us about the integration of both of these plots and the intellectual process for a surface warfare officer, that when you go through all of your navigation training, whether as a midshipman and all the way on up, has been based on where you’ve been as opposed to sort of, more about than where you’re going.
Mr. Leavitt: Navigation has evolved from a point where visual aids were very important. Taking a bearing, or a bearing and a range off a position to fix a position of the ship lets you know where you were when you took that bearing and that range, and then you had to basically evaluate environmental factors that determine where you’re going.
Now with electronic navigation integrated with the use of visual navigation, you can use that certain system that’s worked for hundreds of years of visual navigation, integrate it with inertial navigation global positioning system and electronic charting system to allow you to both assess where you are visually, where you are electronically, and where you’re headed in a much more efficient manner.
So it’s really the evolution of using the tried and true visual aids with the electronic aids to help sailors understand where they’re headed.
Mr. Muradian: Talk to us a little bit about denied environment operation. Once you align the platform, the platform operates but you always have to tweak it. And now there’s greater concern about what happens in a GPS-denied environment and especially if it’s on a protracted basis. Now midshipmen are learning and junior officers are more using celestial navigation. Go celestial. It’s always a lot of fun, actually. Anyway, I digress.
But talk to us a little bit about some of the systems you guys are developing to ensure that that aligned platform stays aligned for prolonged periods of time, potentially, until you can get star updates and a whole bunch of other things to keep it current given that in the kind of contested battlespace environments we’re going to go into, knowing exactly where everybody is is of paramount importance.
Mr. Leavitt: I’m really glad you brought that up, Vago. Assured position navigation and timing is a key effort that we’ve been working on here at Northrop Grumman. It’s a key effort for the Department of Defense. As you pointed out, the global positioning system, there’s a lot of reliance on it. We rely on our iPhones. You probably relied on it to drive here today to a certain extent. Right?
Well, that is used at sea and there is some concern around the assured navigation environment, how you can continue that. We are spending a lot of efforts, a lot of research and development to determine how we can continue to use the systems of today, bringing in other sensors. You mentioned celestial. There’s visual, there’s optical. There are other sensors, better inertial navigation sensors, that when you bring the suite of sensors together gives you that assured position, navigation and timing to help in that denied environment. So it’s something at Northrop Grumman we’re working on very very robustly, very very actively, and I think you’re going to see that evolve over the next few years.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you, you guys also do integrated power on ships. Increasingly the U.S. Navy wants to go to all-electric drive on its ships. We’ve certainly seen that on the Zumwalt and on the Ford as well.
Talk to us a little bit about integrated power, and what’s the Northrop vision about where the integrated power future of the Navy resides.
Mr. Leavitt: I think our vision aligns with where the Navy’s headed, which is a recognition that as technology evolves power and cooling become very important. The ability to generate power is one thing, but it’s the ability to condition and distribute power on ships that becomes very important. And one of the visions that the Navy has right now, and Northrop Grumman has worked on it very actively is the idea around integrated power in an energy magazine in a way that you can take the power generation, store it, condition it and distribute it so you can use it for a radar, you can use it for directed energy, for various systems. It’s a vision the Navy has, has worked it very actively, and we’re spending a lot of time and energy to determine how we bring integrated power and an energy magazine power concept into the surface fleet.
Mr. Muradian: Are you satisfied, that’s certainly key, especially if you’re looking at rail guns and directed energy to take massive amounts of power that you’re going to need, and then have enough in that magazine to do multiple shots before you have to regenerate. Are you getting to the power density requirements that the Navy would need in order to be able to operate some of these heavy-duty weapons, especially over a prolonged period of time? You don’t have to think all that much about firing your gun, for example, or firing your missile. But it becomes a much, much bigger challenge when you’re collecting that kind of energy and discharge it, especially at a high fire rate.
Mr. Leavitt: The technology is there today. How that works into, when we work with shipbuilders we talk a lot about SWaP-C — size, weight, power, and cooling — and how that fits onto a ship. How you take that technology and how that fits into an FFG(X) or how that fits into a large surface combatant. The Navy is working very actively on it. We’re working to see how those requirements flow out. The technology is there. Those requirements are going to evolve over these number of years to get to that type of capability you alluded to where there’s a rail gun, a directed energy weapon. Whether it’s electronic warfare. You have that ability to apply those weapons and sensors simultaneously.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you about your very, very unique ship, the Winston Churchill, Arleigh Burke Class destroyer. Inclined launch, if I remember, from Bath Iron Works which was another historic element before the land-level facility was completed.
What’s so special about the ship, and why is that interplay between very, very highly qualified Royal Navy folks and U.S. Navy folks so important? What’s special about the ship? And what did you learn from your British counterpart even when you were the commanding officer, for example, even though you may have had a young lieutenant in that job.
Mr. Leavitt: This goes back a few years, a number of years when I was in command. It was a very special ship because of the linkage to the Royal Navy, obviously. I was also very fortunate to take the ship on deployment twice to the United Kingdom, and got to get to Portsmouth and up into Faslane and visit. The affinity that the United Kingdom citizens had for those sailors coming off the Winston S. Churchill was something I’d never seen before, and it was fabulous.
I was also very, very fortunate at the time that Mary Soames, Churchill’s youngest daughter was still alive and visited the ship and spent a day on the ship. Just a fabulous, fabulous experience, realizing that I’m sitting across the table having tea with the daughter of Winston S. Churchill, it was just unbelievable, Vago.
Likewise, one of his grandsons, Winston S. Churchill, III, his son Randolph’s son, hosted us up in London and had us for lunch. An experience of just seeing, bringing us to his house and showing us his father’s paintings, and the watercolors of [Chartwell] and just the fabric of just the Britishness was just fabulous.
But getting back to your question, it’s really that unique relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States that was embodied in that ship. As you well know, we had a Royal Navy navigator. It was a special experience, a special ship, and a special relationship I think the two navies have.
Mr. Muradian: We should give a shout-out that Winston S. Churchill was not just Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, illustriously twice, but also was the first Lord of the Admiralty which is another great title which has gone the way of the dodo.
Todd, thanks so very much. I really appreciate it. Todd Leavitt, Vice President for Maritime Systems at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, Maritime Systems. Sir, thanks very much. Really appreciate it. Best of luck at the show.
Mr. Leavitt: Thank you. Thank you very much, Vago.