Even as the defense budget has shrunk and demands continue to grow for forward naval presence and crisis response, the U.S. Navy has been steadily investing in a wide range of new, even revolutionary capabilities. There is the new Ford-class aircraft carrier with its electro-magnetic aircraft launch system, advanced radar, automated ship systems and enhanced power generation capabilities. The Zumwalt-class DDG 1000 destroyer has a revolutionary stealthy configuration, new multi-function radar, advanced gun and an integrated power system. The newest block of the Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine will incorporate a payload module capable of carrying large missiles or remotely piloted vehicles. Even the venerable Arleigh Burke destroyers are being transformed with the planned Flight III ships to include the Air and Missile Defense Radar, a new electric plant and possibly lasers or rail gun launchers.
Even the lighting systems Navy ships use as visual landing aids to guide incoming helicopters could undergo a revolutionary change. A lot of lighting is required in order to provide helicopter pilots with the proper references for landing on relatively small flight decks. Currently, the Navy uses standard incandescent lighting systems. While these work well they have certain drawbacks including power usage, weight, sustainment and detectability.
A Next Generation Visual Landing Aids (NGVLA) system, based on the same light emitting diode (LED) technology available in your local hardware store, will significantly improve aviation activities on surface ships while reducing costs. An LED system has a number of inherent advantages over older incandescent lighting. These include drawing only 1/16 the power of incandescent bulbs to produce the same light level, an overall weight saving for the ship and much longer life that reduces maintenance requirements and the demand for spares.
An LED-based system provides a number of operational advantages. It expands the envelope in which aerial operations can be conducted, both night and bad weather. It is compatible with standard night-vision devices and eliminates the so-called “bloom” that can blind pilots using night-vision goggles. Brightness can be controlled depending on day/night, weather, and combat situations. These features will provide increased safety both for aircrews and flight deck recovery personnel. In addition, LED lights have lower infrared and electronic signatures which improve the ship safety.
The NGVLA system will be deployed on all three Zumwalts. Modified versions of this system can be retrofitted on both Arleigh Burke destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ship.
LED-based lighting systems are having a major impact on American life and business. While their initial costs may be higher than traditional incandescent lights, they more than make up for this in their longevity and reduced electric power draw. Moreover, what they add in safety and expanded ship operations is enough in themselves for the Navy to make the investment.
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