December 18, 2017
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Navy plans to equip nuclear submarines with Xbox controllers

By Travis M. Andrews, Washington Post
WOLFGANG RATTAY | REUTERS | BDN
WOLFGANG RATTAY | REUTERS | BDN
An XBox One game controller

The Navy plans to equip its Virginia-class submarines with Xbox 360 controllers, which will control the ship’s periscopes.

The joystick now used, along with its corresponding control panel developed by Lockheed Martin, cost about $38,000, according to engadget. An Xbox 360 controller, meanwhile, goes for about $30 and can be purchased just about anywhere that carries toys.

“That joystick is by no means cheap, and it is only designed to fit on a Virginia-class submarine,” Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub, the John Warner’s assistant navigator, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I can go to any video game store and procure an Xbox controller anywhere in the world, so it makes a very easy replacement.”

It doesn’t hurt that many young sailors grew up using the controllers to play videos games such as “Halo.”

The Xbox controllers will first appear on the future USS Colorado and then will be retrofitted to all other Virginia-class submarines, Navy spokesperson William Couch told The Washington Post via email.

While the popular image of a periscope is a long, rotating tube with eye holes that sailors look into to see what’s going on above the water, the Virginia-class periscopes are much more complicated. They feature two masts equipped with digital cameras. These are controlled by a helicopter-style joystick from a control room on the submarine, where large monitors display the images captured by the cameras.

That joystick, though, wasn’t particularly comfortable to use.

“The Navy got together and they asked a bunch of [junior officers] and junior guys, ‘What can we do to make your life better?’” Lt. Kyle Leonard, the USS John Warner’s assistant weapons officer, told the Virginian-Pilot. “And one of the things that came out is the controls for the scope. It’s kind of clunky in your hand; it’s real heavy.”

It was also expensive. The Navy told the newspaper that the new system, which includes the video console controllers, went through two years of testing. Spokespeople for Lockheed Martin said the controllers were much more intuitive for the young sailors.

“The controller is a part of the Navy’s effort to leverage commercial off-the-shelf equipment to improve our warfighting capabilities while minimizing costs,” Couch told The Post.

It’s all part of a longer term goal aimed at integrating everyday technology into its ships.

“They want to bring in sailors with what they have at home on their personal laptop, their personal desktop, what they grew up with in a classroom,” Eichenlaub told the Virginian-Pilot.

 


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