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Fixin’ For The Fight: Nimitz Upgrades Weapons Systems

It’s three o’clock on a Wednesday morning. While most of us are sound asleep and the sun has yet to rise, the Fire Controlmen (FC) of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) are not met with the comfort of their beds. Instead, they are faced with the harsh chills of a dead-of-night breeze and a long day of work ahead of them as they proceed to enhance USS Nimitz’s defense capabilities in preparation for deployment.

Nimitz’s Combat Systems Department’s Seventh Division, comprised mainly of FCs, recently worked throughout the night making a large upgrade to the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) and the Close-in Weapons System (CIWS) allowing the two systems to work together.

“We’ve made a lot of different ordnance alterations to our equipment – specifically the integration of CIWS and RAM,” said Fire Controlman 1st Class Kelby Castillo, the Combat System’s Seventh Division leading petty officer. “This integration allows CIWS and RAM to work together, CIWS being the system that designates targets to RAM. We’ve also added a capability where we can assign tracks, also known as a surface target, to RAM, but also a different mode where we can assign tracks via CIWS for different kinds of threats.”

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This is something that previously, the CIWS and RAM systems were not able to do. The Systems were tested throughout the night on May 17, to ensure the integration was a success.

“We had an exercise late last night to make sure that the alterations that were done met expectations,” said Castillo. “We had a commercial aircraft fly over the ship numerous times to test its capabilities, and the tests were a success.”

Although Operations Department assisted in the evolution by providing the equipment to communicate with the pilot as he made his approaches, the work was completed by the FCs throughout the day and night.

“You should see my guys; this is the best I’ve ever seen them,” said Castillo. “These guys are running a tight shift. They orchestrated all the contractor support. They assisted with all the installation and supported all the tracking exercises that we’ve been doing. The smiles on their faces are from ear to ear.”

These kinds of tests are essential for Nimitz to ensure that while on deployment the ship can remain protected and mission ready.

“The threat is ever changing,” said Castillo            . “We develop something to counter a specific type of threat, then they develop something to counter our counter. If they create a new missile or asset that puts us in harm’s way, we have to stay ahead of them in creating our own assets that takes us away from that harm. Making these alterations to our systems keeps Nimitz ahead of the game when it comes to defending our ship.”

As far as the next big step in weapon systems is concerned, there are already advances that the U.S. military is looking to apply further down the road.

“There is already another advanced weapons system that will be coming out in the near future,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class John Carbone, the CIWS work center supervisor. “It’s called LaWS or Laser Weapon System, and it’s basically a large telescopic laser that has already been undergoing sea trials and should be available in a few years after the schooling and installation process for it is complete.”

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The amount of time and effort that went into getting these weapon systems operational has played a big part in boosting morale throughout the ranks of Combat Systems Department.

“There’s nothing better than tracking a target,” said Carbone. “For us FCs, that’s our bread and butter. We see something coming at us, we track it and we shoot it down, so that nobody on board gets hurt. When we’re doing exercises like this, it shows that we’re ready to go and do our part.

Castillo also shares enthusiasm for the work that he and his team have put into this evolution.

“I can’t say enough how proud I am of my guys and how inspirational it is to see them motivated again,” said Castillo. “We’re all very excited to go back out to sea and get back to the business of war fighting, which is what we’re all here for.”

As Nimitz continues to upgrade the equipment on board, she’s another day closer to getting back to sea. With new threats constantly rising, Sailors can rest easy on deployment thanks to the up-to-date defense capabilities now on board Nimitz.

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Story by MC3 Chad Anderson

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