From the book Net Traveller by Tom Worthington

To The USS Blue Ridge by Helicopter

In 1996, I received an odd request in my e-mail at the Department of Defence: the Texas National Guard wanted to know what the weather was like in central Queensland. They were scheduled to take part in something called Exercise Tandem Thrust 97 and wanted to know what to bring. I forwarded the request to Australian Defence Force HQ and thought nothing more about it for several months. Then, as described below, an e-mail invitation resulted in my visiting the exercise in a borrowed uniform. This account is prepared from a web travelogue (Worthington 1997) and a seminar for the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Australian College of Defence and Strategic Studies (Worthington 1997b). These told how ordinary computers and Internet technology could be used for military command and control. This was heresy to military system designers, but some of my suggestions were adopted a few months later for a new deployable headquarters.

Tom Worthington
Tom Worthington in front of a OKA 4WD vehicle

On the Flight Deck of the USS Blue Ridge
On the Flight Deck of the USS Blue Ridge

Crew on RAN Sea King helicopter
Crew on RAN Sea King helicopter

USS Blue Ridge at Garden Island in Sydney
USS Blue Ridge at Garden Island in Sydney

Talk in the Joint Operations Center
Talk in the Joint Operations Center

Rack mounted workstation
Rack mounted workstation

Exercise Tandem Thrust 97

19 to 21 March 1997 I travelled to Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia. This was to look at the use of computers and telecommunications for Exercise Tandem Thrust 97. This was an U.S. Pacific Command sponsored exercise, held around the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in central Queensland. The Exercise was to demonstrate the closeness of the military-to-military relationship between the U.S. and Australian Defence Forces and test the capability of Australian and United States command and control procedures.

My particular interest as a Defence IT policy maker was to see how computers and telecommunications were used in a military environment. A few weeks before the exercise was due to commence I had a request from Defence's Directorate of Public Relations to put a link from the Defence Home Page, to the Exercise Home Page, maintained by the U.S. Seventh Fleet.

As a courtesy, I sent a note off to the 7th Fleet web master. Subsequently I received an e-mail invitation from the USS Blue Ridge, Flagship of the U.S. Seventh Fleet and the command ship for the exercise, inviting me to come and see their systems. After having to write some convincing justification to my superiors for the visit, I joined a small party of Defence people looking at the command and control systems for the exercise.

This was my first visit to Rockhampton, the town near the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in central Queensland. The trip up was by commercial airline and uneventful. The weather was warm but comfortable and clear being in the lull between two visits by cyclone Justin.

To The Blue Ridge

We travelled by RAN Sea King helicopter to the Blue Ridge, about 40 minutes out to sea. This was my first helicopter trip. There was a pre-flight safety briefing, similar to that on commercial airlines, but much more detailed. In addition, you put on your life jacket (along with helmets fitted with earmuffs) before getting on-board.

It is not possible to talk normally near, or on board, due to aircraft noise. The crew communicate by microphones and headsets. Only some passengers had headsets and most communication from the crew was by hand signals.

The seats are un-padded canvas, but quite comfortable. It was very warm, with the distinct kerosene smell of jet turbines in the air.

The flight and landing on Blue Ridge was much smoother than the commercial airline flight back to Canberra. While the view was good from the helicopter windows, it was remarkably difficult to see an 18,500 ton ship from the low flying helicopter until we were just about to land.

The first sensation on landing was the movement of the deck. There is a sudden transition from the relative firmness of the aircraft floor to the rocking ship's deck. I immediately started to feel queasy, a feeling which did not leave me for the next 24 hours (my doctor tells me it was not seasickness, but a mild virus).

We were welcomed on deck, photographed for a souvenir and escorted below.


The 620-foot 18,500 ton, 1550 crew USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) is a purpose built Command and Control ship. The primary function is as the flagship of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. The secondary function as a command ship for Amphibious Task Force and Landing Force Commanders during fleet operations and as a flagship for the Commander Joint Task Force (CJTF), as in Tandem Thrust 97.

Below decks looks like a cross between a warship and a computer center. The Joint Maritime Command Information System consists of computers distributed throughout the ship, with data from worldwide sources presenting a tactical picture of air, surface and sub-surface contacts.

According to the Blue Ridge Home Page: ``...enabling the Fleet Commander to quickly assess and concentrate on any situation which might arise. This ability to access information from military and civilian sources throughout the world gives Blue Ridge a global command and control capability unparalleled in Naval history.'' The displays look similar to air traffic control screens.

The striking point about the computer equipment used is how ordinary it is. These are ordinary commercial, off-white coloured PCs, workstations, laptops and printers. The equipment was held down (because of the movement of the ship) using an assortment of straps and racks. The US Marines had the most innovative restrain system: their laptops are stuck to desktops using green gaffer tape.

Some areas had false floors for computer cabling and rack mounts for equipment. These areas looked like heavier duty versions of a commercial computer room. However, in normal computer rooms you do not have to bolt the coffee machine to the floor.

There were some specialised applications with their own Graphical User Interface (GUI) and text user interfaces. However, the predominant interface was the Web using GUI browses under Windows 3.1

The Web pages were much like the physical layout: built for function and speed not aesthetics. The sparse use of graphics and complex formatting are similar to the Australian Defence Home Page.

The web pages are mainly used for distributing information and other systems for entering data and commands. Normal Internet and proprietary e-mail is used. There is commercial style videoconference and use of presentation packages. The video conference and presentation packages are not integrated with the web/Internet facilities. Australia has examples of integration of such systems and I have suggested this as an area for the Strategy for Information Technology Research in Australia (see the chapter on Building Arcadia, Emulating Cambridge's High Technology Success).

Some of the on-board systems are linked to the Internet. Just to check this I logged on and checked my mail. Ironically, the mail included photos of the exercise, taken nearby on-shore by the Australian Defence Force's 1st Media Support Detachment, sent to Canberra and then e-mailed back to me to put on the home page. Response time was okay, but it was difficult to operate a keyboard and mouse that kept moving with the ship. Around this time, I started to feel less well and I do not remember much about the subsequent lunch.

After a quick trip to the shop to buy a souvenir cap, it was back to the flight deck for the flight back. The return flight was uneventful.

Internet for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence (C3I)

For Exercise Tandem Thrust 97 unclassified and classified TCP/IP (Internet protocol) networks were created over a Wide Area Network (WAN) which covered the exercise area, including ships at sea. This used satellite links as well as radio, landlines and Local Area Networks (LANs). Australian networks and US were joined using routers. Encryption was used to protect and separate classified and unclassified traffic.

Lotus Notes and Internet e-mail were used, in addition to military messaging. MS-Power Point was used for briefings aboard Blue Ridge. The web was used for routine administrative information as well as some C3I information.

Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) hardware and software is used extensively on Blue Ridge. MS-Office is used for word processing, e-mail and preparing briefings in Power Point. Netscape Navigator Gold is used for web browsing and preparing web pages. Commercial video conferencing equipment and video projectors are used. Equipment is tied down using webbing straps, rack mounting and in some cases adhesive tape.

Internet technology worked well in practice for this military exercise. It was enthusiastically accepted by ADF personnel. It is used by U.S. Forces in our region. This suggests that consideration should be given to adopting Internet techniques for the ADF. There are three aspects of the Internet that might be looked at:

ACS Talk on Blue Ridge 1 April

After Exercise Tandem Thrust 97 the Blue Ridge visited Brisbane and then Sydney (on 31 March). I arranged a talk on board by Captain Julie Keesling USN, Fleet Information Systems Officer (who was newly promoted from Commander on 1 April).

James Riley from The Australian newspaper came along and wrote ``Web Warriors take Net advantage'' for page 51 of the Tuesday 8 April 1997 edition.

Discussion Questions

  1. Compare the design of the web version of this document and the original (Worthington 1997). Which changes are due to development of web standards and which to increased experience of the web designer?
  2. Trace the development of US policy on Internet use.
  3. What can you find out from open source (that is on-line) information about the places and people mentioned in this travelogue?
  4. Are any of the documents cited still on-line?


  1. Worthington, T. (1997) To USS Blue Ridge by Helicopter, URL

  2. Worthington, T. (1997) Internet for C3I at Exercise Tandem Thrust 97, URL


Further Information

Copyright © Tom Worthington 1999.