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Navy's two command ships manage operations a world apart

For the first time in recent history the Navy's two command ships, each packed with communications and computer gear, are engaged in active operations.

The USS Mount Whitney commands multinational forces in operations against Libya, which began March 19, while almost 7,000 miles away its sister ship, the USS Blue Ridge, directs U.S. 7th Fleet ships conducting relief operations in Japan.

Lt. Cmdr. Matt Galan, a 7th Fleet spokesman aboard the Blue Ridge, said simultaneous operational deployments of the two ships have not occurred in recent memory. "If it's happened, very rare," Galan said.

The Blue Ridge uses computer software developed in 2002 called the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System, or CENTRIXS. The system allows commanders to communicate with coalition partners in a way that secures classified information in cryptographically isolated enclaves to ensure that only certain types of information are shared with partners.

CENTRIXS supports email, secure chat rooms, browser-based data sharing and secure Voice over IP, using multiple military satellite systems installed aboard the two ships.Galan said the Blue Ridge uses CENTRIXS to communicate with the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

The computer system on the Mount Whitney was upgraded in 2009 using blade server technology, according to Lockheed Martin Corp., which deployed the latest version of its combat computer server suite to the ship that year.

The blades -- servers on a card -- are based on Intel Pentium processors, Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Lindsay Becker said. The version installed on the Mount Whitney consolidates seven standalone servers into a single rack, saving valuable shipboard space and power, the company said.

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon news briefing that once the bombing and missile campaign ends in Libya, unmanned Global Hawk aircraft will conduct a bomb damage assessment. An industry source said that yet another system aboard the Mount Whitney could access imagery captured by the Global Hawk. Global Broadcast Service equipment installed on the ship can downlink data from unmanned aircraft, according to the Navy's 2011 Program Guide

The Libya operation marked the first combat use of the Navy's newest electronic jamming aircraft, the EA-18G Growler. While the aircraft is new, its key jamming system is almost as old as the Mount Whitney, which launched in 1970.

The jamming pod carried by the Growler first saw service in Vietnam in 1972. It was carried on another Navy jamming aircraft, the EA-6B Prowler, when it saw combat action against Libya in 1986. The U.S. bombed Libya then in response to a terrorist attack against a Berlin discotheque.

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