Picture this: A naval vessel is navigating the high seas thousands of nautical miles from land. Suddenly all navigation systems become inoperable. What happens next? What does this mean?
The Navy looks to its past to chart its future. With today’s technology rapidly advancing, the Navy realized that many basic techniques are still relevant to safe operations at sea.
Celestial Navigation (CELNAV) is one skill that has not been formally taught to Navy officers, depending on one’s commissioning source, for more than 15 years. Officer Candidate School did not teach CELNAV, NROTC stopped teaching it in 2000 and the Naval Academy removed it in 2006.
Based on direction from the Chief of Naval Operations, CELNAV has been reinstated into the navigation curriculum and is a requirement in the Officer Professional Core Competencies Manual. This administrative change ensures the instruction will be an enduring requirement.
The Naval Academy resumed classroom instruction during the summer session of 2015. The class of 2017 will be the first in many years to graduate with a basic knowledge of CELNAV.
During their junior year, all second-class Midshipmen currently take Navigation 310: Advanced Navigation. This course has been adjusted to contain three hours of celestial familiarization, providing students basic principles and theories of CELNAV. It includes PowerPoint presentations along with homework and tests based on material from the 15th Edition of Dutton’s Nautical Navigation by Thomas J. Cutler.
“It is a core competency of a mariner,” said Director of Professional Development Cmdr. Adan Cruz. “If we can navigate using celestial navigation, then we can always safely get from point A to point B.”
Midshipmen also take two cyber classes during which they learn about the vulnerability of electronic navigation systems and how they can be affected by cyber threats. The classes include how information moves, jamming, the RF spectrum, and many other topics in cyber security.
“Teaching CELNAV is just one thing necessary to learn in order to get ready for the battlefield that’s already out there. Cyber affects all battlefields to include sea, land, air and space,” said Director of Center of Cyber Security Studies Capt. Paul J. Tortora.
Cyber threats aren’t the most likely reason electronic navigation systems might fail. System degradation, electrical failures, satellite malfunctions, there are any number of reasons GPS might be rendered unusable on board a ship.
Outside the classroom, the academy’s Varsity Offshore Sailing Team uses CELNAV for the “Marion to Bermuda” race. GPS is used until the sailboats are 50 miles offshore. Prior to the race, the team members used the planetarium in Luce Hall for exposure to what kinds of stars and constellations they would be able to shoot to celestially navigate.
“Everyone is reliant on technology, but celestial navigation is very self-sufficient. There’s not a more basic way than to use the sails and the stars,” said Midshipman 1st Class Jared Valeske, skipper and tactician for the summer 2015 race.
Midshipmen are also exposed to CELNAV during summer training cruises on USNA’s Yard Patrol Craft and Offshore Sailing Training Squadron sailboats. By the end of the summer, the nearly 600 Midshipmen who participate in these two programs have a practical understanding of the benefits of CELNAV and what encompasses a day’s work in navigation.
The bottom line is that even with technological advances, the basics still apply.