Virtual Warfare: U.S. Navy Tests Technologies in 3D Aboard the USS Dahlgren

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May 8, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: May 8 on

Late last August, just 50 miles south of Washington, D.C., a series of explosions rocked the normally placid Potomac River. The blasts came from artillery belonging to the USS Dahlgren, which was testing a new targeting system. Using a drone to observe its marks, the targeting system automatically recalculated its aim and retrained the Dahlgren’s gunners. The following volley hit, clearly demonstrating the value of the targeting system. But perhaps more impressive was the USS Dahlgren itself, which, despite its name, isn’t a ship.

Late last August, just 50 miles south of Washington, D.C., a series of explosions rocked the normally placid Potomac River. The blasts came from artillery belonging to the USS Dahlgren, which was testing a new targeting system. Using a drone to observe its marks, the targeting system automatically recalculated its aim and retrained the Dahlgren’s gunners. The following volley hit, clearly demonstrating the value of the targeting system. But perhaps more impressive was the USS Dahlgren itself, which, despite its name, isn’t a ship.

The Navy sometimes refers to the USS Dahlgren as a “virtual ship,” but it would more accurately be described as a cybernetic laboratory, a network of hardware and software distributed across Naval Warfare Centers from Rhode Island to Florida that can mimic the capabilities of a real vessel. Vehicles, weapons, computers, test ranges, crews—the USS Dahlgren has access to all of these assets and more, on-site at its headquarters at the  Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) in Dahlgren, Virginia; on loan from other Warfare Centers; or online by way of networking or simulation. The USS Dahlgren is thus able to experiment with new weapons, sensors, control systems and other equipment in an environment that resembles the conditions aboard a battleship but without running the full costs or risks of testing at sea.

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