NTSB Report on USS John S McCain/Alnic MC Collision

Lightly redacted report.

Press release.

Two general factors were already known: 1) unintentional transfer of steering control from helm to lee helm causing the helmsman to think steering control was lost: and 2) unbalanced control of port v. starboard engine because, unknowingly, only one was being controlled.

The report partially blames user unfriendliness of the touchscreen interface of the Integrated Bridge and Navigation System (IBNS).

In response, the Navy is going old school and retrofitting  physical throttle controls. That linked USNI article is a bit confusing. Its photo “IBNS helm controls on USS Dewey (DDG-105)” appears to have mechanical levers:

as does the old school “Seaman Joseph Brown mans an older verison of helm controls on the bridge of USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) on July 25, 2019”:

But a drawing shows the IBNS without:


4 thoughts on “NTSB Report on USS John S McCain/Alnic MC Collision”

  1. ctlaw:
    Its photo “IBNS helm controls on USS Dewey (DDG-105)” appears to have mechanical levers. … But a drawing shows the IBNS without.

    The configuration of the console in the first photo is incompatible with that in the drawing.  Note that the “Emergency Override to Manual” big red button is to the left of the wheel in the photo, while in the drawing of the IBNS console from the McCain, it is on the sloped panel directly above the wheel.  Also, no keyboards appear in the photo, where you’d expect to see them from the drawing.  And the angle of the manual wheel is different.


  2. Some months ago I watched this 1941 Royal Navy training film, “The Duties of the Helmsman”:

    I had no idea how subtle it was.  Also, note that the helmsman was not on the bridge.  I suppose all of the flatscreen automation is intended to simplify the interactions with wind, currents, and the relationship of track and course, and steering by differential revolutions on the screws.  And, doubtless, like airliner flight management systems, they’ve piled it up with opaque “modes” so nobody is sure of the relationship between input and what really happens.

    Here is how the Russkies do it.  This is the backup helm station.  The three big levers are the throttles for the three electric propulsion motors: two turn in one direction and one in the opposite direction.  This is all “sail by wire”: the physical throttle controls are inputs to the control system.

    Russian icebreaker backup helm station

  3. All of this electronic wizardry is unadulterated manure.

    The conning officer drives the ship.  He does this with his voice.  The conning officer is responsible for directing every action of the helm and lee helm.  He gives orders with his voice, and he receives reports with his ears.  He verifies reports with eyes on instruments and of primary importance, eyes on the horizon, forward, port, starboard, and if you lean out and crane your neck — aft.  He also verifies reports by the sway of his testicles as the ship comes about.

    The helmsman has exactly one control — a wheel.  He has several instruments which guide him to carry out his orders.

    The lee helmsman has (typically) exactly two controls — a throttle lever for each engine.  He also has instruments which guide him to accomplish the orders of the conning officer.

    Both of these men are listening for crisp, clear, standard orders, and either or both will balk like suddenly sentient chickens at a Tyson’s when the conning officer confuses them.  “Orders to the helm!” the helmsman will demand of his officer.

    The controls available to the helmsman and lee helmsman are sturdy and are the very things the watchstanders may hold on to for dear life when the manure crashes over the bow.  The conning officer, meanwhile, will clutch like a crab on a wave-dashed rock to his pelorus, a famously sturdy pillar of steel with an electro-mechanical gyroscope repeater in it.  Suddenly, the man develops tentacles and suckers in his fondness for holding onto his beloved pelorus, no matter how he cursed it as it anchored him to the centerline, and the unused binoculars slung about his neck, weighing him down.

    Orders are hollered as are reports, and both orders and reports must be acknowledged.  If not acknowledged they are repeated, sometimes with wit, and sometimes with brimstone.

    The hollered orders are delivered in standard terminology *every time* and are heard by the Officer of the Deck, the Captain or the Executive Officer if he is on the bridge, by the navigation team, by the Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch (who is responsible for the conduct of all enlisted bridge watchstanders), and during special situations, by the damage control phone talker, by the CIC phone talker, and the actual navigator.

    Every merchant mariner wrinkles his nose at the tools and procedures on the bridge of a US Navy warship.  They may not be lubbers, but they know nothing of fighting a ship as a weapon system, with the intent to get into trouble and then defeat trouble.  Many of those who now design systems and procedures for the US Navy are also unaware of anything at all related to combat at sea.  And it shows.

  4. No two ships are alike.  There is no such thing as a set of blueprints for a class of ships.  Every ship has a complete set of blueprints, because — no two ships are alike.

    The feeping creaturism has been wrestled to a stalemate in the high-tech fields of endeavor, through Herculean effort and sweeping — at times downright rude — direction from on high, what with the need for connectivity of bespoke systems.


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