How the “brain of the ship” thinks – the Ops Room demystified

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Lifestyle - Life at Sea / December 24, 2019

By Captain Jenn Jackson

Located two decks below the bridge of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Ottawa is a room with restricted access cloaked in mystery. 

It’s called the Operations Room, and it never sleeps.

Working at its stations are dedicated sailors who maintain a 24/7 watch at sea ensuring the ship is ready to fight.

“When you think of a ship, the Bridge is the eyes, the Machinery Control Room is the heart and the Operations Room is the brain,” explains Lieutenant Commander Will Chong, HMCS Ottawa’s Operations Officer.

“All data from our sensors and communications flows to the Operations Room where it is analysed so decisions can be made to determine the best course of action to support the current tactical situation.”

In the centre of the room is the Operations Room Officer (ORO) who has overall responsibility for running the Ops Room. They work in parallel with the Officer of the Watch to maintain the operational tempo.

“You have a team around you that makes sure no information gets missed, and an Ops Room Supervisor that makes sure everyone is on the same page” says Lieutenant (Navy) (Lt(N)) Eric Dignard, Ottawa’s Tactics Officer and an ORO.

A Naval Combat Information Operator (NCI Op), the Ops Room Supervisor (ORS) acts as the bridge between the port, starboard and front rows to ensure the tactical picture is maintained and that the intent from the back row (the ORO and Warfare Directors) is communicated forward.

“As an ORS, you are in the middle of everything. You answer to the ORO (and no one else) to ensure that everyone is, for lack of a better term, on the same song sheet” explains Petty Officer Second Class Hugh O’Neill.

“Directors will operate with their respective sides to brief the ORO for the next course of action or plan.”  

Divided into two sides based on function, the starboard, or right side focuses on underwater warfare. The Under Water Warfare (UWW) Director maintains control of firing torpedoes and overseeing the Sonar Operators. The port, or left side belongs to the Above-Water Warfare (AWW) Director and includes fire control for the guns, Close-In Weapons System and Electronic Warfare.

Working at the port-side systems are Naval Electronic Sensor Operators who use their equipment to keep eyes on the sky and water surface surrounding the ship. The front row NCI Ops build and maintain the common operating picture to ensure that the information on the screens monitored by the ORO, Directors, Bridge, and ultimately the Commanding Officer accurately reflect the often quickly evolving situation.

The final piece of the Ops Room is the Information Management Director who operates outside of tactical operations and maintains the flow of information on and off the ship. This role is even more crucial when the ship is working in a task group and several ships work together, all requiring a steady information flow.

“The most challenging aspect of being an ORO is balancing the current tactical picture, while managing the program, scheduling future legs of the deployment, producing external reports and progressing departmental administration,” says Lt(N) Dignard.

These challenges are similarly echoed by the ORS.

“You have to be calm, controlled and self-disciplined during stressful scenarios and ensure the information is flowing in an orderly fashion,” adds PO2 O’Neill.

One aspect of the Ops Room that is apparent to any who have the opportunity to observe it is the level of teamwork involved, and the mentorship conducted which contributes to professional development. This exists outside of the Ops Room as well.

“As an ORO in Ottawa, I have been lucky enough to have had countless command development opportunities, from having control for multiple Replenishments-at-Sea, along sides and departures of foreign ports, and having control overnight while chasing vessels of interest,” explains Lt(N) Dignard.

“But really, my favorite thing about being an ORO is being part of Ottawa’s Starboard Watch Operations Team. We have been together since the start of the pre-deployment Tiered Readiness Program, and we have made it through Op NEON and PROJECTION together.”

HMCS Ottawa will return from a deployment to the Asia-Pacific region on Operation PROJECTION on 18 December, 2019.

The ship and its crew have been conducting forward naval presence operations in the region as well as conducting cooperative deployments and participating in international naval exercises with partner nations since August 6, 2019.

During their deployment they also supported Operation NEON, Canada’s contribution to a coordinated multinational effort to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed against North Korea.