Virtually managing a ship

Virtual reality took shape for the first time in an extraordinary prototype with a suggestive name: Sensorama.

Leonardo   15 February 2017

Virtual reality took shape for the first time in an extraordinary prototype with a suggestive name: Sensorama. Invented in 1957 by Morton Heilig for cinema, the Sensorama is a fascinating machine that can replicate 3D stereo images, vibrations, wind, tactile movement sensations, and even smells, for the stimulation of the olfactory system. Sixty years have passed from the first virtual reality experiments and this technology is now becoming part of our lives, especially at the workplace, with immersive three-dimensional environments that can be explored from the inside and where we can interact.

Virtual reality applications keep increasing, particularly in the healthcare field, from 3D diagnostic imaging to simulations of complex operations, but also in the creative and entertainment industries, such as in the design of buildings and games, as well as in manufacturing, maintenance services and personnel training.

The manufacturing industry is one of the largest users of virtual reality techniques, especially companies that are constantly investing in new technologies and aim at creating innovative solutions to design systems, aircraft and radars. Using these technologies, engineers can create virtual prototypes and detect potential errors at the design phase, applying modifications and corrections before starting production, the upshot being significant cost savings. Virtual reality is equally effective during the maintenance phase, reducing the need for service and allowing for the rapid resolution of any conflicts or failures.




HOPLITE (Highly OPerational Laboratory for Integration Testing and Evaluation) is a multirole vessel control deck made up of virtual reality systems and new generation sensors within which one can move and experiment, an innovative "integrated vessel test-bed" prototype made by Leonardo that combines physical and virtual features. A demonstrator simulates the integrated management of ship-board operations with a vessel’s combat system by means of an integrated virtual cockpit for the complete management of the naval unit, as well as the physical and functional integration of radar, EO and communication sensors and interaction with the superstructure.

By wearing a viewer with gyroscopic sensors inside the HOPLITE control room and with the aid of augmented reality technologies, one can observe the operation of the new fixed-face, dual-band, multifunctional radars, identification friend or foe sensors, infrared sensors for target acquisition and tracking, and advanced integrated radio and satellite communication systems.


HOPLITE features the new Combat Management System, the ship command and control centre, whose modular architecture is reconfigurable depending on mission type.

HOPLITE replicates part of the superstructure (Integrated Mast) of the new PPA (Multipurpose Offshore Patrol) naval unit of the Italian Navy. Leonardo is in fact responsible for the entire combat system as well as the supply and integration of all the systems on board the new units that will renew the national fleet. The new and innovative PPA vessels monitor and control maritime areas of national interest, oversee maritime and economic activities, contribute to the protection of the marine environment and support rescue operations for populations affected by natural disasters.

As for maintenance and operational training, MORPHEUS is an immersive virtual environment where operators and maintainers can practice with faithfully replicated virtual equipment, the same as in a real environment.

HOPLITE was created by Leonardo's Land & Naval Defence Electronics Division at the Naval Integration Centre of Arco Felice (Naples). The metal structure that contains all the systems that make up the naval cockpit can be completely disassembled and is overlaid with panels made of composite material. Creating the virtual prototype made it possible to carry out all the ergonomic validations and the correct positioning of the sensors, before implementing definitive choices for the realisation of the naval systems.



Leonardo has been an industry leader for over 50 years, installing systems on vessels belonging to over 40 world navies. As a major global player, it provides leading complete solutions for the management of naval missions that integrate multiple types of sensors including radar; electronic and weapon systems; and helicopters and aircraft,  (including remotely piloted ones). Leonardo's products meet all the requirements adaptable to constantly evolving mission scenarios, for any type of vessel, class and tonnage, from small patrol boats to minesweepers and large aircraft carriers.


>> PPA (Multipurpose Offshore Patrol)

For the PPAs, Leonardo, responsible for the ship’s complete Combat System, supplies the next generation, open architecture, modular and reconfigurable Combat Management System. The bridge is provided with an innovative integrated system cockpit created alongside Fincantieri, which for the first time will allow the integrated management of both vessel navigation and combat system operations, with a reduced number of operators, thanks to the use of augmented reality technologies. The new systems provided by Leonardo include the new multi-sensor fire control radar dual band (X and Ka) NA30S MK2 that allows the DART ammunition to be guided, the KRONOS dual band  3D multifunction Active Electronically Scanned Array radar with four fixed face C and X bands, the air and surface surveillance  radar LPI SPS732, the next generation IFF sensors (Identification Friend or Foe) with circular antenna and the innovative static IRST (InfraRed Search and Track), an infrared sensor for seeking out and tracking targets, based on multiple non-rotating optical heads, distributed over the four sides of the vessel to ensure a seamless 360 degree view.

The PPAs will also be equipped with integrated communication systems which, along with the multi-band satellite systems, also include the new Software Defined Radios. Still for the offshore multipurpose patrol ships, Leonardo will provide the 127/64 LW gun, the most advanced globally in the sector of high-calibre naval guns, thanks to the combination of four elements – the gun assembly, the Automated Ammunition Handling System (AAHS), the Naval Fire Control Support (NFCS) planning system and Vulcano ammunition. The latter is a sub-calibre ammunition, developed in two main variants: guided (GLR) with longer range (100 km) for anti-ship operations or precision shooting against land targets, and non-guided, equipped with a multi-function fuse and that can reach 60 km. In the field of medium calibre weapons, the new “Sovraponte” version of the 76/62 gun will be installed on the PPAs which, in its typical multipurpose function, can be used against airborne, maritime, land and asymmetric targets.

The "Sovraponte" (over deck) version will be equipped with the Strales kit for the use of DART (Driven Ammunition Reduced Time Of Flight) guided ammunition. In the field of small calibre weapons, 25 mm remotely controlled towers will be installed which can be used for the close protection of larger units or, when installed on smaller units, for use in the interdiction of maritime traffic and the fight against smuggling operations. The remote control ODLS 20 launcher (OTO Decoy Launching System) will be installed on the “full” configuration PPAs, whose main role is to provide the vessel with passive defence from radars and missiles equipped with IR seekers, but also ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) decoys. Leonardo will provide the patrol vessels with a torpedo launcher system, the Underwater Telephone, the Bathy Termograph Unit and the Diver Detection Sonar.

Finally, MBDA will provide the airborne defence system and/or the anti-ship system, depending on the configuration of the PPA. For example, the PPAs in the “light” configuration are fitted for possible installation of missiles systems for air and anti-ship defence.


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