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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Naval Ship of the Past Is Retooled to Sail Into the Future

Military: The public is invited to tour the high-tech Coronado at Port Hueneme base today. The floating 'Battle Lab' offers an array of gadgets.

April 24, 2001|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORT HUENEME — The Coronado is a product of the Navy's past, a Vietnam War-era mammoth of steel.

But it's also the ship of the future--or in Navy parlance, a Sea-Based Battle Lab, where new ideas and up-to-the-minute technology are tested to see if they live up to the reality of life at sea.

On one deck is the so-called Disney Room, where the art of war meets the gloss of a communications company. Next door, in the Medical Center, is a flat-screen computer able to translate 47 languages. And in the Crisis Action Center is the Knowledge Wall, where Navy brass can view a computer screen that displays breaking information.

On Monday, about 150 Ventura County politicians, businesspeople and residents toured the ship, heading from San Pedro to dock at the Port Hueneme naval base.

Public tours are available today from noon to 4 p.m. at Wharf 3. Enter through the Pleasant Valley Road gate at Naval Base Ventura County's Port Hueneme location.

Even the commander of the ship, who doesn't operate the high-tech equipment himself, marvels at the ship's range of networking gadgets.

"There are a lot of different toys to play with," Capt. Wade Tallman said. "I can't keep up with all of it."

The San Diego-based Coronado, home to about 700 sailors when at sea, was built during the Vietnam War era as an amphibious assault ship, but has been reborn as a command vessel with space for officers from all four branches of the military. It is the "eyes and ears" of the command, a place where officers can talk to each other from wherever they may be, and also see what's happening onshore.

Last summer, the secretary of the Navy deemed the ship a lab--and it has become so high-tech that it earned the nickname "the Death Star" by some Marine visitors.

In the Joint Operations Center, Cmdr. Ellen Jewett touches a large wall-size computer screen and draws with her fingertip the trail that the Coronado will take to port. She can even track an onshore Navy firefighter as he moves through a building, receiving a signal from a pack he wears.

"We could zoom in to your backyard to tell you how many lawn chairs you have," said Journalist 1st Class Palmer Pinckney, who led a tour of the ship.

Companies offer their new equipment to the Navy to be tested with the hope of striking a purchase agreement for its fleet. In many ways, parts of the Coronado could pass for a high-tech office in Silicon Valley.

Leave the hallways of speckled floors, rumbling engines and heavy doors that close tight to an ankle-knocking seal, and enter the Disney Room. Here, you'll find blond wood, small halogen lamps and quiet air-conditioning. For many visitors, it is an introduction to a Navy they knew little about.

"The control room was interesting, with the TVs, the computers, everything that monitored the ship," said David Perlmutter, a 12-year-old Port Hueneme resident who won his trip as part of an essay contest. "It's so cool."

For Paula Nelson, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, it was a chance to learn about a career opportunity for some of her students, and a little bit of a fantasy trip.

"It's like spending the day in a Tom Clancy novel," she said.

FYI

The ship is available for public tours today from noon to 4 p.m. at Wharf 3. Enter through the Pleasant Valley Road gate at Naval Base Ventura County's Port Hueneme location. Call the public affairs office at 228-6150 for information.

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