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I could throttle you right about now: US Navy to ditch touchscreens after kit blamed for collision

Thousands of tons of metal and iPads don't mix, it would seem

The US Navy is ditching touchscreens and going back to physical throttles after an investigation into the USS John S McCain collision partly blamed poor design of control systems for the incident.

The first throttles will be fitted to DDG-51 class destroyers from next summer. Contracting for the new kit is already under way and the equipment is expected to come in a kit form and not require major maintenance. New ships will be built with physical throttles already in place.

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Sailors told the probe that they found touchscreen control systems overly complex.

The review is also pushing for more commonality between ships of the same class so that functions and information on screens appears in the same place and on the same menus.

The John S McCain helm included a physical wheel but also had two touchscreens to run other functions.

The McCain crashed into a chemical tanker in a shipping lane off Singapore in August 2017. The investigation found multiple causes but among them was confusion created when throttle and steering functions were split between two different consoles. Control of the port and starboard throttles was split between two helm stations so when a helmsman thought he was slowing both throttles in fact he was only slowing one causing a sharp turn into the tanker.

Another issue raised was ships' AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) receivers. These are currently based on laptops relying on a cable connection to other systems. Sailors complained that the laptops were often stuck behind other equipment and hard to access.

As part of wider helm design changes, this should be addressed too. ®

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