Center for Strategic Communication

Britain’s Royal Navy has built one of the world’s most advanced ship simulators, designed to prepare trainee naval officers for navigating through tricky waters before they even leave the shore.

The bridge simulator is located at the Brittania Royal Naval College in Dartmouth and has been recently upgraded with photorealistic simulations of harbors such as Portsmouth and Plymouth. Marine IT specialists Transas, who completed the simulator upgrade, spent five days photographing Portsmouth harbor at different times of day.

The result is 630 megabytes of realistic buildings whose signs have readable letters and whose lights reflect off the waters, accurate depictions of different light and weather conditions and, for the trainees, an eerie sense that the simulator isn’t on dry land.

“You’re absorbed by what is going on,” said Lt. Simon Preece, who works on the navigational staff at the college. “You forget that you’re not in Plymouth or Portsmouth”

The false bridge may not be on a ship, but otherwise it’s entirely complete. About the only difference between the simulator and an actual ship is the view: Where an actual warship has windows to the outside world, the simulator features 180 degrees of display screens.

The bridge is so realistic that it can simulate heavy seas and winds over the bow, though it works best at winds below Force 7. “Some people have even asked if it’s on hydraulics,” said Lt. Sam Stephens, head of navigation at Dartmouth. “It’s not. It simply tricks the mind.”

Officers will spend about 30 hours on the simulator during their initial training. In addition, bridge teams throughout the Royal Navy will use the simulator to practice navigating through tricky harbors.

“You can run through any scenario on here that you wouldn’t want to try for real,” said Lt. Stephens. “It’s a safe environment – as well as everyday maneuvers, such as replenishing at sea, navigating in fog or poor weather conditions.”

Photo: Royal Navy