Here, again, is my hand-drawn sketch of the floor plan of the layout of the Combat Information Center (CIC) of the USS Cumberland. While the general layout is similar, the precise placement of the consoles is slightly different in the first two books until the period between the two trips to the Great Inner Gap (I’m being deliberately vague to avoid a spoiler). As mentioned in the second book, the placement of some of the consoles is shuffled around at that time to the logical arrangement you see here.
Before discussing what the abbreviations on the chart mean and the functions of each console, there are a few points I want to make generally. First, with the exception of the Maneuvering Chief and the three men at the maneuvering stations, every man at every console is seated facing the Skipper and the Executive Officer on the Command Island in the center of the compartment. The floor is raised and lowered at various places and the consoles are set at a height such that, in conjunction with the elevated position of the Command Island, the commander has a direct view of the face of every person at every station (with the above-noted exceptions). He can watch each man to see if he is functioning, how he is reacting to what is going on at his console, and whether he understands an order. One of the things I found unrealistic about the Bridge on Star Trek was how the officers were seated with their backs to the Captain and had to look away from their consoles to talk to him.
Second, the consoles are organized so that officers who perform related functions are located near each other. The men who will need to work together are placed close to each other, if not side by side. Third, the officers with whom the skipper will need to communicate most urgently and most often in combat are grouped to the skipper’s front, on his right, the direction to which most people would turn most naturally in a high pressure situation. Fourth, as I make clear in the Book I, CIC is not like the Enterprise‘s bridge on Star Trek in that it is not perched in a vulnerable position “on top” of the ship. It is near the ship’s center, protected by its own heavy blast bulkheads, made as impervious to attack as possible. I thought that this was the only logical place to put a warship’s command center.
Now for the hard core geeky (or, perhaps, I should say “enthusiastic, detail-oriented fan”) stuff. It’s easy to see that the compartment is divided into seven main areas, each containing officer or crew stations devoted to related functions. Each area has an official name and, in good Union Space Navy Fashion, a nickname–often a disparaging one. Let’s take them one by one.
The Command Island (“The Throne”)
Located in the geometric center of CIC is a raised dais known as The Command Island, containing the stations for the Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer, as well as an auxiliary station for visiting officers formally known as the Secondary Senior Officer’s Console but generally referred to as the “Commodore’s Station.” The Commanding Officer’s station is located in the center of the Command Island.
CO: The CO is provided with a comfortably padded seat that swivels 360 degrees and a multi-function, configurable console that allows the skipper to call up any display available on any console in the ship and to communicate directly with any station anywhere in the vessel. He also has high-priority computer access and a panel that allows him direct text, audio, and visual comms with other vessels, surface installations, and other senders.
XO: The Executive Officer’s station, located directly to the right of the Commander’s is identical in every respect, except that the seat cushion’s of the CO’s chair are dyed Navy Blue while those of the XO are dyed Gold.
CR: The Commodore’s Station is to the CO’s left. That console is about half the size of the CO’s, and is oriented mainly to allow computer and comms access as well as viewing of the most important tactical displays. The most frequent use of this station is by a visiting officer senior to the Commander or a VIP. On the Cumberland, however, the Commodore’s Station is the frequent perch of Dr. Ibrahim Sahin, the ship’s Chief Medical Officer.
Directly in front of these stations are three three-dimensional tactical displays. These project the positions of ships and other objects in the space surrounding the ship in a column of light. These displays are placed so that they are visible to relevant personnel. There is also a portable acrylic panel on which the locations of targets can be plotted manually using markers in the event that the tactical projectors become inoperable in battle.
Combat Situational Stations (“The Trench”)
In combat or in another crisis, the CO needs most urgently to know where the enemy is, what he is doing, what he is capable of doing or most likely to do, and what he or friendly vessels are communicating. Accordingly, the stations devoted to those functions, Sensors, Tactical, Intelligence, and Communications, are located together, in front of the CO and to his right. The deck where these officers and their consoles are located is 45 centimeters lower than the main deck level in CIC to enable the men manning the stations behind them to see over their heads. Accordingly, this area is known as “The Trench,” a name that may also be an homage to the section of the Mission Operations Control Room at NASA where the Flight Dynamics, Retrofire, and Guidance officers sat during the Jurassic Space epoch. Here’s a more detailed discussion of the four stations of The Trench.
Sensors (SENSO): The Sensors Officer is responsible for determining the location, course, speed, and identity of all sensor contacts. Once a contact is localized and identified, if it is an enemy vessel, primary responsibility for tracking it passes to the Tactical Officer. Sensors, however, retains secondary responsibility and is charged with providing such observations about the enemy vessel as can be gathered by analysis of sensor data, to the extent that they may be tactically useful. Sensors is aided by the largest Staff Support Room or “Back Room” in the ship, given the number and complexity of the ship’s sensors and the many ways that sensor data can be analyzed.
Tactical (TAC). The Tactical Officer is charged with tracking all enemy targets and with synthesizing sensor data as well as intelligence and his own sense of the situation to assess what the enemy is doing, what his objectives are, and what maneuvers and/or weapons he intends to use to attain his objective. In short, Tactical should know what the enemy just did, what the enemy is doing, and what the enemy is going to do. He is also responsible for estimating the damage inflicted upon the enemy by the ship’s weapons, as well as the combat capabilities of any friendly ships that are not communicating those capabilities to the Cumberland. Some people have a hard time differentiating between the functions of the Sensors and Tactical officers, since they are basically using the same sensors to obtain information about the same ship. At its simplest level, Sensors is the guy who says things like “I have a distant contact on mass sensors, bearing 115 mark 227, recommend that we change course to obtain a cross bearing,” while Tactical is who is going to say, “Hotel 2 has just brought his pulse cannon batteries to prefire and has armed his missiles.”
Intelligence (INTL). The Intelligence Officer is the expert on what the Union Space Navy knows about the combat capabilities, weapons systems, intentions, and practices of the enemy (and, sometimes, allies). He must be aware of the developing tactical situation and provide the commander with information from his storehouse of signals, human, optical surveillance, and other intelligence that helps the commander make effective decisions. He has access to a wide variety of sources and reports and, with the help of his Back Room, must often sift through large amounts of information from the computer database and from his own knowledge to give the skipper that one focused piece of the puzzle that lets him know what he needs to do next.
Communications (COMS). The functions of this Officer are virtually self-explanatory. The Communications officer transmits and receives messages to and from communications nodes outside the ship: other vessels, surface installations, Deep Space Stations, etc. He is also responsible for encrypting communications so that they are not read by the enemy and for decrypting coded messages intended for the ship so that they may be read in the clear. Decrypting enemy communications falls under the jurisdiction of Intelligence.