A Sailor's Life: The future of the US Navy

NORFOLK, Va. (WLUC) - The traditions and power of the United States Navy are visible around the world every day.

On board the USS Harry S. Truman, it's easy to feel a huge sense of pride for 243 years of Navy history. But as the world evolves, Navy leaders say this branch of the military is, too.

This is the final part of TV6's Andrew LaCombe's series, A Sailor's Life.

Click here to watch part one: An introduction to the U.S. Navy
Click here to watch part two: Aviation Survival Training in the U.S. Navy
Click here to watch part three: Landing on the USS Truman
Click here to watch part four: Life on the USS Truman

On the USS Truman, I was surprised to see that the crew steering the ship is using pretty basic technology. If you went back a few decades, the scene would probably be quite similar.

Capt. Nicholas Dienna, the ship's commanding officer, faces the tall order of living up to the highest standards.

"The Navy is very traditional, and it's a wonderful thing and our traditions go back hundreds of years," said Capt. Dienna. "The world is evolving. The Navy is evolving with it."

That means making sure industrial-age practices don't hold the Navy back.

"So the speed of information is vital in combat operations," he said. "You can imagine the challenges at sea in order to integrate all of those capabilities, and our primary focus in the Navy right now at the high end of tactical capability is to ensure that our informational capabilities are up to the task."

The Navy is also moving into the next generation of combat aircraft with the Lockheed Martin F-35.

"We have systems within the aircraft that are going to make it much safer for pilots at night in bad weather to come aboard the ship, and that's when you're really earning your flight pay," said Tom Halley, the Lockheed Martin F-35C Navy Customer Engagement Representative.

At the Norfolk Naval Base, I had the chance to fly in an F-35 simulator. Lockheed Martin takes this to Navy and Air Force bases to let pilots try the joint strike fighter out.

"We try to show them the difference in fourth generation aircraft, the F-16, F-15, F-18, and what the new fifth gen aircraft will do," said Halley. "Compared to a Hornet or an F-16, there's not a lot of buttons and stuff. Everything you'll see is going to be on the touchscreen, the laser touchscreen."

America's most expensive weapons system has been one of the most challenged programs in the history of the Department of Defense.

"There's been a number of issues," said Halley. "The tail hook originally wasn't working, that's been fixed. No major issues right now."

In the meantime, the Navy's sailors are changing. The commanding officer of the USS Truman says over his 30 years of service, he's started to see the Navy give women more significant rolls."

"When I graduated from the Naval Academy, women were restricted in certain combat roles, and today men and women serve side-by-side in the Navy, completely unrestricted," said Dienna.

While a new Pentagon policy effectively bans transgender people from joining the U.S. military and serving in their preferred gender, the commanding officer says everyone is working toward a common goal.

"I can't think of a better line of work to be in when we can dispense with all the superficials and focus on the substance, and it's one of the things that's kept me in the Navy for as long as I've been in," said Dienna, a 30-year veteran.

Steering the way through sometimes rough waters, the U.S. Navy says its 320,000 active members are ready for whatever challenges are ahead.

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