Thursday, January 20

Honor, Courage and Loyalty … and Artificial Intelligence in the Navy of the Future

Times change, and teaching adapts, but in the military career the inculcation of values ​​such as honor, courage, discipline and loyalty remain non-negotiable. In the Marín Naval Military School (Pontevedra), where the future officers of the Spain navy, these slogans hang everywhere. And they shine with very large and visible letters in the sports hall, in which the midshipmen exercise daily, and where the ceremonies are moved when the weather is not good. All this, so that the students “assimilate it as something natural,” explains to ABC the commander director of the School, Pedro Cardona Suances. These values ​​are inalienable, and the ultimate objective of the

education of the midshipmen also: «We have the same challenge as centuries ago, train good officers capable of defending Spain and its citizens, in and from the sea, “adds Cardona. But the Navy does not live on traditional values ​​alone. Technology evolves rapidly and artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly important, both in the military field and in teaching. Schools strive to seek scientific-technical excellence for their students.

In the Naval Military School of Marín they have it clear, but also in the Antonio de Escaño de Ferrol School of Specialties (La Coruña). If in the first, as has been said, the future officers of the Spanish Navy study, in the second enter the students who want to access the scale of non-commissioned officers, sailors and troops of the General Body of the Navy. But not only, well Ferrol is also the main specialty academy, the ‘masters’ of the Navy in civil terms. And the Seat is important to the point that, according to its commanding officer, Captain Manuel Aguirre González, explains to this newspaper, 75 percent of the Navy’s professionals spend at some point in their careers in Ferrolan classrooms. As of today, there are 960 young people studying at the Seat. Like Juan Pedro, a 28-year-old young man from Seville, passionate about scuba diving, who is already studying his second specialty. Throughout the year they end up passing through its facilities about 3,000 or 3,500 students to specialize in different areas. It is the largest in Spain. If from Marín, in addition to the military title, the midshipmen leave with an official university degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Vigo, from Ferrol they do so with degrees from the Xunta or the University of La Coruña.

Values ​​are essential at the Marín School, where only 11 percent of the students are women
Values ​​are essential at the Marín School, where only 11 percent of the students are women – MIGUEL MUÑIZ

State of the art technology

As in Marín, in the Escaño they neither renounce the traditional values ​​of military teaching nor rest on their laurels in the technical field. On the contrary, the Ferrol facilities are, surely, the most technologically advanced of all the schools of the Spanish Navy. Walking around their classrooms is like walking around the deck or the engine room of a ship. Simulators play a fundamental role in the training of NCOs and sailors, “so that the transition -to real ships- is as smooth as possible,” explains Captain Aguirre González. In one of the classrooms, for example, this week about twenty students virtually managed from their computers a platform control system identical to the one mounted on the Juan Carlos I de la Armada ship. Designed by Navantia, this Integrated Platform Control System (SICP) allows the supervision of all the ship’s equipment -except for the combat system- and is “the most developed in the world”.

The simulation classrooms extend to other life-on-board specialties, such as probe equipment, and combat systems. But the simulation is not only virtual: in many cases the machinery is also touched. In another of the workshops a dozen students manipulated and studied missiles real combat, identical to those used by the Navy. The classrooms and workshops of the Escaño were brimming with vitality. “This is always the case, it is not a ‘performance’ to show off today,” one of the teachers clarifies with amusement before ABC’s visit to the facilities. Where there were no practices at that time was in the pavilions destined to the training of students in the technique and tactics to put out fires on the ship. They train with live fire and risk situations that they could find on board.

The students of the Marín School get up at 5.45 am, spend the day between classes and boat trips and go to bed at 10.40 pm

There is also no truce in the day-to-day life of the nearly half a thousand future officers who are trained at the Marín facilities. Their marathon days begin with the touch of the bullseye at 5.45 am. Shower, room arrangement and breakfast. After a couple of hours for a first session of study and morning gymnastics, at 9:25 a.m. they review in the courtyard: neatness in grooming and uniform also remain non-negotiable. Then the classes last until lunchtime. The most practical activities, including boat trips, are condensed in the afternoons. At 7 pm, compulsory study until dinner time. And at 10:40 p.m., a touch of silence and to sleep.

Values ​​are essential at the Marín School.  In the picture, an aspirant prepares for the ma
Values ​​are essential at the Marín School. In the image, an aspirant prepares in the morning – MIGUEL MUÑIZ

A demanding time and training gear, but one that future officers are not afraid to face. Pedro’s dream, a 19-year-old from Madrid, had always been to be a midshipman, to feel the “pride” of being part of the Spanish Navy. But entering the Marín Naval Military School is not an easy task. In addition to will and vocation, talent is needed, because they only open their doors to the best. It is required to enter a high qualification in Selectivity, which is not available to anyone. And older people must pass a series of physical and psychotechnical tests. Pedro gathered all these merits. Although he still has five years of training in the Pontevedra facilities to fulfill his dream, in some way he already feels he is a participant – he explains to ABC – in a «centuries-old tradition». In short, “which is part of the History of Spain.”

“The Pontevedra estuary is the best of our classrooms”, explains the director of the Marín Naval Military School

The centennial tradition is indisputable. The origins of the Naval Military School must be sought at the beginning of 1717 in Cádiz. Since then, and with different names and formats, the academy of officers of the Navy passed through San Fernando and Cartagena. Its current location, in Marín, next to the city of Pontevedra, dates from 1943. And there seems to be no intention of moving it from there. «The Pontevedra estuary is the best of our classrooms», explains the director of the School. “The environment of the estuary is ideal to start sailing, it ensures conditions suitable for practicing at sea almost every day of the year,” adds the head of the center.

Selective education

Today’s Spain has little to do, and also the Navy, with which the first officers from Marín were born almost eighty years ago. The end of the mandatory military service and the professionalization of the armies two decades ago marked a turning point in the military career. And, according to the professors of the School of Officers of Marín, such as the Seat of Ferrol, the change was frankly positive. Times change, teaching adapts, and his students have little to do with those of other times. However, the commanding officer of the Marín School rejects that hackneyed claim that today’s youth are more indolents and allergic to the order than those of yesteryear. “I think it is a very unfair generalization, and I say it knowingly,” says Cardona. “It is true that adaptation to military discipline is and has always been a process in which time and effort must be invested, but it is not very different today from that of a few years ago,” he adds.

The youth of today will not be any more ungovernable, but they certainly have little to do with those of yesteryear. And the teaching adapts. The essentially master classes lose weight, and the new technologies gain space. Nothing different, on the other hand, to what happens in the civil world in institutes and universities. In a small room in the Seat, a teacher and his team finalize a space equipped with a camera, computers and a chroma – a virtual background like the ones used by weather reporters on TV – so that the teachers can use it for their classes. . Both to record them and that students can have them at any time, as well as to impart them from there live to students who are in other classrooms -or at home, if it is due to force majeure-. They are tools that were launched out of necessity during the pandemic, but they are here to stay. These teaching innovations are very well received by students, who are familiar with this type of audiovisual language in their day-to-day life. “We learn techniques from the students and from our own children,” the teachers explain to ABC.

There is another area in which the Navy schools have changed, indisputably for the better. Now “the woman in the army is no longer a novelty.” This is confirmed to this newspaper by Marina, a 19-year-old young woman from Madrid who is preparing at the Marín facilities to be an officer in the Navy. In his case, the greyhound comes from caste, and not only because of his first name: «My illusion to be a midshipman was born out of family tradition. I come from a family of sailors, and since I was little I have perceived values ​​at home that I liked ». She assures that in her group of friends no one is surprised that she has chosen a military career. The case of Nuria, a 30-year-old student from Malpica (La Coruña) who specializes in the Seat in the areas of mechanics and electricity, is somewhat different. Her appreciation for the military does not come from her cradle, but she has had that vocation since she was little. And in his personal and family environment, he was surprised at first for looking for his future in the Navy. “It is not something usual,” he tells this newspaper. They soon got used to it. And she agrees with Marina in appreciating the good relationship and welcome that her fellow male midshipmen gave them.

Work to do

In military schools, students like Marina or Nuria are no longer an exception, but they are still in a clear minority. They hardly represent a 11 percent of the total at the Marin Officer School. “We are not satisfied with this percentage and we are working to better explain to women what the Navy is and the opportunities they have here, and thus increase these numbers”, explains the director of the center, in a remarkable exercise of self-criticism of the institution. In Ferrol, the female presence is higher, around 20 percent. Although it can be improved, the percentage is on the rise. In Marín, the first woman entered in 1990. At that time, the infrastructures and the city hall were not prepared. Now, the situation is quite different: «We are integrated like the rest of the men. We do the same and serve the same purpose, ”adds María.

In the Spanish military naval schools there are more women than ever, and science and artificial intelligence have more and more weight. However, the classic values ​​of the Navy remain essential. The modernization of training would be of little use of the midshipmen and so much technological advance in ships, if on board there is no discipline, honor, courage and loyalty.

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