Naval commanders of American forces in the Persian Gulf are using the latest informaton and graphics tools to gauge what is happening here in the Persian Gulf in terms of the movement of ships, planes and forces. VOA's Margaret Kennedy has details on this story from the US aircraft carrier, Constellation.

This is the War Room on the USS Constellation, where command decisions are made for movement of American ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Here computers and new visual technologies give American military commanders the ability to see their own and opposing forces in action in almost real time. The technology supplies reliable information they need to make timely decisions about tactics. This kind of intelligence gathering makes the management of conflict different from the past because top commanders have a much better view of what is happening.

Lieutenant Commander Jay Cavalieri is in charge of the room's technical operations.

"The amount of information we're feeding up now is immense. So these guys are making these decisions based on really good information. I don't know how they did it back in World War Two when they just had this -- sporadic reports. I don't know how they made decisions back then."

Coordination that used to be done by many people talking simultaneously into radios and telephones is now done by computer chat.

"Everything is done via chat now. You'll notice it's very quiet. There's a lot of activity going on the chat rooms here. There's a hundred, two hundred people in these rooms all talking to one another. It's great for information."

While this war room uses secure military connections, the computers and applications that coordinate and display information are widely available.

"All the stuff that you see here you could buy at any computer store. Some of the systems that feed displays are government systems and they're a bit older. We can modify it. We can play with it. It's a regular standard Dell PC with a big video card in it. And back there, there are two computers that drive those video screens.

The Constellation itself is more than 40 years old. These greaseboards that were original equipment are still used to post handwritten information such as radio frequencies. There are times when the old methods come in especially handy.

"We use this, believe it or not, we use the old fashioned standard of ?let's move the ships around on a "puckboard"? for the sole reason of this: the "Gucci" machines sometimes trip off line. And if I lose that, sometimes I lose the entire database and it takes a good couple of hours to get some sort of display back. So I use this to sanity check and make sure I have a static picture that's roughly an hour old."

Nearby the movement of all ships in the Persian Gulf is monitored, not just the military traffic. Captain Mark Balmert coordinates the management of maritime traffic and escort operations for merchant ships.

"Primarily out here, we are working on the surface surveillance picture around the whole Gulf area. So not just our aircraft carrier, but all the ships that are out here. The idea is to be able to keep track of where all the good guys are, where the bad guys are, and all the unknowns in between."

In other nearby rooms, air controllers are managing planes taking off and returning to the Constellation. It's relatively easy to gather images from the Constellation itself, but it's the more far flung images that really make a difference.

From the aircraft carrier USS Constellation in the Persian Gulf, I'm Margaret Kennedy