With the help of NCR Corp., the Navy is busy upgrading and expanding its armada of shipboard automated teller machines.
Under its $49 million contract, NCR is placing new machines to support payroll functions on 144 aircraft carriers, destroyers, and other ships on active duty. NCR is also making the machines year-2000 compliant.
In the fourth quarter of this year, the Dayton, Ohio, ATM distributor plans to expand its floating network by equipping frigates, a smaller class of ship, with cash dispensers.
The ATMs have been a hit on aircraft carriers, NCR said. Each bears 5,000 sailors, who generate 12,000 transactions a month. (According to the Navy, the same people also consume 1,000 pounds of hamburger, 350 gallons of milk, and 600 loaves of bread a day).
The sailors can use their money to buy items on board-from soap to compact discs-or to deposit in accounts that dependents at home can use.
The Navy's ATM initiative is part of a longer-term effort to eliminate paper processing. The machines are also a convenience for people stationed far from home, said Aaron Morrison, the Navy's assistant deputy commander for supply systems, who is based in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
Satellite technology enables sailors to connect with their hometown banks, Mr. Morrison said. "The little things that you and I would take for granted are what make a difference there," he added.
In a twist on the usual turn of phrase, Sallie Robinson, director of ATMs-at-Sea at NCR, said her company is trying to help the Navy achieve its "vision of a cashless ship," which could eventually include smart card technology.
NCR installed its first cash machines for the Navy 10 years ago on the aircraft carriers Theodore Roosevelt and Constellation. But those machines lacked connections to sailors' U.S. bank accounts; instead, they drew money from special Navy accounts.
In 1997, NCR installed satellite hook-ups to the Armed Forces Financial Network and the commercial banking system. NCR now plans to install $21 million of further hardware, software, and services by August. This includes upgradings and bringing more ships on-line.
The Navy has an option to order another $28 million of equipment for frigates in the federal fiscal year that begins next Oct. 1.
The ATM program is viewed less as a cost-cutting initiative than as "a quality of life improvement" for sailors, Mr. Morrison said.
"The last thing we want them to worry about is if their families back home have access to money," he said. "We want to make sure sailors are able to focus on the task at hand."