Anteon International Corp., a government technology contractor in Fairfax, won a five-year U.S. Navy contract worth up to $15.5 million to determine how much damage on-board electronic systems can withstand while continuing to function.

Such testing is crucial because modern ships and submarines are maneuvered and governed entirely by electronic commands, said Roger Bagbey, the vice president of Anteon's applied physics division. There is no backup system to manually submerge a submarine and none to force a sub to resurface.

Anteon workers are to detonate explosive devices near submarines and ships and then measure the physical stress on nautical computer systems. The consultants are not looking for internal software glitches; they are evaluating the durability of the hardware itself.

Anteon said 20 mechanical and structural engineers will conduct the testing in Washington, Bethesda and Mystic, Conn. The evaluations are called "ship-shock" tests and are required for the first ship or submarine produced in a certain class. The engineers will also make recommendations for future ship designs based on the test results. Bagbey said the company's suggestions will be incorporated into the Navy's blueprint for the new DDX destroyer being built by Northrop Grumman Corp.

Anteon's task is not that different from a common middle-school science experiment. Just as students are asked to package an egg in such a way that it can survive a fall from a one- or two-story building, engineers must suggest construction techniques that allow delicate computer systems to jiggle, shake and quiver without breaking.

The Navy awarded Anteon International a contract to determine how much damage the electronic systems of ships and submarines can withstand.