The key to security on the high seas
- By Thurston Brooks
- Sep 01, 2012
Due to increases in maritime commercial trade and related terrorist
activity, challenges to maritime security have produced a demand
for better and smarter technology to support our forces and protect
our offshore assets. The U.S. maritime system alone includes
more than 3,000 cargo and passenger terminals, shipping through
1,000 harbor channels and more than 12,000 miles of coastline. Providing comprehensive
security throughout these waters is no small undertaking.
Homeland Security-inspired legislative requirements regarding cargo screening,
port personnel background checks and arrival-to-port alerts have somewhat
eased port security breaches. But these do not address on-the-water challenges.
Navy, Coast Guard, and Customs and Border Protection patrols are responsible
for U.S.-bound cargo examination and require the latest and most advanced communications
technology available to identify and neutralize potential threats before
they arrive at a port.
Since Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan,
there has been an increased risk of al Qaeda terrorists commandeering
vessels, infiltrating vessel crews and attempting to bring chemical, biological, radiological,
nuclear or explosive material into the United States. This threat, in addition
to rampant piracy and ship-based drug runners, provides compelling proof
that the critical distinction between pre-arrival cargo inspection and post-arrival
inspection cannot be overemphasized.
The potential devastating effects of a weapon of mass destruction detonated at
its target arrival port, for example, are far greater than a device that is neutralized
out at sea. These reasons alone illustrate the need for enhanced situational awareness
solutions to help combat today’s real threats that roam our seas.
The Support Process
Situational awareness management systems (SAMS) can be leveraged to support
multiple maritime security initiatives, including critical infrastructure protection,
emergency preparedness and response to maritime surveillance. The systems are
designed to provide situational awareness and sensor management capability
throughout a geographically large area—whether on land or at sea.
A well-designed system provides an open architecture and sensor-agnostic capabilities
interoperable with current or legacy maritime technology. SAMS typically comprise radar, cameras, hostile fire indicators and unattended ground sensors
to provide multi-sensor data fusion supported by real-time sensor health and
test information. All of these capabilities are integrated through an overarching
Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and
Reconnaissance (C4ISR) framework that covers the entire SAMS.
Shipboard Communications Systems
Boarding a vessel for cargo inspection has become an integral component of patrollers’
daily routine. In addition to the physical challenges to these personnel during
an at-sea inspection, they are faced with ever-increasing communications challenges.
Ships selected for inspection frequently must be kept several nautical miles
away from the boarding ship. Communications between the mother ship and the
boarding crew can be interrupted or lost altogether, for example, when personnel
descend into the hold of the boarded vessel. Additionally, after gathering samples
of any suspicious material, on-board personnel must wait on the targeted vessel
while that material is processed on the mother ship via satellite communications
through the FBI system. This holding pattern can take hours—an extremely risky
situation for the boarding party, especially if communications are unreliable and
the vessel crew is potentially hostile.
In an effort to enhance communications and safety in these scenarios, which
are becoming increasingly critical to preserving national security, armed forces
are seeking to adopt more network-centric technologies. Secure wireless mesh networking
solutions have been shown to provide the reliable, ubiquitous access to
communications technology that may be the answer to today’s maritime communications
Although it is recognized that access to secure shipboard communications is
imperative, several factors create challenges to getting this technology where it is
needed most in the maritime environment. For one, acquisition is hampered due to
costs and federal and military budget pressures, which remain constricted despite
the clear urgency of need.
Secondly, implementation can be difficult because today’s newer technologies often
will not seamlessly integrate with the military’s older and disparate legacy networks.
Thirdly, any new technology that is introduced to the federal or military environment
must satisfy strict cybersecurity, DOD, and Navy certification and accreditation.
Lastly, products must meet stringent shipboard environment requirements,
including EMI, shock and vibration standards.
Fortunately, solutions exist that can address these challenges, as insurmountable
as they seem. For example, the Navy has implemented a secure
wireless mesh networking solution that leverages the world’s first FIPS validation
access point, providing secure wireless mesh network, gateway and bridge/
repeated capabilities for wireless applications. The system meets the Navy’s cost
constraints through COTS solutions and satifies environmental demands with
rugged naval packaging.
This solution provides a secure wireless extension of shipboard-wired LAN
services and their associated capabilities, essentially transforming at-sea communications
and filling a critical gap that touches numerous aspects of maritime
operations. The solution has already demonstrated several significant benefits. It
is designed for rapid setup, which is vital for the quick pace required in many
maritime response operations. Additionally, its portability, achieved by dropping
“bread crumbs” along the way, allows the boarding crew to maintain contact while
descending into the depths of a vessel, greatly increasing overall mission safety
and force protection.
The system’s high bandwidth supports real-time voice, video and data, allowing
boarding personnel to safely transmit biometric data via secure wireless to their
host ship, streamlining the search process and accelerating mission time.
The Navy’s secure, end-to-end wireless LAN solution also overcomes another
pressing challenge to implementing new technology: integration with existing
legacy networks. The Navy’s new solution is fully interoperable with the existing
Integrated Shipboard Network System aboard several Navy vessels. This ability to
integrate with existing legacy equipment saves implementation time while maintaining
the DOD’s encryption and security requirements, preventing unwanted
eavesdroppers from intercepting transmitted information.
The United Arab Emirates’ integrated
Coastal Boarder Surveillance system
is an example of a large-scale SAMS
implementation. This massive system
comprises maritime radar, thermal and
daylight camera systems, Automatic
Identification System transponders,
simultaneous identification transponders
and electronic passports. The system
includes six sectors of operations,
each with its own command center that
can query a central database within the
National Control Center for truly comprehensive
SA coverage, with real-time,
simultaneous tracking of more than
The system is based upon an openarchitecture
design, which allows for
customizations and upgrading to more
enhanced sensor suites. It provides a full
Vessel Traffic Management and Information
System, which supports border
security by identifying potential irregularities
of vessels operating within territorial
waters and facilitating interdiction
by relevant Coast Guard and border
Using radar enhancement processing
technology, the system is capable of
reliably tracking fast vessels with radar
across cross-sectional areas of 1 meter
at ranges of 12 nautical miles. The system
is augmented by the provision of
more than 3,000 SID transponders, allowing
for positive identification of vessels
below the 300-gross-registered-ton
cut-off or AIS-equipped vessels.
The system was designed to meet additional
customer requirements, which
included search and rescue capability,
with features such as search patterns
factoring in environmental drift. Pollution
control is possible through aerial
surveillance imagery and the oil spill
modeling capabilities of metocean data
sets that are integrated onboard patrol
vessels. Fishery control, including the
creation of no-fishing zones, can be
implemented through e-passport transponders
Halifax Port Authority has implemented
a command and control system;
although it is not as immense as the
UAE’s CBS, it collects enough sensor
information from diverse inputs to provide
HPA with an unprecedented level
of domain awareness in and around
the Port of Halifax. The inputs include
video surveillance, maritime domain
awareness acquired through radar,
AIS and video analytics, a Dangerous
Goods Management System and Atlas
OPS Incident/Emergency Response.
Each input is integrated in a Web portal,
providing a seamless operating experience
for the user.
The user can also choose to share
any of the input information with an
outside agency via secure Internet connection.
As an additional benefit, the
SA portal offers HPA revenue-generation
opportunities to reduce the system’s
total cost of ownership.
Besides serving as a data repository,
the HPA’s system also reflects a modular
architecture that allows for scalability,
so future operational requirements
can be easily added to the system.
Search and Rescue Systems
Robust situational awareness capability
in support of homeland security
can have other peripheral benefits in
the marine environment, as do the
technologies leveraged in these efforts.
Sensor systems to protect offshore assets
can include radar early-warning
systems, which can be used for sophisticated
search and rescue capability.
Project Jigsaw, implemented in 2006,
provides situational awareness coverage
of the northern and southern North
Sea, which is Europe’s largest offshore
oil and gas operation. The system was
originally designed to provide radar
early-warning capability to offshore
infrastructure to prevent potentially disastrous
collisions at sea.
However, the system, once installed,
was augmented with additional capability
and is an example of how technology
can dramatically enhance search-andrescue
efforts, which traditionally consisted
of standby vessel support.
Jigsaw uses a combination of marine
and aviation elements to provide
the best possible safety cover over the
widest range of weather conditions. Its
platform-based radar, man-overboard
alarms and wristwatch personal locator
beacons are used in conjunction
with search-and-rescue helicopters and
regional support vessels to significantly
improve rescue times, quality and prospects
Jigsaw shares many of the same features
and functionality of the other situational
awareness solutions discussed,
including a centralized command and
control architecture, shared data capability,
a combined operational picture,
logistics planning tools and other integral
features. The solution provides a
display of all rescue and recovery assets
across multiple fields, designed to continually
show that SAR performance
standards are being met.
The Jigsaw measurement capability
is critical to the continued success and
ongoing implementations of situational
awareness solutions for maritime security
and, ultimately, homeland security.
Proof of performance to date has demonstrated
the undeniable value these
affordable, legacy-friendly and highly
secure wireless network solutions offer
our federal and military forces.
From a big-picture perspective, the
essential need for reliable communications
to support maritime security goes
beyond vessel-boarding scenarios. As
our maritime forces are tasked with
wider areas of coverage and increasingly
brazen antagonists, enhanced situational
awareness has become a clear necessity
for effective maritime security.
Using the latest, most advanced
communications technology, our maritime
forces can identify and neutralize
potential threats before they arrive at
their destination port. Whether in water
or on land, for military or the private
sector, the benefits of SAMS are
clear, and the future for these solutions
is extremely promising.
This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Security Today.