Home Articles Maritime security: ODA – An imperative

Maritime security: ODA – An imperative

Maritime Domain Awareness is important in ensuring safety and security in waters. However, MDA in itself is not enough and needs to be integrated with Oceanic Domain Awareness for effective and complete maritime knowledge

Modern naval strategy is fundamentally based on various means to locate potential enemy forces across the oceans, a problem complicated by the vastness of the maritime environment, the huge number of legitimate users, and the wide variety of means by which an enemy can exploit the oceans to his advantage. Oceans are complex medium whose nature provides ample opportunity for an enemy to avoid detection — weather, sea states and coastal land masses, all present considerable challenges to modern sensors. Peacetime economic use of the seas complicates this problem enormously. Oceans are the world’s foremost (and most unregulated) highway, home to a vast and wide variety of international neutral shipping that possess no apparent threat. Determining an enemy in such a crowded and complex environment is difficult during conventional war or in an asymmetric conflict such as the global war on terror.

It is the asymmetric nature of terrorism that forms the core of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). In a conventional naval war, the enemy is relatively well-defined and almost universally a combatant. Pursuit of GWOT, where literally any vessel could be a potential enemy or weapon carrier, or when any maritime event can have an impact on a nation’s security, demands a much higher level of awareness than that normally required in a conventional naval conflict. This is recognised by the formal definition of MDA as articulated by the US government. According to the National Security Presidential Directive 41, 2004, Maritime Domain Awareness is “the effective understanding of anything associated with the global maritime environment that could impact the security, safety, economy or environment of the US.” This is accomplished through integrating intelligence, surveillance, observation and navigation systems.

Unlike traditional naval operations, it is apparent that the goal of MDA is far more than looking for potential maritime enemies. The implications of “anything associated” with the maritime environment that can impact the security, safety, economy or environment, go far beyond a classic maritime threat. As per the US interpretation, these include smuggling of people or dangerous cargoes, piracy, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, identification and protection of critical maritime infrastructure, oil spills, weather or such environmental concerns.

The global nature of MDA activities occurring overseas and in foreign ports is very much a part of MDA. For example, if a cargo is loaded in Aden and its ultimate destination is India (via several other international ports), the loading, transport, security and all matters associated with that container would be part of MDA, which must therefore be exercised over all oceans worldwide. Putting in place an effective MDA is a herculean task — viewing the range of potential security challenges and enormous geographic area represented by the maritime domain.

Although many factors are considered in MDA, its core process is ultimately monitoring vessels and the vessels’ cargo, crews and passengers to rapidly generate geolocating information on vessels of interest. This is an analytical process that includes tracking, data base searches for unknown linkages and anomaly detection. Fundamental to this is the detection, monitoring, tracking of vessels. This tracking process comprises five elements designed to focus on a narrow area of tactical dimension where threats can be identified and isolated namely; maritime surveillance, detection, tracking, classification and identification and targeting. Targeting involves interpreting detection and identification of information fused with intelligence to sort vessel intentions and determine risk.

As there is no single high value unit to protect MDA, ‘layers’ are expanded to include an entire coastline with the overall goal of coordinated surveillance.

The US has the 2,000 NM limit of the Maritime Detection and Identification Zone. It is based on the legislated 96- hour notification requirement for foreign vessels entering US ports. A vessel travelling 20kts will arrive at its destination in roughly 96 hours. The MDIZ’s aim is to gather more timely information on the vessel as it approaches closer to the US coast. When entering the MDIZ, obtaining position of vessels every four hours is a norm, while in territorial waters the goal is to obtain positional data every three minutes. There are many systems that could provide a high degree of surveillance and tracking data, but the actual fusion of this data remains a problem area. In order to derive a comprehensive MDA picture, information needs to be fused, correlated, and analysed; and for it to be relevant to national security, it must be designed to operate cohesively at tactical, regional and strategic levels.

At the national level, maritime strategy is critical for long-term planning, operational insight and providing national decision makers with support to establish priorities, determine strategies of interdependent organisations, allocate national resources and determine level of overall maritime threat.

Strategic MDA requires a broad perspective and capabilities at the highest levels of analysis, intelligence and policy. It requires the realignment of bureaucracy and the re-tasking of national assets towards the overall goal of global awareness. A centre for strategic MDA must have experience in multi-organisation operations and procedures that can transcend the gap between the military, law enforcement and regulatory agencies that are a part of MDA.

Scientific study of the oceans originated in the US essentially as a function of national security. Navy operations successfully addressed many challenging naval requirements; but oceanographic inquiry in support of naval needs also triggered unexpected results. In many instances the knowledge of the oceans that was acquired through directed studies – and through complementary lines of inquiry that were enabled by tools developed for naval oceanographic research – further impacted national security in ways that were not anticipated and which transcended tactical and operational significance and could be considered of more strategic consequence.

The primary impetus to the rapid development of oceanography during its 20th century days as a science is without doubt the submarine and the fundamental changes that occurred when naval warfare became truly three-dimensional. Prosecuting submarines was feasible principally through the transmission of underwater sound, actively by sonar to echo-locate targets and passively by hydrophones and triangulation. The scope of oceanographic efforts in the pursuit of submarine opened all oceanographic disciplines (physical, chemical, biological and geological oceanography) to increased investment, research effort and importantly, to integration. Twentieth-century oceanography was fundamentally a security-based endeavour to reduce the opacity of the oceans to anti-submarine warfare in WWI, WWII and the cold war, and harness that opacity for offensive submarine operations along with a host of other security based naval concerns.

Fundamental progress in basic knowledge of the ocean sciences has occurred due to advances in sensor technologies. Understanding of plate tectonics and sea floor spreading was discovered during large scale mapping of the sea floor after the World War II. This led to the revamping of theories of evolution and structure of the earth. Subsequently, the investigation of mid-ocean ridges carried out by submersibles and towed deep sea vehicles led to detection of many unknown forms of life in the hydrothermal vents and microbes below the seabed at great depths. In the past, ocean geologists, physicists, biologists and chemists have used an array of tools, from deep-sea drilling to instrumented buoys, to improve their understanding about the role the ocean plays in controlling longer-term climate change and weather.

Scientists have started a long-term exploration of the chronological variations in ocean systems both for very short and prolonged time periods. Advances in technologies that have spurred this study are primarily based on:

  • Availability of new sensors which can be placed and report about chemical, biological and physical characteristics.
  • Advances in computers and software that has enabled storing, retrieving and manipulating large volumes of sensor data. Realtime availability of data to number of research communities for interpretation, modelling, simulation and prediction.
  • Advances in telecommunications through undersea cables and satellites allowing real-time control of sea based sensors and transmission of bulky sensor data.

Technologies must be developed to enhance data collection in all weather conditions to support high-spatial resolution and near real-time forecasting throughout the open ocean and coastal zone. Providing accurate and comprehensive environment information needs expanding observation networks to monitor, record and present real-time surface-monitoring data (for example, high-frequency, coastal-based radars). This expansion will require advancing sensor and technology development, particularly for autonomous and persistent observations, as well as for long-term observing systems; expanding real-time or near real-time data collection on environmental variables by incorporating observational capabilities of ships of opportunity; and enhancing automated and autonomous bottom-mapping capabilities for change detection to improve survey scheduling.

Data collected by the observing systems must be accessible through a comprehensive national data network, either through a single system or a distributed network. Developing this network will require new methodologies that address gaps in data collection, sharing and interoperability of technologies, and should permit integration of existing research into operational systems (for example, systems providing real-time navigation data to vessels). This network should be able to link with other databases such as those focussing on ecosystem data, and developed in accordance with international standards for data exchange. The national data network will also provide the data needed for models simulating multiple scenarios to understand potential impacts, weather events or man-made disruptions on marine operations, and to support restoration plans. The coast and open ocean are critical domains for the security of a nation with sea as boundaries.

MDA needs to be integrated within ODA for completeness of maritime knowledge, the lack of which can lead to serious consequences as has been brought out in a recent assessment of naval exercises and weapon firings in the US, where it was found that over 90 per cent of them were affected adversely due to imperfectly assessed or little known environmental factors. In an actual conflict, these would have led to mission failures. This along with the sinking of HMS Bounty off North Carolina due to the recent cyclone SANDY when it was 160 miles away from the eye of the storm, only underpins the gaps in oceanic knowledge that need to be bridged and the fact that ODA is an enabler for the future.