Home Articles Technology: Securing oceans from space

Technology: Securing oceans from space

<< Maritime authorities throughout the world are using Satellite AIS technology to help them achieve better MDA. The article talks in-detail about leveraging this technology for maritime defence and security >>

The global deterioration in maritime security is continuing to make international headlines and has forced maritime authorities to reevaluate current operations to combat these ever-evolving threats. There has been a reported 71 piracy incidents as of October 2012 occurring in Somalia alone according to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre; conflict continues to shroud maritime activity in the South China Seas as the dispute between China and Japan concerning sovereignty in these waters is seemingly never ending; and the smuggling of contraband and arms by sea has virtually become an industry in itself as Latin American drug cartels have turned Caribbean waters into easy streets for trafficking.

It is in these areas where Satellite Automatic Identification System (S-AIS) technology is already helping to turn the tide on the suspects and enable maritime security forces to focus upon organised crimes, criminals or terrorists and ever-present strategic threats. The global picture for maritime activity provided by S-AIS has become intrinsic in defence operations worldwide as authorities are gaining the high quality, long-range maritime domain awareness (MDA) requirements for both defence and civil applications across a wide range of mission operations.

Maritime authorities in countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, Denmark, India as well as NATO, are all utilising S-AIS technology to help them see beyond the horizon. Authorities using exactAIS technology from exactEarth for example, can analyse ship traffic patterns and flag anomalous behaviour, collect data in the world’s remotest regions including the Arctic and along the African coastline, and can compare and correlate with other detection means such as radar to validate ship positions and identify ships which are not transmitting an AIS signal, indicating suspicious behaviour.

Combining optical and radar imagery with S-AIS enables the rapid identification of vessels in those images. The great strength of S-AIS is the ease with which it can be integrated with information received from other sources such as different radar types, optical instruments and electronic support measures (ESM). Space-based radar and other sources can contribute to maritime surveillance by detecting all vessels in specific maritime areas of interest. Combined imagery and S-AIS confirms all the known vessels and aims to identify unknown vessels by associating the AIS track information with parameters of Vessels of Interest (VOI).

S-AIS supports a comprehensive MDA picture compilation by providing near real-time data that can be easily correlated to another source. This helps to improve the accuracy of vessel identification as AIS information and attributes are then associated with the closest S-AIS message. This early refinement allows for dark targets (non-AIS transmitters) to be detected more readily. Correlating S-AIS with search and rescue radar or other optical imagery also helps to improve track validation by comparing the dimensions of the image with the attributes contained in the AIS message.

S-AIS played an integral role in the 2009 Operation Driftnet, a programme established to control driftnetting and other forms of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in the North Pacific Ocean. Traditionally, this annual operation had been conducted from the Aleutian Islands using a CP-140 Aurora Long Range Patrol Aircraft, but runway maintenance in 2009 necessitated an alternative base in Hawaii. As this placed the CP-140 aircraft further away from the historical driftnet fishing areas, transit times were much longer and overall time available in the patrol areas was significantly reduced. To direct the CP-140 more effectively, project teams tested the viability of using remote active and passive sensing using two relatively new capabilities: RADARSAT-2 (RS2), a satellite providing space-based Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and COMDEV’s CanX-6 Nano-satellite Tracking of Ships (NTS) satellite. This operation provided space-based detection of AIS transmissions and laid the groundwork for the future use of new remote sensing capabilities.

Another project aimed at addressing the problem of borderless oceans or maritime problems that transcend international boundaries, demonstrated the ease of integration S-AIS is able to have with existing operational platforms. The African Maritime Outreach Project was sponsored by the US Navy (USN) Sixth Fleet to provide multiple agencies as well as regional and global coalition partners, with the ability to share data/ information and view common maritime threats. Key to the project’s success was the ability to visualise data in an operational context, to specifically view the location of the vessels in relation to critical infrastructure, marine protected areas and Economically Exclusive Zone (EEZ) boundaries.

Under this project, SSC (Pacific) accomplished this visual integration of S-AIS data into both SeaVision, a web-based analysis tool, and the Computer Aided Maritime Threat Evaluation System (CAMTES) which is used to highlight anomalous vessel behaviour and known threat tracks. The benefits of this integration success are being seen now in joint naval exercises across the African region.

Most recently, exactAIS data was used in support of the 2012 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises. RIMPAC is designed to foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security in the world’s oceans. Staged in Hawaiian operation areas in late June 2012, this five-week exercise involved 25,000 personnel from 22 nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, and about 200 aircraft operated in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The use of S-AIS was sponsored by Canadian Forces, the US Director General Space, US Naval Research Laboratory, and the US Naval Center for Space Technology. This demonstration showed the Canadian Polar Epsilon system’s ability to contribute to MDA in a tactical mission setting and further developed lessons identified from Operation Driftnet, in the fused use of space-based radar and AIS. The Polar Epsilon Data Exploitation System (DES) was deployed to Hawaii where it was collocated with the US Air Force Eagle Vision 5 (EV-5) ground station at Hickam Air Force Base. The Polar Epsilon team established and operated the DES and validated its connectivity with EV-5, S-AIS and the RIMPAC Global Command and Control System track server. Polar Epsilon DES received RADARSAT-2 imagery from EV-5 and processed it to extract potential targets. DES also received exactAIS information, which added to the common operating picture (COP). This fused MDA system supported the decision-making process of the Commander Combined Component Task Force (CCTF), located at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

S-AIS can offer utility across a wide variety of defence and security applications, including significant benefits for Search and Rescue (S&R) operations as authorities can compare the traffic image and follow an event to locate probable survivors as well as refine the search area and use of adjacent maritime resources in S&R operations. S-AIS provides a complete set of dynamic vessel information, which can be used to determine risk of casualty using heading and course over ground. The data can also then be used to aid in determining what happened in a given incident. There is also an increasing importance placed on protecting the marine environment and the fish population within it. S-AIS plays a crucial role in establishing best practices for the safeguarding of oceans as it provides tracks to assist governments in determining violations of existing regulations surrounding prohibited discharges and the observance of speed restrictions close to shore. This will be particularly important in maintaining the strict environmental regulations put in place in order to preserve the polar environments and Marine Protected Areas (MPA) such as the Great Barrier Reef. S-AIS can also be used to cue other highly discriminate sensors to gain intelligence on vessel behaviour and activities. Alternatively, S-AIS can assist in enforcing compliance to fishing regulations as it can validate a vessel’s reported position information into a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). By establishing legitimate fishing activity, S-AIS can assist in determination of non-cooperative IUU vessels.

Today’s maritime environment hosts a variety of potential threats to national security and the safety and economic security of global states depends largely upon the secure use of oceans. The infrastructure and systems that span the maritime domain have increasingly become both targets of and potential passageways for dangerous and illicit activities. Moreover, much of what occurs in the maritime domain with respect to vessel movements, activities, cargoes intentions or ownership often remains difficult to discern.

As an important maritime operational tool, S-AIS has already made a significant impact upon government agencies that are responsible for maritime security, marine safety and environmental protection. As demonstrated by Canadian, American and African maritime authorities, S-AIS provides high quality, long-range MDA requirements for both defence and civil applications across a wide range of mission sets. To date, S-AIS has successfully provided mission commanders with access to readily correlated information to support vessel identification, behaviour patterns and more effective detection of non-transmitting targets.

Global MDA is increasingly a key strategic requirement for naval/ defence forces, coast guards, and port authorities who seek actionable intelligence and proactive security. These authorities have, in recent years, build a fused global maritime traffic picture, but the advent of S-AIS increasingly offers them unprecedented opportunities to integrate data in a more timely and effective manner. In today’s climate of heightened security to protect national borders and waters, the pertinence and applicability of S-AIS cannot be under-estimated.