Program Promotes Maritime Surveillance of Small Vessels

MONTEREY, Calif., Sept. 21, 2011 — In their quest to halt pro­lif­er­a­tion and pre­vent weapons of mass destruc­tion from falling into ene­my hands, U.S. and inter­na­tion­al mil­i­taries and police forces face a quandary.

Inter­na­tion­al laws and enhanced mon­i­tor­ing capa­bil­i­ties have made it eas­i­er to track larg­er ves­sels and, in many cas­es, iden­ti­fy any illic­it mate­ri­als among their car­go.

But what about small­er ves­sels capa­ble of trans­port­ing radi­o­log­i­cal or nuclear mate­ri­als or their com­po­nents, which often don’t report to author­i­ties?

“The ques­tion is, if it is hard to detect this mar­itime traf­fic, how can we improve our aware­ness of what is going on?” said Alex Bor­det­sky, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor here at the Naval Post­grad­u­ate School’s Depart­ment of Infor­ma­tion Ser­vices. “How do we know if a sus­pi­cious ves­sel is in the area? And when there is one, what does the board­ing team do?”

Bor­det­sky leads a team of NPS researchers who are work­ing with their coun­ter­parts in U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand, the Navy, Home­land Secu­ri­ty and Ener­gy depart­ments and inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to get to the bot­tom of the issue.

NATO, Swe­den, Ger­many, Den­mark and Greece have joined the effort, with strate­gi­cal­ly impor­tant Sin­ga­pore sign­ing on in Sep­tem­ber, Bor­det­sky report­ed.

Mar­itime inter­dic­tion research and exper­i­ments con­duct­ed since 2002 show promis­ing devel­op­ments of bet­ter tools to iden­ti­fy, tag, track and mon­i­tor high-val­ue small and under­wa­ter craft, Bor­det­sky said.

Annu­al NPS-led exer­cis­es are pro­vid­ing a test bed for new detec­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies and search tac­tics, as well as inter­a­gency and inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tions to sup­port mar­itime inter­dic­tion oper­a­tions, he said.

The heart of the effort is a net­work that enables part­ners to col­lab­o­rate and share data that they can relay in real time direct­ly to first respon­ders and patrol crews in a posi­tion to inter­dict.

That requires an elab­o­rate sys­tem of sen­sors, unmanned sys­tems, screen­ing por­tals, mod­el­ing and sim­u­la­tion, and uncon­ven­tion­al net­work­ing capa­bil­i­ties being advanced through the MIO pro­gram, Bor­det­sky explained.

Part of the chal­lenge, he said, is detect­ing and track­ing tar­gets while on the move — often at high speeds.

“We need to put every step of the process on an ad hoc mobile, self-form­ing net­work,” Bor­det­sky said. “That way, no mat­ter how peo­ple move around on patrol boats or as com­bat swim­mers approach­ing the tar­get covert­ly, all are con­nect­ed.”

“This is a task that has not been tack­led before,” he said.

The ini­tia­tive, once com­plet­ed, will enable ana­lysts to put togeth­er a more com­plete oper­a­tional pic­ture. “You can asso­ciate the find­ings with oth­er events that seem to be com­plete­ly sep­a­rate,” Bor­det­sky said. “And in that way, you can increase your aware­ness on the threat bet­ter, and you can come up with rapid response mea­sures bet­ter.”

An inte­grat­ed MIO net­work is vital for pro­vid­ing instant expert reach-back for boat patrols and board­ing par­ties, he said.

For exam­ple, board­ing par­ties, includ­ing com­bat swim­mers, could relay data in real time to ana­lysts with access to super­com­put­ers at the Lawrence Liv­er­more Nation­al Lab­o­ra­to­ry in Cal­i­for­nia, and else­where.

“They can crunch that mod­el quick­ly and deter­mine what kind of mate­r­i­al or residue this might be, then advise the board­ing team,” Bor­det­sky said.

At that point, teams will be in a posi­tion to pro­vide addi­tion­al details and cap­ture more sam­ples, as required.

“Hav­ing the whole process net­worked and con­nect­ed from the lev­el of detec­tor-oper­a­tor and patrol boats to the major expert cen­ters, and hav­ing knowl­edge and find­ings gen­er­at­ed and flow both ways cre­ates a good lev­el of aware­ness,” Bor­det­sky said. “That is the net result.”

Bor­det­sky called the pro­gram an exam­ple of a “clas­sic, applied research project,” with many of its ele­ments already devel­oped and deployed. The next step, he said, is get­ting them to work togeth­er — a goal he said could be reached in about five years.

“The ele­ments exist,” he said. “The solu­tions that link them up could be imple­ment­ed through soft­ware, train­ing and more robust equip­ment com­po­nents.”

The goal, he said, is to achieve the MIO program’s poten­tial as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, before cat­a­stro­phe strikes. “We don’t want to wait until the threat is already deliv­ered. That is too late,” he said. “We want to do this when the threat is just in the ini­tial stage of devel­op­ment.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)