Beaton pointed out that as the MDA concept matures,
there has been a closer relationship between operation
al situational awareness and intelligence collection.
“About 20102011, people realized there was a lot of
duplication of effort in, really, situational awareness and
intelligence, with two sides of the MDA coin,” he said.
Beaton gave an example of a P 3 patrol aircraft locat
ing and identifying ships, building situational aware
ness and connecting the dots.
“But to understand which one of those dots constitutes
a threat requires knowing the intent of what might be on
there, or who is on there. That requires intelligence,” he
said. “To have that effective understanding [of MDA], not
only do you have to know where the dots on the map are,
but you have to know if there is something bad in one of
those dots that may constitute a threat to you. That takes
the intelligence need fused into situational awareness to
create real MDA or effective understanding.”
Beaton, a former naval aviator, explained the diffi
culties of searching the ocean.
“The reality is, the physics aren’t there to track
vessels unless you’re looking down from space, so it is
really hard to be able to track vessels out in the mid
dle of the open ocean and it’s even harder when they
turn off their [AIS] transponders,” he said. “How do
you track those vessels? The No. 1 MDA challenge is
small, dark, nonemitting vessels operating either in the
open ocean or in coastal regions or ports or harbors.
Whether it’s in close or far away, if they’re not squawk
ing or talking, they’re really hard to find.”
The National MDA Plan lists 20 challenges, with
the main concern being “awareness of ‘dark targets,’
those vessels that do not broadcast their whereabouts,
either because they are not required to or because they
wish to avoid recognition,” Blaney said. “Closely relat
Beaton said that 95 percent of
MDA data comes from unclassified
sources: commercial vessels tran
siting the ocean, cargo manifests
and crew and passenger manifests
that have to be transmitted to every
country 96 hours in advance as the
ships come to ports.
“It’s not the ships that we’re
worried about, it’s the cargo and
the people on the ships that can
really constitute the threat,” he said. “You have to know
where the ship is and where it’s going … what’s on the
ship and who is on the ship to understand the threat
that could present.”
MDA also “is sorting out that illicit behavior from all
those people who are law abiding, following the regula
tions kind of commercial traffic,” Beaton said.
He noted a hypothetical example of illegal fishing,
where a boatload of Patagonian toothfish — Chilean
sea bass — could be worth $3 million.
“Illegal fishing is big business,” he said. “The orga
nizations that fund illegal fishing are transnational
organized crime guys who use the money from the
fishing to run guns or drugs. It all ties into the nexus
of transnational organized crime and terrorism. The
illegal fishers are going to be hiding. One, you have
to find them and, two, you have to determine are they
really a bad guy or not a bad guy, or are they just being
stupid and not transmitting.”
The U.S. operational and intelligence agencies have
been fostering more cooperation with foreign partners
and have achieved successes in policing the maritime
Joseph E. Milligan, deputy director, Office of the
DoD Executive Agent for Maritime Domain Awareness,
told of a recent successful operation, without revealing
the identities of the participating partners.
“Country A shared info with us,” he said. “The U.S.
looked into it, saw a threat, and asked Country B to
intervene. It got Country C involved, and Country D
intercepted [the target] with their constabulary forces.
“These things [the sharing of MDA information]
are making a real difference,” said Milligan, who also
noted that the distinction between operators and intel
ligence is being narrowed by MDA, which he termed
“one of the nice benefits of MDA.”
A Coast Guard small boat crew approaches the fishing vessel Kimmy 1 to recover a boarding team from the Island-class Patrol Boat Kiska in the Pacific Ocean
April 9. Over eight days, the crew spent 126 hours enforcing fisheries laws by
patrolling the region and conducting two boardings approximately 300 miles from
the Hawaiian Islands, ensuring the sustainability of fisheries in the Pacific.