Maritime domain awareness (MDA) is simple in concept, but it has come to mean much more than the vessels traversing the oceans
and waterways around the world. As the concept has
matured, especially since 9/11, MDA has come to mean
a comprehensive situational awareness that goes beyond
naval operations to include commercial shipping and
fishing vessels, and concerns about terrorism, human
trafficking, weapons of mass destruction, and the safety
of ports and harbors.
MDA has been elevated from a purely operational
concern of a commander to a national strategic impera
tive, one that encompasses the missions of a wide array
of federal agencies. The National MDA Plan, which
defines the concept, requirements and strategy, now is
the governing document for the various agencies respon
sible for contributing to MDA.
“MDA is the effective knowledge of anything associat
ed with the maritime domain that could impact the secu
rity, safety, economy, or environment of the United States,”
the National MDA Plan says. “The maritime domain is all
areas and things of, on, under, relating to, adjacent to, or
bordering on a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterway,
including all maritimerelated activities, infrastructure,
people, cargo, vessels, and other conveyances.”
“To me, MDA runs the gamut
from observations of the seaman on
watch to data from national assets;
situational awareness to analyzed
intelligence,” said Hank Blaney,
MDA policy analyst in Coast Guard
Intelligence, who also serves as the
Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) deputy for the Maritime
Domain Awareness Executive
Steering Committee (MDA ESC).
“The biggest change that I’ve
observed has been the collabo
ration between federal agencies
responsible for MDA and our other
state, local, territorial, tribal, private and industry
partners,” Blaney said. “The finest example of this
collaboration is the National IntelligenceIntegration
The NMIO is an office in the U.S. Intelligence Com
munity that coordinates policy at a national level for all
of the agencies involved with MDA. Navy Rear Adm.
Robert D. Sharp is director of the NMIO and chair of
the MDA ESC.
“NMIO was created to advance governmental col
laboration and unity of effort as outlined in the ‘9/11
Commission Report,’ the Intelligence Reform and
Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and the National
Strategy for Maritime Security,” NMIO said in an Aug.
12 release. “NMIO facilitates information sharing and
collaboration across the Global Maritime Community
of Interest, which consists of U.S. federal, state, local,
tribal, and territorial governments; maritime industry;
academia; and foreign partners.”
By December, NMIO was to be designated the
national intelligence manager for the maritime domain,
said Scott Beaton, maritime security department head
A Team Sport’
Effective maritime domain awareness
requires a whole-of-government approach
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
Hiding in the Maritime Commons
Maritime domain awareness (MDA) now is a national-level concern
requiring seamless cooperation between the stakeholders and
domestic and international partners.
n A national MDA plan is fostering multi-agency cooperation and
standardization of information sharing.
n New algorithms are needed to sort through vast amounts of
data to isolate vessels of interest.
n “Dark targets” are the top concern for homeland security.