A maritime domain awareness effort called Neptune aims to harness sensor and radar data already available aboard
large commercial ships to provide a clearer picture of the sea lanes. The container ships shown here are in Elliott Bay
awaiting dock space in the Port of Seattle.
“Commercial shipping is out there. How do we take
advantage of what they have as they’re doing their normal day-to-day, 24/7 job on the sea lanes and bring that
back to give the Navy access to more information.”
The Neptune project is being funded by a grant from
the Department of Transportation through Oklahoma
University. The university is conducting complementary
studies that look at all sea requirements, global supply
chains and vulnerability areas. This is being done so
there is no overlapping with the Neptune tasks.
Maersk Line, Norfolk, Va., a subsidiary of A.P. Møller-Maersk Group, Copenhagen, Denmark, manages a fleet
of U.S.-flag vessels and provides U.S. government agencies and their contractors with transportation and logistics services. Lockheed Martin MS2 provides surface, air
and undersea applications for the U.S. military and
international customers. This the first time the two
companies have worked together on a project.
Washington-based VIACK Corp., an authority on
secure online meetings and communications serving the
enterprise and government markets, is a partner in the
Neptune project, as are a small group of developers.
The Coast Guard also has been following development of Neptune, said D.A. Goward, director of assessment, integration and risk management for the service.
“It’s a relatively new capability and so we are seeking to learn more about how it might work,” he said.
“We are obviously interested in vessel tracking and we
are putting a lot of effort toward picking up AIS from
vessels at sea.”
Maritime law states that every vessel of more than
300 tons must broadcast information via AIS. That
covers nearly every commercial vessel.
There are a few differences between the current
form of AIS tracking used by the maritime industry
and the Neptune program, a program expert said.
“One of the things that’s different here is actually
collecting [data] at sea rather than just coastal. And
the purpose of AIS is essentially safety of navigation, so
everybody is required to have it and everybody is
required to transmit on it,” said Will Bowers, a senior
director at Maersk Line. “What Lockheed is doing is
taking that data, using data ports that exist on those
systems, and then just burning them through their
The key for the government in picking a new technology, such as Neptune, is figuring out if the program
is in its best interest, said Navy Rear Adm. Lee J. Metcalf,
director of the National Office, Global Maritime Situational Awareness, and director, MDA.
“To what extent do we want to be on the hook to, or
purchase, a commercially created system as opposed to
one that is at our disposal, created by the Department
of Transportation [Do T]?” Metcalf said.
The DoT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems
Center, Cambridge, Mass., provides a suitable picture,
but is not as thorough, said Metcalf. Newer systems,
such as Neptune, would allow someone to quickly see
anomalies, such as a ship changing course, and be able
to call attention to it. ■