Leaps and Bounds
Challenge becomes handling volume of information
as Coast Guard communications capabilities improve
By JOHN C. MARCARIO, Assistant Editor
In the late 1990s, the service began to take advantage of the Inmarsat
global satellite communications network, which brought Internet access
to the service’s ships.
“Before, you would [draft] e-mails while at sea and they would sit
in your queue until you reached the
port, then thousands of e-mails
would go out and thousands would
come in [all at the same time],”
Neve said. “Sailors can now pay bills
online and not worry about coming
home and having their power off
because they didn’t pay a bill.”
From an operational standpoint,
better communications networks
have sped up the data flow between sea and air assets,
allowing information to be received and processed faster
and more efficiently, thereby improving the Coast
Guard’s common operating picture.
The Coast Guard also has begun new network and
communications programs, such as the Nationwide
Automatic Identification System (NAIS) project, which
will allow the service to identify, track and communicate
with marine vessels using the Automatic Identification
System (AIS), a maritime digital communication system
that continually transmits and receives vessel data over
very high frequencies.
The service awarded Northrop Grumman Space &
Mission Systems Corp. a $12 million contract in December to provide shore-side communications, networking and processing capabilities for NAIS.
The system handles 50 million messages a day
through 160 individual receiver sites around the country, in most major ports and coastal areas, said Cmdr.
Jim Ingalsbe, NAIS deputy program director. The messages come from nearly 6,500 unique vessels each day
and are processed at a command center in Martinsburg, W.Va.
The Coast Guard has upgraded its communication network capabilities through new platforms and improvements to its system
■ The Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS)
receives 50 million messages a day through 160 individual receiver sites around the country.
■ The service will work closely with Northrop Grumman for a solution that will allow all government agencies to use the NAIS data.
■ Better and faster data flow between sea and air assets have
improved the Coast Guard’s common operating picture.
The Coast Guard has vastly improved its networked communications capabilities during
the past decade through technology advancements, larger bandwidth pipes, satellite communications and automatic identification programs.
Gone are the days when cutters at sea could not
communicate with decision-makers ashore in a timely
manner. The major challenge the service now faces is
sifting through the sheer volume of the thousands of
daily messages it receives — from weather and vessel
information to distress calls — to get the right information to the appropriate decision-makers.
Connectivity “continues to increase by leaps and
bounds,” said Cmdr. Cliff Neve, the Coast Guard’s chief
command, control, communications, computers, information, surveillance and reconnaissance acquisition
planner. “It used to be where there were small pockets
where you could get some network connectivity.
“What we are moving toward is a globally available,
large bandwidth concept or vision where, no matter
where you go, your network is robust enough to be
able to pass along all the [data and] information you
need to make the right decisions,” he said.