U.S. explores new data-collection technologies
to get a more accurate view of maritime activity
By MATT HILBURN, Associate Editor
The shrinking U.S. Navy cannot be everywhere
at once. Even the navies of friendly nations
banded together would have a hard time providing the detail of maritime domain awareness
required by today’s increasingly complex and disperse
sets of seaborne challenges and potential threats.
In the near future, however, a highly detailed and
extremely broad picture of what is happening on the
world’s oceans could be provided thanks to technologies being developed that would give merchant fleets
the capability to gather Automatic Identification
System (AIS) and radar contact information and send
it back to a central database. From there, for example,
it could be cross-referenced with classified intelligence
to help detect anomalies.
“I believe we are moving to a whole new paradigm
of information gathering via commercial shipping
around the world,” said Rear Adm. Lee J. Metcalf,
director of the National Office of Global Maritime
Situational Awareness, which is charged with creating
a national maritime picture and improving information
sharing across government, commercial and international stakeholders and partnerships.
“We have engaged with a number of commercial shipping organizations,” said Metcalf, adding that
Shell Oil, cruise ship lines and
some other government agencies
were exploring the concept of collecting data via merchant ships.
During the 18th International
Seapower Symposium at the Naval
War College in Newport, R.I., Oct.
17, Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast
Guard commandant, said he would
be leading a U.S. delegation during
an upcoming trip to London to discuss international maritime issues,
and that “high on the agenda are
long-range tracking initiatives that
expand on automated identification systems, which
are expanding around the world and make maritime
One six-month initiative that began in November is
a collaborative effort between Lockheed Martin Corp.
and Maersk Line Ltd., a global provider of logistics,
maritime and transportation services to U.S. government agencies and their prime contractors.
Four Maersk G-class Panamax container ships —
which have the maximum dimensions able to fit
through the locks of the Panama Canal — making runs
around the world will be equipped with a “black box”
to collect AIS and radar data and send it back to the
United States, where it can be further analyzed by an
“The key is that we want our implementation to be
seamless from the shippers’ [operations],” said Paul
Thierry, a senior program manager with customer
solutions at Lockheed Martin. “We don’t want it to
interrupt how they do business or where they do business or add cost to the way they do business.”
Thierry said the black box, which would be about
the size of a laptop computer and use the ship’s exis-
The U.S. Navy is working with other government agencies and
industry to generate ideas for developing a better picture of maritime activities.
■ One concept involves using a “black box” to collect Automatic
Identification System and radar contact data from merchant
ships and relay that to a database for analysis.
■ A major hurdle to collecting maritime data via merchant ships is
that shippers have trade secrets they’d rather not share.
■ The challenge for the Navy and Coast Guard is trying to understand what anomalous shipping behavior is.