October 7, 2004

AIS receivers to be mounted on NOAA data buoys

NOAA's network of offshore data buoys is to be used to gather AIS (Automatic Identification System) information from ships as part of the U.S. Coast Guard's efforts to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). The Coast Guard has also recently contracted to install an AIS receiver on a commercial satellite to receive and forward AIS signals from space.

MDA is defined as the effective understanding of anything associated with the global maritime environment that could adversely impact the security, safety, economy or environment of the United States.

Jeff High, Director of the Coast Guard's Maritime Domain Awareness Program Integration Office, yesterday gave an update on MDA to a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Marine Transportation, chaired by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.).

According to High's prepared statement, building MDA will require monitoring vessels, cargo, people and specified areas of interest. It will include maintaining and accessing data on vessels, facilities and infrastructure. It will require collecting, analyzing and disseminating critical information to decision makers to facilitate effective understanding of the global environment. All technologies are being explored to achieve these goals.

Some technologies, like AIS, are mature and can be quickly exploited, while others, like the ability to detect anomalies in vessel behavior, require a great deal of investment and research.

AIS is currently being carried aboard thousands of ships worldwide. The Coast Guard currently has AIS capability in the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) ports of New York, New Orleans, Berwick Bay, Houston/Galveston, Los Angeles/ Long Beach, Prince William Sound, and Sault Ste. Marie. Equipment to provide AIS capability in San Francisco, Puget Sound, and Port Arthur is planned for installation by the end of the calendar year. There are also selected areas of the coastline, including Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, where accelerated AIS deployment is being deployed that will be incorporated into the Coast Guard's Nationwide AIS major acquisition project, an initiative to achieve AIS capability throughout the U.S.

"We are actively engaged in options to leverage AIS capability beyond a terrestrial-based infrastructure," said High. "We recently contracted to install an AIS receiver on board a commercial satellite to receive and forward AIS signals from space. We expect the satellite to be launched in 2005. With this capability, the Coast Guard will be able to collect and process AIS data well beyond the coast of the United States in a cost effective and timely fashion."

An agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will see AIS receivers installed on offshore data buoys. The NOAA fleet of environmental monitoring buoys and coastal stations can be found in major estuaries and through out the EEZ, including Alaska and Hawaii. The Coast Guard is sponsoring the augmentation of these buoys and coastal stations with AIS systems and the integration of the stations into the USCG AIS network.

Plans are to eventually convert all 70 buoys and selected coastal and estuarine stations. Initial deployment of AIS receivers will occur in early 2005, as these offshore buoys and stations are scheduled for regular servicing.

High said that NOAA is actively involved with the Coast Guard in the international and national AIS standards setting activities. These national and international standards coupled with the AIS two-way communications system offers opportunities to NOAA as well. With the development of a NOAA Voluntary Observing Ship (VOS) automated data collection system, the AIS-enabled buoys and coastal stations will be capable of receiving environmental measurement data from vessels that are participating in the VOS program. With additional modest technical development, NOAA will be able to transmit environmental information, safety and regulatory-related messages and warnings to ships within radio range of NDBC stations through the AIS Vessel Data Link.

"In the interim," said High, "we have taken action to provide more immediate capabilities to our operational commanders and interagency partners. The Coast Guard has already established systems to track vessel movements within U.S. waters through the National Vessel Movement Center and Inland River Vessel Movement Center and is working to expand these capabilities. Additional major ongoing initiatives include short and long-range vessel tracking requirements and capabilities, joint use Sector Command Centers with the Navy in Norfolk and San Diego, collocating our Sector Command Center in Charleston with the Justice Department funded Charleston Harbor Operations Center, and our Sector Command Center and Surveillance Test bed in Miami. Coast Guard Intelligence efforts to improve MDA include Intelligence Coordination Center (ICC) and Coastwatch, establishing Maritime Intelligence Fusion Centers, and Field Intelligence Support Teams that operate in our larger ports."

Vessel tracking efforts focus principally on technology, personnel, information exchange, and supporting business processes and doctrine to support the persistent surveillance of all vessels along the maritime margins of the U.S. coastline, including inland waters, as well as passenger and cargo vessels greater than 65 ft in length out to 2,000 nautical miles, to assess potential threats. There is also a need for more global tracking with partnering Governments to better identify and analyze vessel behavior based on historical trends and characterization of normal shipping patterns/routes. This track history will facilitate a more comprehensive risk evaluation of Vessels of Interest (VOIs) that depart from known habits or expected behaviors, and will support critical port operations and boarding teams in carrying out their responsibilities.

Overall, an estimated 5,000 commercial vessels are within 2,000 nm of the U.S. at any time, said High.

To detect, monitor and intercept targets which do not abide by existing agreements, said High, "we have developed and are continuing to develop and improve our capabilities to attain a persistent maritime awareness capability. The Coast Guard is pursuing a wide variety of means to track cooperative and potentially non-cooperative vessels calling on, or operating near, the United States."

The Coast Guard is actively engaged in identifying a system or mix of systems to provide a wide area surveillance capability. Included in this mix are long-range radar systems, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) and Lighter than Air (LTA) airships. Existing capabilities within the government domain will be integrated into a final solution.

High said that the Coast Guard is leading efforts at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to develop an international requirement for long range tracking to provide enhanced visibility of these vessels for flag, port and coastal states.

The Coast Guard is also evaluating options to obtain information on vessel positions and intentions through other sources, and cooperative arrangements with the maritime industry.

"Extending our surveillance and detection capabilities will provide more time to investigate potential threats and generate an appropriate and timely response," said High. "We will continue to develop improved systems and capabilities with the intent of increasing the amount of coverage as we grow from securing specific locations of interest to areas of total coverage."

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