21 Feb 2013 14:01** – The need to ensure the safe and secure operation of the global Marine Transportation System (MTS) has long been recognized among maritime professionals. And yet it often surprises people to learn that the vast majority of international trade occurs in much the same way it has for centuries: via vessels traveling in harm’s way on the high seas.
Over the last 30 years, the number and size of these vessels have increased dramatically, keeping pace with the explosive growth in cargo volume as a truly interconnected global economy emerged. Technology advancements have enabled much of this growth. Satellite-based navigation and communication, improved weather and ocean forecasting, and radical advancements in ship design, among others, have contributed to a safe, dependable MTS that supports a “just in time” new economy unimaginable a generation ago.
It is this very dependability on the global supply chain, and the virtual integration of nations’ economies, that have significantly magnified the risk of a disruption to the MTS.
Our response to rapidly evolving maritime threats must involve a combination of policies, processes, and technologies. Technology approaches primarily involve the provision of real-time information regarding conditions on, under, and adjacent to the maritime domain – a capability often referred to as Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). Advanced sensor development, ranging from automated ship identification and tracking, and non-invasive cargo inspection, to underwater acoustic surveillance systems, have proven effective in a number of different environments and operating conditions. It is noteworthy that many of these new technologies have given rise to dual-use applications that show great promise of supporting safe, efficient, and environmentally-sound maritime operations. Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), for example, are indispensible tools in collision avoidance and safe navigation. Likewise, coastal HF radar systems enable both large vessel tracking and real-time surface current maps that support search and rescue as well as spill response.
Importantly, MDA sensors are also effective in understanding and forecasting natural hazards such as extreme storm events, and in supporting the response of the maritime community to these events. As threats evolve, so too must the sensors and the algorithms that translate the sensor data into information and ultimately, action. Much work is currently underway to enable the integration of information from different sensors and sources. As this work continues, we are learning how to adapt and optimize existing sensor types, and developing entirely new sensing systems. A primary challenge remains – the development of advanced decision-support tools to enhance (not replace) the watchstander’s ability to understand the entire range of threats to maritime operations, and to direct appropriate measures with minimal delay. Success will require that we continue to innovate and integrate across disciplines, with technology developers working closely – and experimenting in real-world situations – with the maritime security community.
*Michael S. Bruno Dean, School of Engineering and Science Stevens Institute of Technology
** received overnight