The NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) conducts world class research in the maritime domain in support of operational and transformational requirements, as well as civilian-oriented technology transfer and research. NURC has acquired, developed, and currently maintains a comprehensive range of equipment, including a fleet of autonomous vehicles, remote operating vehicles (ROVs), seafloor instrumentation platforms, towed measurement/detection systems, and specialised calibration facilities. This article highlights the NURC’s programme in Maritime Security, with a focus on advanced data processing techniques for the Maritime Domain and response capability against small boats and underwater intruders.
Advanced Data Processing Techniques for the Maritime Security Awareness (MSA) relies on the ability to accurately “connect the dots” between various pieces of data arising from a broad set of actors, initiatives, and applications. The Collaborative Multi-Sensor/Source Fusion and Tracking (CoMSSoFT) Tool is NURC’s contribution to the advancement of fusion and tracking capability in the maritime domain, using the CoMSSoFT Open Framework as its foundation. The Open Framework is a baseline architecture intended to be widely sharable between nations, organizations, agencies, and academia as a means of demonstrating how data and information can be processed in an implementation-independent, service-oriented manner. Information sharing and interoperability are extensively discussed as fundamental to situational awareness, and an open architecture allows entities to effectively exchange and utilize information in an affordable manner. In addition to enabling cooperation via information sharing, the goals of the open framework are to bring a common language to bridge the gap between command and control systems and advancements offered by the academic community, as well as to provide a mechanism to quickly demonstrate the utility of advanced algorithms via actual systems and data.
Another active area of research at NURC is the use of historical multi-sensor data to derive patterns of life from observed vessel activity. Based on this, context can be learned which can provide more accurate vessel tracking and identify abnormal activity. Current work includes the generalization of the Open Framework to include higher level information and to allow this information to interact with lower level kinematic information in automated reasoning routines. As part of this effort, data-driven extraction methods are being developed to learn traffic patterns and to detect behaviour based anomalies based on historical vessel activity.
Experimentation and support to operational activities are an additional component of the NURC research activity in MSA. One aspect of this is the use of Bayesian models to quantify performance from any given sensor mix. Currently, the methodology is being expanded to provide an empirical, pass-based characterization of satellite AIS data by combining multiple satellite streams with a coastal based network. The objective is to build an integrated real-time component which evaluates the effectiveness of the available sensor mix and to estimate sea truth (i.e. both “what you see” and “what you don’t see”) from the current surveillance picture. Decision makers can then be given an estimation of both known and unknown vessel traffic levels which can be used to cue and direct mobile assets for short term response, or for long term planning to make better acquisition decisions.
Response Capability against Small Boats and Underwater Intruders Maritime security missions include the protection of military forces in ports (ships, submarines, transports), high-profile events (visiting dignitaries, international sports), human life (passenger carriers, ferries), and critical infrastructure (energy, industry). These missions often require the enforcement of an exclusion zone above the water against small boats, and under the water against intruders.
Response measures in security are usually bounded by a duty to warn, to prove hostile intent, and to use proportional force. Non-lethal response measures have a low risk of causing permanent injury or human fatality, and are therefore advisable for the early stages of response, when the intent of a person, whether hostile or perhaps simply misguided, is at first unknown, and care against harm is required.
One topic of research has been the proof of hostile intent in persons who enter a security zone without authorization. This includes the development of capabilities for long-range stand-off warning, preliminary non-lethal opposition, observation of non-compliance, and the escalation of force. First hand experience with many different technologies in experimental operation and with security providers, military and civilian, has made researchers expert in maritime security needs and in the concepts of use for emerging non-lethal technologies. Emerging non-lethal response technologies include:
- Long-range acoustic hailing devices
- Optical disruptors
- Small boat entanglement devices
- Floating barriers
- Underwater loud hailers
- Underwater air guns
- Unmanned surface vessels (USVs)
Non-lethal technologies also find application in maritime interdiction, policing in counter piracy, and civilian merchant ship self protection. Some technology transfer between land capabilities at check points to maritime is also possible, but one often finds that the technical requirements for maritime security differ significantly from the land. Maritime distances of operation are much longer, for instance, and the energy levels, and time for response must all change accordingly.
Computer models of many surveillance and response technologies have also been developed at NURC for operations research and tactical gaming in a virtual port using NURC’s OpenSea simulation platform. OpenSea is a tool for the preliminary exercise of new technology concepts by immersion into virtual operation for early de-risking of new technologies for maritime military applications.