From sanctions evasions to drug trafficking, governments face a multitude of criminal activity and threats in their territorial waters every day.
Many of these crimes are perpetrated with the use of deceptive shipping practices (DSPs). Some examples of these range from rudimentary practices like dark activity, an automatic identification system (AIS) transmission gap intentionally caused by a vessel’s crew to conceal an operation, to more advanced practices like AIS manipulation, in which a vessel “spoofs” its location to seemingly be in an entirely different place. In recent years, there have been significant advances in remote sensing technologies at sea – e.g., optical satellites, synthetic aperture radar, and radio frequency equipment are all commonplace in the maritime industry.
So, why is pinpointing deceptive shipping practices (DSPs) and other suspicious maritime activities still such a seemingly impossible task?
Simply put, the world’s oceans are far too vast, and the current extent of sensor deployment is insufficient. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to scale continuous monitoring and data collection over the entirety of the world’s great blue seas.
Not only is there not enough equipment to surveil all the ships on all of our oceans and seas at once, but existing sensors are only programmed to monitor and revisit designated areas at specific times. This means that even “covered areas” are, in fact, not covered 24/7, and investigations into dark activity therein are always going to suffer from a lack of real-time context. Even when equipped with a satellite image of an area of interest (AOI), maritime operators are often still unable to take swift, decisive action against nefarious naval activities due to satellite latency.
The reality is that there is no single technology capable of capturing all the goings-on at sea, criminal or otherwise. Rather, securing maritime domain awareness requires blending the nuances of remote sensing with AI.
Take a Tip from Tipping and Cueing
As Christian Brose, former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, explains in his book The Kill Chain, the key to prevailing in modern warfare lies in leveraging multiple technologies to locate and neutralize threats rapidly and accurately. The same logic applies to facilitating a successful, safe, and lawful maritime ecosystem.
One tech-based strategy that has gained traction of late is tipping and cueing, the process by which one sensor, after recognizing a suspicious object or activity in low resolution, signals – or “tips” – another sensor to acquire – or “cue” – a magnified high-res image to establish clear situational awareness.
Unfortunately, due to insufficient sensor coverage and common satellite latency problems, the scope of tipping and cueing is usually limited to static or very slow-moving objects. Finnish microsatellite manufacturer ICEYE, for example, leverages tipping and cueing methods to map the trajectory of icebergs in near real-time for the safety of nearby vessel crews.
But this application is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Power of Predictive Analytics
When it comes to tracking vessels of interest and targets of opportunity traveling at higher speeds, tipping and cueing must be augmented by AI, specifically “predictive analytics”. Augmenting existing sensor technology with artificial intelligence is greater than the sum of its parts, capable of transforming the way maritime operations are conducted and how dynamic decisions are made.
Above all else, predictive analytics provide operators with newfound visibility. First, these algorithms are trained to forecast movements based on factors like vessel size, weather patterns, and ocean currents, among other environmental factors. Second, this technology can analyze historical vessel trends and track the real-time movements of enemy ships as well as those that appear to be engaging in illegal or unsanctioned activities.
Predictive intelligence is incredibly valuable to maritime law enforcement in maintaining and enhancing international maritime by identifying future – or otherwise unknown – events.
Sailing on a Sea of Raw Data
Although the sheer size of the world’s oceans inhibits the effectiveness of remote sensing technologies like tipping and cueing, the integration of predictive analytics can help bridge the gaps. By adopting this burgeoning tech solution, operators and other stakeholders can better understand where to focus satellite imagery, when to deploy assets, and how best to bolster operational efficiency – all in real time.
Leveraging this holistic approach to maritime domain awareness is the key to transforming a literal sea of raw data into actionable insights, safer oceans, and higher returns on investment for all involved.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email editor @ hstoday.us.