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Information Sharing Bridges Maritime Gap

February 11, 2011
By Rachel Eisenhower

As criminals turn to clandestine methods of entry into the United States, leaders in the maritime domain are working overtime to minimize threats by increasing data-sharing capabilities. And the effort to detect and deter these threats requires coordination between combatant commands, the services and the Defense Department's intelligence agencies.

In this month's issue of SIGNAL Magazine, Executive Editor Maryann Lawlor discusses these increasing requirements in her article, "Agency Stands Watch Over Seas."

Capt. Bruce Stubbs, USCG (Ret.), is director of the Defense Department's Executive Agent for Maritime Domain Awareness (EAMDA)-the group charged with scrutinizing the gaps in information-sharing capabilities and technologies. He says weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are the largest threat to the U.S., and the potential for attacks is real:

"Look at how close the Bahamas are to Miami. Get a cigarette boat, put a WMD in it, drive it up on a beach and detonate it next to a big hotel having a big convention."

While the U.S. has made improvements in biometrics technologies that identify people as they enter the country, these tools have driven criminals to find more covert methods using innovative technologies, states Capt. Stubbs. Drug smugglers who once transported goods on shrimp boats now use stealthy self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessels. And Capt. Stubbs knows this isn't just a national problem.

"We see all of this drug money from Afghanistan supporting al-Qaida. This is not something that is just about the Untied States and homeland defense; this is about global security."

The process of locating and identifying ships that pose a threat requires analysts to sift through mounds of data from different platforms. Currently, there is a push from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to automate this process, but Capt. Stubbs relates that this is only part of the challenge. Once analysts have crucial information, they must share it quickly.

In order to improve methods of combating threats, the EAMDA looks at plans from the services and combatant commands. The group analyzes the different systems to identify holes and redundancies; connect and standardize similar processes; and save money.

Using data from this analysis, the EAMDA has identified the need for tools that support collaboration/chat; information collection from systems and sensors; fusion and analysis; and dissemination of information. These capabilities are necessary in a variety of situations, from disaster relief efforts to threatening missions. Participants need information as quickly as possible, and increasing the ability to share data is the primary concern.

Capt. Stubbs says the EAMDA also faces a large problem with cargo. He admits gaps exist in the process of validating the contents of containers. He believes that increased situational awareness will help customs, civil and law enforcement authorities better handle this process and allow for data sharing with defense agencies when appropriate.

Moving forward, Capt. Stubbs hopes industry will find tools to automate the fusion of data in a cost-effective manner so that time and resources can be spent on combating criminals and terrorists.

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