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Coast Guard Gets Clarity Underwater

June 29, 2012
By Rachel Eisenhower

A 3-D imaging system is providing the U.S. Coast Guard with real-time undersea data critical to its mission. Although the technology is still under evaluation, it has already assisted the service in its response to the Coast Guard helicopter crash off the Alabama shore in February.

The Underwater Imaging System (UIS) is a 3-D imaging tool for applications such as maritime security and search and recovery, describes Technology Editor George I. Seffers in his SIGNAL Magazine article, "Coast Guard Calls on Underwater Imager in Crises." In addition, the UIS can assist with port and harbor maintenance, inspections, intruder visualization and classification, and storm damage assessment.

The Coast Guard began evaluating the UIS in 2006, and it has evolved over time to feature an enhanced processing capability and adapted algorithms for image processing using high-frequency Doppler sonar. One of the most unique evolutions included the application of real-time kinematics, says Jack McCready, branch chief for the Coast Guard Research and Development Center's Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance branch.

"We could be offshore-say two or three hundred yards-and imaging into port. The real-time kinematics translates exactly where that image is in distance from the sonar head. So, when you have an object of concern, it precisely translates the object's actual location."

Since its inception, the system has deployed for several real-world operations. For example, it located 7 ½ tons of cocaine from a sunken self-propelled semisubmersible last summer, says McCready. Thanks to data from the UIS, FBI divers easily located the drugs in the vessel.

The operational assessment phase for the UIS ends in September, and the Coast Guard is currently collecting final reliability information. Once the assessment period ends, the Research and Development Center will hand off the system to Coast Guard operators. If the UIS proves valuable, the service eventually could purchase more.

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