Wireless Links Enhance Maritime Security

December 2007
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A sailor climbs a ladder in a U.S. Navy maritime interdiction boarding exercise. New wireless technology offers improved safety and near-real-time information exchange from a boarding party on a target vessel to its base ship and Navy networks.
The network is extended to rubber dinghies at sea.

U.S. Navy boarding teams in the midst of operations now are able to exchange information about their target vessels using high-speed commercial wireless technologies. A system funded by the Office of Naval Research and developed by the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) has just entered the fleet and is allowing maritime security boarding crews to tap Navy databases and to transmit information from a boarded ship.

The Expanded Maritime Interception Operations (EMIO) Wireless system employs 802.11g technology. It effectively arms boarding teams with information on their targets and gives them access to answers about questions they may have when checking ship manifests and other documents. Equally important, it also can accommodate biometric data on target ship crew members.

Robert Wolborsky is the U.S. Navy program manager for afloat networks, information assurance and enterprise services in the Program Executive Office for C4I. He notes that not only does EMIO allow personnel to carry out boarding operations much faster—which provides less disruption to commerce and shipping—it also minimizes the amount of time that a boarding team is in harm’s way.

Prior to EMIO, boarding teams might have to transit back and forth between the boarded vessel and their home ship to check databases. Not only is this a time-consuming task, but each transit adds a measure of vulnerability to participating personnel.

With EMIO, these teams can collect vital information while on the boarded vessel and transmit it back to the network. This will enable them to obtain answers to any questions they may have without going back to their own ship. “We’re increasing the effectiveness of our naval forces, and we’re minimizing the negative impact of stopping any innocuous or innocent ships while also limiting the amount of exposure that our sailors have in this very dangerous environment,” Wolborsky states.

As with many other Navy information systems, EMIO is designed to be a secure logical extension of the shipborne backbone network. Kenneth Aw, EMIO Wireless project lead and assistant program manager to Wolborsky, points out that it extends the afloat network to the tactical edge.

The system’s biometric aspect also provides a vital new capability. Instead of sneakernetting information about boarded ship crew members back to the Navy home ship, boarding parties can access biometric databases on site and glean necessary information in near real time. They could determine on the spot whether crew members are known terrorists.

A typical boarding team of from six to 10 personnel would employ EMIO in two backpacks as they board a target vessel. One backpack would feature the EMIO wireless kit, while the other would constitute biometric devices. During the time the team is aboard the suspect ship, it would collect typical law-enforcement biometric data such as retina scans and fingerprints from the crew members. Then, the boarding team would use the EMIO biometrics bridge to transfer these data back to the host ship about 1 or 2 nautical miles distant.

That information would be routed automatically to a central point for evaluation. Responses would be generated directly to the host ship and the boarding party at roughly e-mail speed.

And, the boarding party could send more than just basic biometric information. Cameras, sensors and other digital collection gear could provide input to EMIO. “If it can be put into a file, it can be put onto the network,” Wolborsky states.

In addition to text and biometric data, EMIO can enable boarding parties to exploit virtually any digitized information. “As a network guy, I’m providing the pipe,” Wolborsky explains. “Whatever the users feel that they need to do, or want to do with it, I will be able to help support expanded types of information and data that are collected.”

He continues that once EMIO has been deployed extensively, naval forces will come up with additional tasks for this system. While it currently has a range of only a few miles, over time engineers will explore using network radio technologies that would extend EMIO range well beyond that distance.

Last year, Navy personnel tested the system’s capability and range at sea. Personnel aboard the simulated interdicted vessel were able to transmit biometric files to their host ship in less than three seconds with no errors, according to Navy officials. One test featured EMIO personnel taking a photograph and transmitting the image back to the host ship, from which it was sent to a command site.

The first fielding of this system has taken place aboard the USS Cole. This did not involve the full system capabilities, and further tests are scheduled. However, it was tested in an operational environment during Trident Warrior 2006 and 2007, Aw notes, where it received high plaudits from the military utility assessment.

Lessons learned from the Cole installation have been incorporated into that ship’s device, and future installations will include these changes. They involve slight alterations to the antenna angle and extra shielding, Wolborsky notes. It will be installed aboard another ship sometime in the next couple of months.

 As a rapid development capability program, the technology will be deployed aboard many more ships in the near future. Ultimately, plans call for it to be placed on a total of 97 ships comprising four classes—guided missile destroyers, guided missile cruisers, tank landing ships and amphibious transport docks.

With EMIO’s development largely driven by commercial 802.11g technology, the program office focused on optimizing the technology to operate in the harsher environment encompassing seaborne operations, advanced security and network performance. Engineers had to test and validate frequencies to ensure that they were clear, for example. Then, the system needed to be integrated into the shipborne backbone network to determine whether the security capabilities and tools were implemented properly into the architecture.

So, the program office had to adapt the commercial technology to the more demanding criteria in 18 months or less. Aw explains that engineers completed certification testing and electromagnetic interference testing to ensure that other shipboard communication and radar systems would be unaffected by EMIO emissions. He points out that they effectively took the 802.11g technology into the tactical world in that 18-month time period.

Wolborsky relates that no major technical difficulties or even issues arose during this period. Some little snags did emerge, and these were ironed out during the integration and system engineering process.

During this effort, the office worked with 3eTI, a company specializing in secure wireless solutions that is based in Rockville, Maryland. Aw explains that his office needed high-technical-readiness-level devices to be able to transition the technology quickly. Another key characteristic is that the device is FIPS 140-2 layer 2 compliant. So, it is security-certified to extend the Navy’s network.

Wolborsky allows that the capability might be migrated into the Consolidated Afloat Network Enterprise Services program, or CANES. That will allow adding more functionality to EMIO.

Potential EMIO benefits are not limited to the Navy. The U.S. Coast Guard is “a key stakeholder” in the EMIO effort, Wolborsky notes. The service has been an active participant in every EMIO conference, and it will be leveraging the program to support its own mission requirements. Aw relates that his office has been collaborating closely with the Coast Guard on enabling EMIO to transmit chemical/biological and nuclear radiation data.

Some foreign coalition partners have expressed an interest in EMIO, Wolborsky relates. This interest largely involves maritime domain awareness efforts. Briefings have included the Royal Australian Navy, the Canadian navy and the Royal Navy. All were very interested in the capability, Aw relates.

For the U.S. Navy, future capabilities might entail a voice over Internet protocol system, Wolborsky offers. Another upgrade might expand the technology to ship-to-ship or even ship-to-aircraft links—possibly unmanned aerial vehicles.

“The sky’s the limit as far as how you extend this out and how you leverage this capability,” Wolborsky declares. “Right now, we’re using EMIO as the catalyst to field offboard wireless capability. But I think we’re going to try to expand the utility of this technology as much as we possibly can to give the maximum benefit to the warfighter over time.”

Web Resources
SPAWAR: www.spawar.navy.mil
3eTI: www.3eti.com