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Should we look to Space Based Technologies to address the gaps in maritime compliance solutions?

A post by Vivek Mital of 

Evaluating sanctions risks and developing appropriate strategies is foundationally connected with possessing real time maritime intelligence, which is critically dependent on space based surveillance and AI applications. Maritime surveillance (MS) is crucial for search and rescue operations, fishery monitoring, pollution control, law enforcement, migration monitoring, and national security policies. Commercial Industry, for the most part, relies on the automatic identification system (AIS) and ground-based maritime radars, which have deficiencies in providing reliable and seamless coverage of the entire maritime space.

Therefore, there is the need for supplementary sensors and technologies to overcome the limitations. The development of MS systems combines multiple sensors, terrestrial and space-based, with other sources of information requiring dedicated algorithms for the processing of satellite images, detection and classification of ships. In this context, revolution in the newspace industry has been timely and enabled a range of options. Constellations of space based sensors in multiple orbits are available for collecting images of very large and remote areas of the globe with relatively short latency, thereby enabling persistent monitoring of the maritime domain and ship traffic on a global scale. For example, satellite AIS data can be supplemented with synthetic aperture radar (SAR), multi-spectral (MSP) and hyper-spectral (HSP) optical sensors, Radio frequency (RF), global navigation satellite system reflectometry (GNSS-R). This would provide low latency, high spatial and temporal resolution data, additional viewing angles, frequency, acquisition modes, polarization, providing persistence, all weather, 24 X 7 surveillance, and enabling maritime domain awareness. As a result of the space-based sensor technologies, advanced data processing paradigms, such as big data analysis, machine learning, artificial intelligence and data fusion techniques are being put to good effect to process and organize very large amounts of heterogeneous data sets and attain unprecedented performance.

In addition to the space sensing grid, there are also powerful coastal radar systems in active development, such as Maerospace PASE® HFSWR (High frequency Surface Wave Radar) which can monitor a country’s full Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ). Designed for round-the-clock 24-hour autonomous or remote operations, the system can simultaneously track multiple vessel types and sizes across various ranges and then identify and track while their threat level is continuously assessed. The radar system can be further adapted to combining data sources from space and airborne platforms in a multi-layered C4ISR approach, thus forming a vital component of a pervasive maritime domain monitoring solution.

The most effective surveillance solutions utilize a “layered sensing approach” with multiple sources of maritime domain data combined into an integrated display system. “A good system supports strategic planning and the use of available resources,” said Krystian Chmielewski of Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace in the, “to integrate data from a wide variety of sources, such as radar, visible and infrared cameras, satellites and undersea sensors.” (Oct 12, 2022). Suspicious activity can be quickly estimated by comparison of multiple maritime domain awareness data sources. By layering data sources in a decision support system, the clutter of ships, for example, can be reduced to “vessels of interest” worthy of investigation.

With additional real-time analytics, even more insights can be extracted, for example, suspicious behavior that can be detected includes highlighting vessels who have “gone dark” by turning off their AIS transponder and “doppelgangers” (ships that transmit the same MMSI - Maritime Mobile Service Identities, as other vessels within their AIS signals). Doppelgangers are a key threat in the EEZ because a ship can be deliberately hidden from satellite AIS, even if they are transmitting their collision avoidance AIS normally.

It is worth emphasizing that much of this work is being pioneered in academia and government research labs with operational deployment and testing by entities such as the US Navy, US Space Force, NATO, Coast guard etc. The transfer of this knowledge and technology to the banks and financial services, shipping and energy companies, to cope with the stringent sanction requirements, is long overdue.

Integrated sensing utilizing data from platforms in Air, Space, Surface and other unstructured data sources will lead to a massively improved Maritime Surveillance picture and enable various stakeholders to perform due diligence, combat deceptive shipping practices and implement sanctions programs in a structured and timely manner.


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