By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) David R. Krigbaum, Saharan Express Public Affairs
DAKAR, Senegal (NNS) -- Participants in Exercise Saharan Express 2014 are the first to field test the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Coalition Tactical Awareness and Response (CTAR) Joint Concept Technology, a new tool for combating piracy and illicit activity throughout the world's oceans.
The exercise takes place on the waters off West Africa and at three West African Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs), which track ships and coordinates operations. Part of the scenario involves naval ships from partner nations intercepting suspect vessels conducting illicit trafficking. CTAR was brought into Saharan Express to help identify ships navigating through a specific waterspace.
"The idea is to take new technology and insert it into an operational venue and evaluate it for its usefulness to support operations," said Gary Shaffer, Office of Naval Research science advisor to U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and operational manager for CTAR. "Since the technology is in its infancy, what we're trying to do for this exercise is to test the integration of its data for use by the MOC and improve operators' maritime domain awareness."
International maritime regulations require all ships more than 300 tons to have Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders which identify and help track the position of each vessel by transmitting the ship's unique AIS code along with the vessels' current position, course, and speed. Coastal radar and low-earth-orbit satellites can also find and track vessels at sea transmitting their AIS data. Ships being used for illicit activity such as piracy or illegal trafficking usually operate without AIS, or turn it off, and are invisible to these means of detection and tracking.
CTAR uses commercially available Synthetic Aperture Radar satellites to find ships, day or night regardless of the weather. In the past, using satellite imagery has been expensive and at times would take up to 12 hours to receive, thus providing little or no value to current operations. With CTAR, data is downlinked from the satellite to a local Mobile Ground Terminal while it is still overhead, processed, and sent to the U.S. 6th Fleet MOC in Naples, Italy, where it is ingested into the global AIS repository called Maritime Security Safety Information System (MSSIS).
For Saharan Express the Senegalese Navy displays the data in its MOC in Dakar. The data is used in conjunction with other information gathered from other sources. Suspect vessels can be identified based on ship size and heading after comparing the vessels which are broadcasting AIS with the full list of vessels provided by CTAR data. Those vessels spotted without AIS can then be contacted and their operations investigated.
CTAR also aids in sharing data.
"What CTAR brings to the table is the capability to freely share all of the data that's collected with anybody and everybody, so data from CTAR is being ingested into MSSIS and Sea Vision," said Shaffer. "From there, any of the African partners can analyze and visualize the data, and do what they need with it."