Volpe Center Highlights
Maritime Domain Awareness
Increased Focus on Maritime Safety, Security, and Efficiency
To protect the nation's maritime transportation links and avert security threats, the United States must enhance its awareness of the maritime situation not only on its shores but also around the world. Our global competitiveness is tied to ensuring unimpeded trade and efficient marine transportation. The focus on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) responds to the nation's increased need for knowledge of potential security threats. The Department of Homeland Security currently defines MDA as "the effective understanding of anything associated with the global maritime environment that could impact the security, safety, economy, or environment of the United States."
The importance of global situational awareness is understood at all levels of government. President George W. Bush stressed that "the heart of the Maritime Domain Awareness program is accurate information, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance of all vessels, cargo, and people extending well beyond our traditional maritime boundaries." A National Plan to Achieve Maritime Domain Awareness was published in 2005, in response to National Security Directive 41 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 13, which directed that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security together develop a national plan for maritime security. Volpe Center experts in transportation and navigation have provided the technological foundation for this effort.
Navigation Systems Evolve
Since the 1990s, the Volpe Center has played a critical role in developing and applying advanced technologies that have made it possible for mariners to detect the presence and determine the position of other vessels quickly and accurately, regardless of weather or location. When Center staff first started to address the navigation problems of seaways, they were breaking new ground: developing coordinated systems of mobile units that communicated with a control center via a shore-based communications network. These mobile units, which were carried on board transiting vessels, consisted of a Global Positioning Systems (GPS)-based transponder that relayed the position of the vessel to a shoreside entity or other vessels, and a laptop computer that the pilot used for navigation. Vessel positions were integrated with other information and presented in a real-time electronic map display.
Initially, this technology was used to help large vessels traverse narrow waterways such as the Panama Canal. This capability then evolved into a more comprehensive vessel communications and tracking network, which was first developed for the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation to identify and track all commercial vessels on the Saint Lawrence Seaway. (See box above for more details on vessel tracking and navigation projects.)
The Panama Canal: Making Navigation History
The system developed by the Center's technical staff for use in the Panama Canal represented a significant milestone in navigation history. The 51-mile Panama Canal links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Isthmus of Panama and uses a sequence of locks to raise and lower vessels. Canal navigation has always been complex due to the terrain, the locks, the tropical rain, and the heavy traffic. Compounding this complexity, Panama had essentially employed the same vessel management system that was initiated when the Canal became operational in 1914. In 1995, the Panama Canal authorities requested the Volpe Center's support in developing a modern vessel piloting and tracking system for use in their waterway.
The Volpe Center designed and implemented an advanced communications, traffic management, and navigation system for the Canal that enabled pilots to guide massive ships through narrow channels and into the six locks of the Canal in all weather conditions. The system provided canal pilots with advanced navigation tools and enabled traffic controllers to track all transiting vessels, as well as all canal watercraft—dredges, tugs, and launches—giving all users superior canal waterway traffic situational awareness. The result: a tremendous increase in the safety and efficiency of vessel transits and an accompanying increase in Panama Canal revenues.
Automatic Identification System
The introduction of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) provided the potential for expanding the kind of technology that Volpe Center staff had developed for individual locations to a national and even global scale. AIS is a shipboard broadcast transponder system in which ships continually transmit their ID, position, course, speed, and other data to all other nearby ships and shoreside authorities on a common VHF radio channel. The International Maritime Organization mandates that commercial ships over 300 gross tons carry transponders and AIS equipment under the International Conventions of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which specifies minimum standards for the construction, equipment, and operation of ships, compatible with their safety. The AIS requirement went into effect in U.S. waters on December 31, 2004.
The Volpe Center's Role Changes
As described in the MDA National Plan, a key component of MDA is to provide "an active, layered maritime defense in depth by improving our ability to collect, fuse, analyze, display, and disseminate actionable information and intelligence to operational commanders." As a result of the universal availability of AIS as standard equipment on most commercial vessels, the Volpe Center's role has changed and become more focused on providing this kind of networked capability to gather and disseminate information. A key example, the Maritime Safety and Security Information System (MSSIS) developed by the Center for the U.S. Navy, is described in the following section.
Volpe Center capability in this area is rooted in its development and implementation of TransView (TV32)—a Geographic Information System (GIS) software developed initially in the 1990s to provide real-time display of vessel tracking and navigation information for pilots in the Panama Canal. TV32 is adaptable across a number of projects and can be customized readily and used for prototyping in new situations. TV32 can be configured to satisfy all display requirements, including enhanced navigation safety, waterway efficiency, traffic situation awareness, force protection, and data analysis.
Recent Volpe Center Achievements
Recent high-profile navigation systems developed by the Volpe Center's Marine Systems Division include:
- An international network comprising MDA tools
- A nationwide system for identifying vessel positions and generating ship movement information
- A security system for identifying vessels in ports
Worldwide Maritime Domain Awareness: Maritime Safety and Security Information System
The Volpe Center's navigation work has always had an international component, but this arena has expanded recently to include work for the U.S. Navy in Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa. By developing the MSSIS network, the Volpe Center is supporting the U.S. Navy's requirement to extend its MDA capabilities to include information about commercial vessels equipped with AIS transponders. MSSIS collects and disseminates real-time data derived from AIS about vessel movements.
Through this work, the Center is directly supporting the Commander, U.S. Navy Europe/Commander Sixth Fleet (CNE-C6F). CNE-C6F's goals are two-fold: to expand its MDA capabilities in its Area of Responsibility (AOR) and to develop an unclassified network that can provide real-time data that is essential to maritime security and safety.
MSSIS has an important diplomatic role: because it is unclassified and can be shared with U.S. allies, it may foster increased cooperation. NATO Joint Forces Command has been assisting CNE-C6F in furthering the growth of this system. Volpe Center staff work directly with these foreign entities, including several NATO countries, providing them with the software to display vessel movement using AIS. MSSIS is also being used by the United Kingdom in the Persian Gulf.
The global benefits of such sharing include greater involvement by countries in this region in the surveillance of their own maritime waters and in addressing security concerns.
Nationwide Automatic Identification System: Monitoring Vessels Across the Nation
The success of the many navigational systems designed by the Volpe Center for discrete geographic areas has led to our supporting the U.S. Coast Guard in developing a Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS). In compliance with the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, and to meet maritime domain awareness objectives, the U.S. Coast Guard is developing this nationwide vessel-monitoring network based on the AIS transponder technology. NAIS will provide information that identifies the multitude of vessels that operate along the more than 95,000 miles of shoreline, and in the 25,000 miles of navigable waterways and 3.4 million square miles of open water that compose the U.S. economic exclusion zone. NAIS will gather real-time vessel position reports and ship movement data and disseminate the information to the U.S. Coast Guard and other authorized authorities. The information provided will be a key component in improving the safety and security of all of the nation's maritime interests—from the safety of vessels and ports through collision avoidance to the safety of the nation through detection, traffic management, and classification of vessels when they are still thousands of miles offshore.
The Volpe Center is providing technical assistance in the form of systems engineering expertise for the development of a prototype NAIS network. Other Volpe tasks include AIS network system design; site design; hardware procurement; system deployment, installation, and integration; development of testing and evaluation plans; and overall program management.
Vessel Identification and Positioning System: Protecting High-Value Vessels in Port
The attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000 heightened security concerns for vessels in foreign ports. In that instance, a small harbor craft approached and struck the Navy destroyer; the resulting explosion killed 17 sailors and injured 39 others. Consequently, the U.S. Navy realized the need to provide its ships with better protection in ports throughout the world. This required a way to determine whether vessels approaching Navy ships were authorized to do so. In support of the Technology Support Working Group (TSWG) and the U.S. Navy, the Volpe Center adapted its navigation technology to provide a new concept for protecting ships against terrorist attacks.
The resulting Vessel Identification and Positioning System (VIPS) developed by the Volpe Center has been implemented in several locations to enhance safety, security, and environmental compliance.
Port security is improved by providing real-time, situation-awareness capabilities. VIPS employs GPS technology in specially designed transponders that are installed on authorized vessels. VIPS-equipped vessels can then be tracked on a geographical display, providing a secure way to identify vessels authorized to approach a government or other high-value marine asset. VIPS employs sophisticated information security whereby transponder communications are encrypted using the Advanced Encryption Standard adopted by the U.S. government. Also, each VIPS unit installed on a harbor vessel employs tamper-and-theft detection sensors. Prospective terrorists can neither develop a forged unit by solving message encryptions nor steal and use a VIPS transponder with current encryption for use at a future date. VIPS also uses the TransView GIS software (see page 5), which allows real-time tracking of vessels as well as automated alarms when vessels enter or leave specified geographic regions. Land-based and ship-borne radar data and dynamic protection zone capability have also been integrated, thus improving operators' situational awareness of their surroundings.
In 2002, Naval Station Norfolk was the first U.S. facility to incorporate VIPS in harbor-protection procedures. In 2003, VIPS was installed on law enforcement patrol boats in Boston Harbor to provide harbor security during transits of vessels such as tankers carrying LNG (liquified natural gas) and other high-interest vessels such as Navy ships and cruise ships. The Boston Harbor Pilots are avid proponents and users of VIPS. In 2004, the Volpe Center expanded the system already used by the U.S. Coast Guard in Boston Harbor to provide local law enforcement agencies with an enhanced harbor surveillance system during the Democratic National Convention. Additional capabilities provided included the integration of VIPS contacts with radar system targets on single displays at control centers and on ship displays.
Concern for international port security continues. VIPS and AIS have been installed in Rota, Spain, and Souda Bay, Crete, to support the U.S. Naval Station's port security needs. VIPS/AIS may also have potential benefit in the Persian Gulf and in Africa's coastal waters.
The Future of Maritime Domain Awareness
The improved global connectivity and security provided by MDA will benefit all stakeholders. The Volpe Center's role is to provide the raw data; its use depends on the individual stakeholders and the current needs. However, as former Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta said in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "our growing international linkages compel us to face a... transportation truth: Americans must be concerned with the safety of not just our own, but of the world's transportation systems."